Moving Into Mobile
Analysts expect open source to be increasingly adopted in mobile computing and communications technologies. ABI Research projects that by 2013 nearly one of every five mid- or high-end mobile devices will use a Linux operating system.
Among the factors promoting the growth of mobile open source are the increasing momentum of the LiMo Foundation--a consortium of companies including Motorola, NEC, Samsung and Panasonic Mobile Communications focused on creating a Linux-based operating system for mobile devices--and the launch of Google's Android, a Linux-based operating system for mobile devices.
In June, Nokia announced plans to acquire all the shares of Symbian--which provides an open platform for mobile devices--that Nokia doesn't already own. Nokia says the acquisition is a fundamental step in establishing the Symbian Foundation, an effort to promote open-source software for mobile technology.
Zachary of The 451 Group says most of the activity in mobile open source is taking place with operating systems. Mobile handset makers have been moving toward the Linux operating system for planned smart phones, and they've shown great interest in Google Android. Even before that, they expressed interest in Trolltech's Greenphone and OpenMoko, he adds.
Oxford Archaeology, an Oxford, England, provider of archaeology services, uses the FreeRunner mobile phone--built on the OpenMoko open-source mobile platform--as the base component of its digital toolset for researchers in the field. It includes high-speed mobile Internet connectivity, a GPS receiver, Wi-Fi connectivity and other features.
The device allows workers to digitally record text data produced by archaeologists working on excavations and to record spatial data via the GPS receiver. FreeRunner devices are used in conjunction with USB keyboards to record information that can be sent to company databases. Workers also can use the devices to access information from those databases.
"We are developing ubiquitous computing tools to be used on site by our field archaeologists," says Joseph Reeves, Oxford's supervisor of IT research and development. "The OpenMoko FreeRunner fits this role perfectly."
The company also does a lot of paper data recording on-site, and that information is then entered into databases in the home office. "We aim to remove this data duplication process and enter our data digitally in the field," Reeves says. "By using FreeRunner, we can undertake new methods of working that were previously unavailable to us."
Traditionally, data moves slowly from excavation sites to the office and rarely the other way, Reeves says. "Devices such as the FreeRunner allow instantaneous and symmetrical communication," he says.
Open source is essential to Oxford Archaeology. "We are in the business of preservation by record, and the only way we can produce robust records is to adopt a completely open-source stack," Reeves says.
The open-source development environment is enormously important for Oxford.
"If we need something that's not available, it can easily be produced," Reeves explains. "If the operating system has a bug in it, we can fix it. Such freedoms aren't afforded by closed-source mobile environments."