blarg?

Limited Mobility

A Grate

I had this (lightly edited) conversation yesterday:

15:30 < gnomon> On that note, though, what did you mean about Windows Mobile having the only open ecosystem?

15:38 < mhoye> Current mobile OSes are: WinMo, WebOS, iPhoneOS, Symbian, Android, PalmOS, RimOS

15:38 < mhoye> And a couple of irrelevant stragglers.

15:38 < mhoye> I don't think I've missed anything there?

15:41 < mhoye> Of that list: PalmOS is dead technology. Android, iPhoneOS, RimOS and WebOS are walled-garden, gated-community development environments.

15:43 < mhoye> Symbian and (forgot to add) Maemo _might_ be relevant, except there's zero business model associated with apps for Maemo and nobody is developing for Symbian in any quantity now that those other competitors are in place. Which leaves Windows Mobile, which despite its closed-sourcedness has always had an open, marketable development environment.

15:44 < mhoye> Unlike, say, WebOS or Android, which are built entirely on top of free software and are still entirely closed.

15:45 < mhoye> Java, which by rights should be completely obsolete by now, is still well alive because even if java-the-language sucks, java-the-sandbox and java-the-security-model are alive and well in the portable space.

15:45 < mhoye> Symbian ships, to my knowledge, only on Nokia products, and the overwhelming majority of them are non-smartphones. Maemo doesn't currently ship on anything.

15:46 < mhoye> Some thing are open, and some have an ecosystem. The only place that has both is the second-worst product of the bunch (WinMo, the worst clearly being Symbian)

15:50 < mhoye> And unless Windows Mobile 7 is at least as good as iPhone OS 1, then the walled-garden fuck-you-and-your-freedom model wins. Which makes me really sad, because the alternatives to the Microsoft approach right now are way, way worse.

15:52 < mhoye> The two bright light possibilities here are Palm and Nokia, but they need to ship a development kit and a competing product, respectively.

15:53 < basilisk> To illustrate that point:  There are at least 4 mature GPS Flight Navigation packages for WinMo, and an immature one for Maemo. None for Android, WebOS, iPhoneOSX, Symbian.

15:54 < basilisk> No Symbian device had a screen worthy of use, and all the other APIs couldn't provide the necessary functionality

15:55 < basilisk> The developers of the Maemo Cumulus package are excited about the Qt Maemo thingy, so they may be able to easily port to Symbian in the future

15:55 < mhoye> And this leaves me, as much as it galls me, with a MacBook and an iPhone.

15:56 < basilisk> There's Free GPL OSS GPS Flight Navigation software for WinMo, fer chrissakes, since no other platform could support them

15:56 < mhoye> Because at least while I'm fighting a running battle to jailbreak my phone and keep up with MacPorts, now I have hardware that works right.

16:32 < mhoye> (since you asked.)

Have I mentioned how much it galls me that stuff built on free software is being used to restrict what I can actually do with the technology that I own? Most HDTVs run Linux, albeit just enough to bootstrap the proprietary goop that decodes HDMI. You can develop for Android however you like, provided you do it with Java and run it in their little sandbox, which is precisely as much freedom as being allowed to choose what colour of straightjacket they’ll be putting you in.

It feels so wierd to be rooting for Microsoft to carry the day in the name of software freedom, but since they’ve become so chronically inept at shipping anything that anyone actually wants (and yet shockingly effective at cannibalizing their own success, rewarding billions of dollars worth of failure and screwing their brand and their customers while blundering around the technology landscape like a dumb animal) that it still kind of feels like rooting for the underdog. But as far as I can tell, actual Free Software in the portable space has either been co-opted or failed.

It’s hard to count them out; they’re huge, they have a ton of money and these three glorious near-monopolies (Office, Windows and Exchange) that keep them alive, and if they did nothing but sit in a drum circle chanting about Sharepoint for a decade, they’d still be a force to be reckoned with. But since they replaced Gates with somebody with an MBA and rabies, I don’t think they have the taste or vision to make that work.

I hope Palm ships a really good SDK. And that Nokia ships… God, something. Anything. Anything that isn’t their Ovi store, at least, because jeebus. But mostly, I don’t want to be right back where we were ten years ago, fighting this fight all over again, and losing again.

7 Comments | Skip to comment form

  1. Mike Kozlowski

    And this is why I can only cheer against Apple, ever. Because Microsoft may be semi-evil these days, but they’ve never been as evil as Apple has always wanted to be. That Apple has lacked the power to enforce their demonic will has been the saving grace of the PC industry.

    I mean, just look at all those App Stores. Those never existed in the mobile space before Apple. It was always a given that you could go to whatever website you wanted and download the software you wanted to run. But then Apple put in its App Store, and suddenly Android has a Marketplace, Rim has a store, Palm has a store and Microsoft is readying its store.

    As soon as people embrace a piece of evil, then it becomes the common state of affairs.

  2. Mike Kozlowski

    Also, it is apparently possible to download and install Android apps via the regular web, and not just on the vendor-approved store. My guess is that most people won’t, just as most people don’t hack their iphones, but it’s an option.

  3. mhoye

    Well, it’s not entirely true that there was no such thing as an app store; Nokia had one, as did Microsoft (kinda). They had no integrated billing and no non-tethered download-and-install process, so virtually nobody used them, but they were there. The revolution there isn’t really “app store”, it’s “integrated billing and installation in itunes.” Being able to have somebody tell you something is cool and then to be able to have it running on your own phone a buck and three minutes later is a huge deal.

  4. Ian Hurst

    “Also, it is apparently possible to download and install Android apps via the regular web, and not just on the vendor-approved store. My guess is that most people won’t, just as most people don’t hack their iphones, but it’s an option.”

    True, and also: the best apps want root. But didn’t we already have this discussion?

    Do Windows Mobile phones come rooted, normally? If not, how are they better than anything else, really?

  5. Mike Kozlowski

    Ian: The thing with WinMo is that there is not, in the normal course of events, a gatekeeper. If some dude wants to release a WinMo app, he writes it, and makes the .CAB file available the same way he’d make any software available — free download, download link emailed to you if you pay, or whatever — and then you can install it on your phone.

    He doesn’t have to submit it to Microsoft for certification and conceptual approval. There’s no chance that Opera will be told “Sorry, this duplicates existing functionality” and kept from competing with the native browser.

    (Also, to the rooting thing… I’m not sure what kind of security WinMo has, actually. I know that I’ve been able to download program that rewrote the entire UI, basically, which I’m certain wouldn’t be possible on an unbroken iPhone. Really, it never occurred to me until Apple came around that I wouldn’t be able to install things on my own device to do whatever I wanted to do.)

  6. Ian Hurst

    Is there some practical reason a gatekeeper bothers you, even though it’s entirely optional? My android phone is loaded with unapproved apps.

    “Also, to the rooting thing… I’m not sure what kind of security WinMo has, actually. I know that I’ve been able to download program that rewrote the entire UI, basically, which I’m certain wouldn’t be possible on an unbroken iPhone”

    Well, that is a pretty strong argument for WiMo phones. I’m actually sort of shocked that phone companies give you that much control over them. Isn’t it normally their policy to, you know, cripple their users?

  7. John

    Cripple by policy, for most companies, yes.

    But that doesn’t make the crippling *legal*, or effective.