Thursday, June 17, 2010

My New Phone and a Downside to Open Source

As long term readers of this blog know, one of my hobbies has for some time been window shopping new cell phones, mostly Android, and thinking about whether I wanted to buy one to replace my G1. I finally took the plunge and am now the owner of an HTC Incredible.

So far I think it was the right decision—it seems like a very nice phone. One problem, however, arose. I had been looking forward to being able to link it to a portable bluetooth keyboard via some third party software. I tried installing the software and it didn't work; the phone thought bluetooth was turned off even though it was actually turned on. A little searching located an exchange online between the producers of the program and a customer with the same problem. It turns out that the software does not yet work on the Incredible.

The Android operating system is open source. One result is that manufacturers and carriers can, if they wish, produce their own customized versions. And do. One result of that is that a program that runs under Android 2.1 on one phone may not run under the "same" operating system on another. A second result is that when Google brings out a new version of the OS—Android 2.2 aka Froyo is supposed to be a large improvement over 2.1—it may take quite a while before it is available for all of the phones that are, in hardware terms, capable of running it. Froyo is currently available for the Nexus One, a close relative of my phone made by the same manufacturer. It is unclear how soon I will get it.

Of course, another result of Android being open source is that independent programmers can, and do, bring out their own improved versions, along with instructions how to substitute them for what comes with your phone. Odds are that, if I am willing to risk something non-standard, there will be a version of Froyo I can run on my phone considerably before Verizon announces one.

1 comment:

Antti-Juhani Kaijanaho said...

That different manufacturers have the right to make variations of a "standard" OS is nothing new, and nothing Open Source specific (it's been done for decades through closed source licenses from the OS creator, and was, at least in the 1980s and 1990s commonly done to MS-DOS and MS Windows).