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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Google's Android Market: cathedral or bazaar?

After months of silence, Google is rapidly pushing its Linux-based Android mobile platform towards the finish line in preparation for a big fourth quarter launch. The recent SDK beta release offers a compelling look into what users can expect to see on upcoming Android hardware, but it left one critical question unanswered: how will third-party developers get their software onto end-user handsets?

That question was answered yesterday when Google announced Android Market, a content deployment channel that will allow users to find and install new software. The Android Market consists of a web-based distribution service hosted entirely on Google's infrastructure and a specialized client application that will run on Android handsets and provide users with direct access to the service. Users will be able to obtain new applications from the Android Market over the air and install them on their devices.

In an entry posted on the Official Android developer blog, Google mobile platform program manager Eric Chu says that the Android Market will be open to all third-party developers and applications will not have to be vetted prior to inclusion. The Android Market will only include software that is available at no cost during the initial beta, but Google plans to implement support for commercial distribution shortly after the official launch. Google will also incrementally add additional features such as support for versioning and analytics.

"Developers will be able to make their content available on an open service hosted by Google that features a feedback and rating system similar to YouTube," wrote Chu. "We chose the term 'market' rather than 'store' because we feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available. Similar to YouTube, content can debut in the marketplace after only three simple steps: register as a merchant, upload and describe your content and publish it."

The Android Market offers much more freedom and inclusiveness than Apple's App Store, but there are still some minor limitations imposed by Google's model. Hosting the entire service on Google's infrastructure creates a central point of failure as well as a central point of control. These are the most significant differences between the Android Market and conventional Linux package systems such as APT.

Conventional Linux package systems use globally distributed mirrors so that software remains accessible in the event of outages at any one source. Conventional package systems also allow third parties to host their own repositories which can then be made accessible to end users through the standard package management tools. These advantages don't appear to be present in the Android Market distribution model.

Google's Android Market looks a bit like the cathedral to APT's bazaar, but it is debatable whether the differences will be all that relevant in practice. Concerns about a centralized point of failure, for instance, are probably not applicable. Unlike regular Linux distributors (and unlike Apple, whose MobileMe launch suffered uncharacteristic mishaps) Google has built its entire business around high-availability Internet infrastructure and has nearly unparalleled expertise and resources in this area. Volunteer mirror hosts are probably not going to be needed to keep the Android Market operating smoothly.

The centralized point of control, however, is an issue that deserves some consideration. There is a certain valuable degree of empowerment that would come from being able to self-host an independent repository that users can access through the default package management software. This would reduce dependency on Google and make the platform more open and vendor-neutral.

Ideally, it would be most advantageous if Google were to open the protocol it uses for the package tool and allow third parties to create alternate implementations of the Android Market web service. In addition to bringing a more even balance of power to the Android software landscape, that would also be a very useful feature for independent Android derivatives that want to have their own software ecosystems with a more conventional Linux model.

The Android Market system will put quite a bit of power in Google's hands and force users and third-party developers to place faith in the company's oft-repeated "do no evil" mantra. Despite these weaknesses, the Android Market still looks like its going to be an extremely rich hosted distribution system that will offer a lot of value to third-party developers and ease of use to end users. We can also look forward to seeing a strong selection of applications available at launch, if the recently announced results of Google's Android developer challenge are any indication.

Open source group sues Quebec over no-bid Microsoft contracts

A nonprofit open source advocacy group in Quebec is taking the provincial government to court over its software procurement policies. The group, which is called FACIL, contends that the government has failed to comply with contract regulations by consistently adopting foreign proprietary software without first evaluating open source alternatives.

In a complaint filed with Quebec Superior Court, FACIL points out that the government awarded Microsoft CAN$10 million across seven different contracts, but never invited other vendors to propose bids. This behavior could fall afoul of regulations that require government agencies to solicit bids for contracts exceeding CAN$25,000. FACIL also cites a procurement guidelines document issued by the government of Quebec last year which instructs officials to define their operational needs during the procurement process in a way that is broadly inclusive and nonprejudicial towards open source solutions.

FACIL has asked the court to declare that procurement must be conducted in conformance with these requirements and that open source solutions should be given equal consideration to Microsoft products. To demonstrate the viability of open source technology for public sector adoption, the report briefly notes several high-profile open source rollouts in France and the Netherlands. In a statement, FACIL president Mathieu Lutfy says that the government of Quebec has lagged behind other governments in open source software adoption. He believes that remedying this failure could stimulate the local IT industry.

"A strategic Free Software utilization in public administration could create thousands of jobs as well as a significant decrease in software licensing costs. However, Quebec's public administration refuses to even consider and evaluate these options," he wrote. "While most of the developed countries have started, a few years back, migrating their technological infrastructures to Free Software, Quebec's public administration is far behind."

