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Open-Source Maturing For Mobile Development
by Evan Koblentz
Jan. 22, 2010
 
Ask most enterprises about mobile application platforms and they'll cite the Big Three -- Antenna Software, Sybase, and Syclo. Now, a new generation is starting to contend in the open-source world.
 
The most visible company in this field is Rhomobile, founded in 2008 and led by CEO Adam Blum. The company's flagship product is Rhodes, a Ruby development system notably used for the Apple iPhone version of Wikipedia. Rhodes is scheduled for a 1.4 update later this month or early next month, featuring audio/video capture and playback, Blum said. There's also a hosted version currently available, dubbed Rhohub.
 
Also due in the next two months is Rhosync 2.0. This is the synchronization server. The new version is focused on speed for large amounts of data, Blum explained. Rhosync is the company's major revenue source, starting at $5,000 for 100 users, and doubling for each order of customer magnitude, he said.
 
However, what Rhomobile lacks are application provisioning and device management tools. Blum said he is finalizing a partnership to resell a major player's products for these features, which will be bundled into a new high-end version of Rhodes.  That could be the silver bullet to make Rhomobile's products more appealing to large businesses.
 
Another open-source mobile development platform is PhoneGap.  Its development is led by Nitobi, a decade-old company coming into mobile from the wider software development world. PhoneGap is similar to Rhomobile's Rhodes product, but is based on HTML and Javascript.
 
"Ours is literally just leveraging what's already in the APIs.  We decided to stay in the Javascript space and just use what's already on the phone, and not reinvent the wheel a lot," Nitobi developer and Google Android expert Joe Bowser said. "We try and go with open standards and stay as open as we can."
 
PhoneGap is currently at version 0.8, with 0.9 already emerging.  The 1.0 release is due next month with still more standardization and support for third-party libraries and plug-ins, Bowser added.
 
Meanwhile, PhoneGap received some notoriety in spring 2009 when developers who used it began having their applications widely rejected by Apple.  That problem has been solved, Bowser said.
 
IDC analyst Stephen Drake said such companies have as much opportunity as their proprietary cousins -- the continued proliferation of mobile operating systems means someone has to wrangle them back in for enterprise customers who want the goal of true write-once, work-anywhere mobile software.  Agendas such as Rhomobile's to work with full tool sets through more established partners are also very important, because businesses want to get everything they'll need, not just parts of the solution, he noted.  There could be opportunities with Google Android and Nokia-Symbian in particular because those operating systems are already based on Linux.
 
Still, "It would depend on what kind of application you're talking about , what levels of robustness you require," Drake added.
 
Editor's note: Open-source is always a hot topic. Discuss it here.
 
 
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