Mobile Computing catching Wind with Open Source Sails

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Companies like Wake3 and Funambol are starting to use open-source in the development of software for mobile computing devices. Open-source seems to be the perfect conduit to bring iPhone type browsing and e-mail to handheld devices. During a meeting of the Mobile Monday Silicon Valley group associates of Wake3, Funambol and Wind River noted the rise of open-source software on handsets. Wake3 is bringing the open-source WebKit mobile Web browser to Windows Mobile systems.

“WebKit for Windows Mobile really is, in essence, a kind of iPhone browsing for Windows Mobile,” said Daniel Zucker, CTO of Wake3.

He and an official at Wind River stressed the paradigm shift brought on by the iPhone. Instead of persons inquiring about what type of wireless service someone is using, they want to know if they have an iPhone, said Bill O’Such, Wind River director of engineering.

“It’s really changed the balance,” O’Such said.

“The iPhone opened up everyone’s eyes. For the first time, you could really get true desktop browsing on a device,” Zucker said.

“We’re actually seeing a tremendous surge of interest in open source in mobile,” said Hal Steger, vice president of marketing at Funambol. The company has commercial and open-source versions of its software.

Funambol likes to use open-source because it can get its software into the hands of more developers more quickly. The developers can help test, fix and contribute to code changes that make the software better, Steger said.

“If you’ve ever developed a mobile phone application and you’re trying to address the mass market, there’s a fundamental problem,” he said. Half the world owns a cell phone but there are more than 1,000 models and many operating systems to support. But developers via open source can test the software and try it on their own phones.

“What we like to say is open source enables the largest mobile developer community to make any device work on any network. That’s probably the biggest single advantage at least from our experience of open source to mobile,” said Steger.

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