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Jonathan Erickson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Open Source Meets Mobility

March 31, 2009

It's no surprise that smartphones are going like gangbusters, or that open source keeps climbing the corporate ladder. What's surprising, however, is how they're doing so hand in hand.

Consider a recent study by Black Duck Software, which sells application development management software. Upon reviewing 185,000 projects, Black Duck identified 2,304 as open source targeting mobile platforms, comprising 6,588 releases. Of course, 2,304 isn't overwhelming compared with the total number of open source projects. What's noteworthy, however, is that the amount of mobile source code released grew at 55% a year between 2005 and 2008. And the activity goes well beyond mobile Linux. In 2008, open source projects for the iPhone led the way with 266 releases, even though the iPhone is a closed platform. Android came in second with 191 releases, Windows Mobile with 174, BlackBerry with 96, and Symbian with 64.

The real question, though, isn't "How much?" but rather "So what?" Will the combination of mobility and open source change what companies and their developers can do with mobile devices? The fact is that open source is one force driving cracks into the closed world of network carriers, which are used to controlling everything from the devices we use to the software we run. Today's consumers -- and, increasingly, business users as well -- demand devices and carriers that provide more options for third-party apps and personalization. Conventional telecom vendors and device makers are reacting to that, and are beginning to treat smartphones on 3G networks as a mobile computing platform, not a voice service with some data services. This translates to more opportunities for developers, who can create and sell mobile apps via online app stores from Apple, Google, Microsoft, Nokia, and others. Count on that to spur continued growth in open source mobile development, and for companies that embrace mobile computing to reap the benefits of those innovations

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