Sony chooses open

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Phrases I considered for this post's title ranged from "surprising choice" to "sign of the apocalypse." More than a few years ago, I remember buying my first piece of Sony hardware--a video camera. It was one of the first that also let you take digital stills, which it saved to a tiny, purple, proprietary Sony memory stick that was an expensive pain to replace or get a spare of. And that was how I first learned that Sony was mostly only interested in Sony.

Then today I saw a lot of people pointing to the about page of Sony's Networked Application Platform (SNAP):

Sony’s Networked Application Platform is a project designed to leverage the open source community to build and evolve the next generation application framework for consumer electronic devices.

The developer program gives access to a developer community and resources like SDK, tools, documentation and other developers.

The foundation upon which this project is base comes from the GNUstep community...

A little history for those who have never heard of GNUStep: In 1993 NeXT and Sun pushed a free object layer API based on the NeXTSTEP object system, which led to the OpenStep specification. Apple acquired NeXT in 1996, and their Cocoa API is the current incarnation of the old NeXTSTEP and OpenStep environments. GNUstep is an effort at a free software version of the Cocoa API. It includes the Objective-C libraries as well as the tools not only for Linux, but also for Windows. Sony intends to modernize GNUstep for SNAP to include features for things like 3D and touchscreens.

Avi Bryant summarized both possible motivation and humor with one tweet:

After the success of iOS, Sony is using Obj-C/GNUStep for their next-gen dev platform. NeXT gets the last laugh.

Of course this isn't the first surprise turn to openness from Sony. They launched their first Android-based handset just over a year ago, and rumors are that the "Playstation phone" likely to be announced December 9 will be Android-based as well. Interestingly enough, Android 3.0 ("Gingerbread") will be released three days earlier on December 6. If all the rumors add up to be true, it could be a game-changer for gaming on Android.

Good steps, Sony. Keep heading towards open.

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6 Comments's picture

i hope this works.

Rodo's picture

Sory, but what´s so open about Android?

Recently I bought an Android phone and the first thing I had to do was to open a Google account... and good luck trying to use it without it.

I dont want to synchonize all my personal data against the cloud, that´s my information and I want to keep it as private as I can, but not with an Android phone.


suehle's picture
Open Source Sensei

Android isn't perfectly open. But it's based on the Linux kernel. There's the Open Handset Alliance that helped spawn it, and the Android Open Source Project that maintains it. Most of the code was released under the Apache license. And in the grand array of mobile choices, it's a far, far better choice than an iPhone. What would you recommend for an open source phone instead?

Rodo's picture

Actually I´m not quite fond of the Iphone either. In fact I´m looking for a smartphone right now, and the fact that almost every phone maker company is adopting Android really freaks me out. I guess you could say that OSs based on linux kernel and with "most" of the code under GPL or whatever are best than closed ones, but those are tiny details if we think what´s Google doing with our information. Also as a average consumer you are not going to write your own apps... so, I guess "open" can be just an empty word. Just a thought.

suehle's picture
Open Source Sensei

There are plenty of people who feel pretty strongly that open is an all or nothing proposition. While I'd like to see the world embracing openness, I'd rather reward steps towards open than criticize what's still closed. Think of it in terms of parenting--I get a lot better results from praising my five-year-old for remembering to do something right than yelling at her for doing it wrong.

Google is not without its faults. I don't disagree that we've centralized a lot of data with a single power. And anybody who doubts it need only log into their Google dashboard.

But I think it's useful to "parent" those who are headed in the right direction by appreciating the good steps they've taken, like Android. And if you're not going iPhone or Android... well, you're left with what I have right now for a "smart"phone, which is to say, a pretty dumb phone.

Rodo's picture

I´m not triyng to say that we have to be black or white about it, I actually can see grays ;). In this case may be Android it´s more open than MS or whatever, but you are in this particular case, giving up something really important in exchange: your data. At this point it´s quite obvious that open is not the same as free, but I think is a too-high price to pay, most of the people are unaware of this cost and very few seems to care about it.