I know that not many people ever believed it, but the old complaint about free software never innovating is being disproved magnificently in a whole new field: mobile phones. It's becoming increasing clear that alongside the iPhone, which is still the leader in this sector – at the moment – the other driving force is mobile Linux.
In part, that's down to Google's Android, which is getting some serious love from commentators as new waves of phones with cool features start appearing. But interestingly, it's not *just* Android, nor is it established if rather low-key projects like Limo; here's the daftly-named First Else, running on the Access Linux Platform 3.0, which also sounds pretty slick:
Folks, today might be the day when you start to notice how ancient our smartphones have become, even if they only came out in last few months. Blame Else (formerly Emblaze Mobile) for its confusingly-named First Else, a phone "built from scratch" over the last two years and now powered by Access Linux Platform (ALP) 3.0 -- a mobile OS thought to have quietly died out since our last sighting in February. Until today's London launch event, the last we heard of this Israeli company was from October's Access Day in Japan where it previewed the Else Intuition OS, which we like to think of as inspired by Minority Report. While it's still too early to tell whether the First Else -- launching in Q2 next year -- will dodge the path of doom, we were already overwhelmed by the excellence of the device's user experience, both from its presentation and from our exclusive hands-on opportunity. Do read on to find out how Else is doing it right.
Now, what's interesting here is that the innovation is being done on top of an open source stack, not least because building on the well-established work of others lets engineers concentrate on creating the exciting new stuff. That's why free software will always *power* more innovation than closed source, even if it is not always itself the most innovative technology.
The problem with proprietary software is that you have to re-invent the wheel, writing everything from the ground up, which puts a kind of innovation brake on your efforts. Alternatively, you can license someone else's proprietary code and try to build on it, but there are two problems. First, you have to pay to do this, making it more difficult for new products to be commercially viable; and secondly, it's much harder to modify that software for your own particular needs, because closed-source code is typically hedged around by all kinds of constraints. Open source scores a double hit here, by being free and freely adaptable.