After months of speculation, Google's mobile phone plans have just been officially announced: under the guise of the "Open Handset Alliance," Google will be partnering with 34 industry heavies from around the world (including Samsung, Motorola, T-Mobile, HTC, Intel, NVIDIA, Japan's NTT DoCoMo, and China Mobile among others) to create an open-source, developer-friendly software platform (akin to Windows Mobile or Palm OS) called Android. Google hopes the new platform's open-source foundation, granting all alliance members full (and free) access to the source code and the ability to
customize it, will revolutionize the closed, carrier-controlled approach common in the U.S. that often leads to frustrating feature-crippling.
It's an interesting albeit predictable move for Google, mirroring the development of the company's search technology. On today's conference call announcing Android, Google founder Sergey Brin likened it to the open-source projects that he and co-founder Larry Page used as the foundation for their innovative search algorithm, noting that today's mobile phones are often equally if not more powerful than the computers they used to build Google just ten years ago.
The first Android-equipped phones are expected to roll out in the second half of 2008. On the PPX front, Google neither confirmed or denied plans of for long-rumored Google-branded "G-Phone" hardware, stating that if it were to be developed, Android would be the platform. GPHON is currently tumbling, but reports are still circulating of a true Google Phone developed in-house by the big G.
And for a look at the competition Android will face, take a look at today's Fall Cellphone Preview. —John Mahoney
It used to be that if you wanted something like Adobe Photoshop, the digital age's ne plus ultra of expensive pro-level software, you had two choices: Plunk down $650 (plus several hundreds more down the road for upgrades), or quickly and easily (and illegally) grab it via BitTorrent and have it up and running in an hour, for free. The sheer ubiquity of Photoshop in mainstream culture (Photoshopped isn't in Webster's yet, but it won't be long) seems to suggest that most people, unsurprisingly, tend to go with option B.
Thankfully, a much less insidious third option is gaining momentum: the world of free and open-source alternatives. Although the Internet might be the largest black-market trading post in the history of the world, it's also, lest we forget, a tool that facilitates other kinds of collaborations that no one before could have possibly imagined. So whereas it once took a team of well-paid and overworked engineers to develop complex professional software programs like Photoshop, the same high-quality work can be done with much greater efficiency and drastically less cost through open-source software projects that harness the talents of amateur and professional software engineers the world over. Better yet, the fruits of all this next-level labor are almost always made available free of charge.
OSalt.com is an incredibly handy guide to this constantly evolving world. It pairs open-source projects with their traditional expensive equivalents, making it easy to find what you need. All the heavy hitters are there: Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, the Adobe Premier video-editing suite, Microsoft Office (including the diagramming software Visio), Dreamweaver, Maya (for 3-D modeling) and many more—all told, thousands of dollars worth of pro software with surprisingly capable and, best of all, free alternatives. And since their source code is open to everyone, several open-source apps have interesting spin-offs, such as Gimpshop, the version of the GIMP image-processing application that mirrors Photoshop's menus and keyboard shortcuts exactly, making power users feel instantly closer to home.
There aren't too many things able to liberate your conscience and your wallet at the same time. And it's only going to get better from here. —John Mahoney