Open source software adoption has been strong in much of the world, but has lagged in North America. Several national governments in South America have migrated significant portions of their infrastructure to open source software. Venezuela has even mandated GPL licensing for all programs developed for government use. In Europe, numerous countries heavily fund open source software development and some, including Norway, are moving all public sector computing to open source solutions. Linux and open source software has seen very strong adoption in Asia as well, particularly in China and India.

Although open source software offers governments a lot of very clear advantages in cost and flexibility in many different scenarios, there are still cases where deployment just isn't feasible. Some capabilities simply aren't available in open source programs yet. Governments are also constrained by the need to support compatibility with legacy technologies, many of which aren't interoperable with emerging open solutions. When governments adopt proprietary software, they should think hard about how to avoid lock-in and they should pressure vendors to support open standards in order to ensure that there are minimal impediments when open alternatives are finally mature enough to be adopted in the future.

Regardless of whether open source software is a viable and cost-effective alternative, the government of Quebec appears to have erred in granting Microsoft no-bid contracts. Evaluating alternatives is generally the most responsible course of action and, at the very least, could have given the government of Quebec more negotiating leverage to get better pricing from Microsoft.

The 5 Best Free File Hosting Services To Store Your Files!

People have a love and hate relationship with file hosting sites. Some file hosting sites are really handy and make sharing data even simpler than sending a file via email while other services spam you with countless pop ups and forced membership options to simply download a file.

Here is a list of some great file hosting sites that make uploading and sharing files a cakewalk.

You are welcome to share if you know more free file hosting services which our readers/viewers may like.

File Savr - Free File Hosting

File Savr

FileSavr.com makes file hosting easier with Web 2.0 technology and the use of Ajax and Flash. FileSavr has 10 GB upload size limit, currently the largest available on the internet. This allows users the flexibility to upload any large file of 10 GB or less.

File Factory - free and simple file hosting service

File Factory

FileFactory lets you host files up to 300MB for free. You don’t have to register and there is nothing to download. Your files can be downloaded an unlimited number of times! One thing we found very annoying and spammy about FileFactory was the number of ads they have on the page.

FileDen - Free file hosting and online storageFile Den

With File Den’s free file hosting and online storage service it’s easy to share files across the internet with friends, family, work associates or anyone else. They allow our users to direct link to their files also giving you the oppurtunity to embed your files into your webpages, myspace or other social networking profiles.

Fileqube - Free Online Storage

fileqube

Fileqube has an eye-pleasing design that shows its intentions well. When you upload a personal file it gives you a download link, a link to remove the file, and embed code to drop your file’s link on a website. The only downside is the 150MB file size, which is rather small with some of the other sites in comparison.

File Dropper - Free File Hosting for MP3, Videos, Documents

File dropper

FileDropper’s beauty is in its simplicity. It has one click file hosting where you simply click on the upload button and select your file. After the file is uploaded you are taken to the page where the file is hosted. If the file is an image, it shows the image directly on the page for easier sharing. Upload size is an impressive 5 GB.

Original here

Newly unearthed Apple patent raises hopes for fabled iTablet


In April, Apple filed an updated 52-page application for a patent on an extensive multi-touch interface for a full Mac OS X-based system. The illustrations that accompany the application look like the long-heralded but non-existent "iTablet."
The filing includes descriptions of various interfaces, including a full-size onscreen keyboard that can use modifier keys, like shift or control. "Although only two keys are described, it should be noted that two keys is not a limitation and that more than two keys may be actuated simultaneously to produce one or more control signals," reads to the application. So multiple modifiers can be used, such as shift-opt-ctrl-3, used to capture the screen to the pasteboard. Another interface element is a virtual iPod scroll wheel that can be accessed on demand. Like the iPod's scroll wheel, it can be used as a virtual jog dial and be tied to a number of possible adjustments. Other multi-touch gestures we have seen in the iPhone UI and carried over to the MacBook Air trackpad, such as scrolling, zooming, and rotation, are also described in the patent application.

Perhaps most importantly, however, the application details methods to interact with multiple windows, instead of the single window method used for the iPhone. There are gestures that enable windows to be shuffled around and resized. Also included in the description is a method to interact with interface widgets that may be too small, by temporarily enlarging them for accurate touch control.

The latest patent filing details methods for interacting with multiple windows using multi-touch input.
The latest patent filing details methods for interacting
with multiple windows using multitouch input

The recent application follows on numerous patent applications from Apple recently, giving further evidence that Apple has some plans to integrate multi-touch interfaces in future Macs. Whether or not this means we will be seeing a Mac tablet from Apple anytime soon, though, is still a mystery. There is a small, but vocal, contingency hoping for such a product. But based on comments from Axiotron CEO Andreas Haas, a former Apple product manager, it likely won't come from Apple until it sees a much larger market opportunity. "The iTablet is not gonna come," Haas told Ars in January. "We are shipping [ModBooks] in the hundreds of thousands, and Apple ships in the millions." Until Apple thinks it can move that many tablets, it still remains a pipe dream.