Open source software – the path to a better world?

It was 2007, Apple had just launched the iPhone – a revolutionary innovation. The iPhone was a completed product, a walled garden and a closed device. In 2008, Android released the HTC Dream – an incomplete product, an open garden of applications and an open device. These two devices offered two opposing philosophies: one, a closed system that is locked to one platform where one has to seek permission to alter its software; and another that has free software accessible to anyone, with cross-platform capabilities (Mitew, 2014).

The first iPhone. Image sourced from Macrumours, Thomas Tamblyn, T3, 2013.

Anticipation for the first Android. Image sourced from Paul Miller, engadget, 2008

Google’s Android was the forefront for open sourcing when they started the Open Handset Alliance in 2007, which embodied cyberlibertarian thinking – that all information should be free (Mitew, 2014; Roth, 2008). While Apple patented their software within their walls, Google released the software they had gathered from inventor, Andy Rubin and set the Android project free (Roth, 2008). It is important to note that while Google shared their open software for free, they also utilised their web dominance in the mobile arena (even through the iPhone) to make a large part of their revenue (Roth, 2008). When it comes to making profit, Google’s philosophy is the same as Apple’s – they just took a different route.

The possibilities of the Open Handset Alliance exploded last year with the development of the Fairphone – the first ethically made phone in the world. While this project is relatively new, it is the most important initiative for mobile phones yet – the first global phone that encompasses a world perspective. Where Apple and Google differentiate on philosophies of free information, their philosophies for the physical development of their software are very similar. Conflict minerals and Ewaste are an integral part of the smartphone cycle and are extremely problematic in terms of human rights violations and the future of our environment. That’s where the Fairphone comes in – it is a completely transparent company that takes open sourcing to the next level.

Fairphone as a completely open source: “Fairphone supply chain: Manufacturers, brands, users, and all the parts in between”. Image sourced from Bibi Bleekemolen, Fairphone, 2013.

Fairphone uses software developers, Kwamecorp, who built on the Android open source model to develop their own system (Mier, 2013; Collins 2014). You can see a demonstration of their operating system through this link. While Google’s Android allows anyone to manipulate their software at will, Fairphone goes that next step further by collaborating with everyone involved in the production of their phone. From those who mine the core minerals our phones depend on and those who assemble our phones together, to manufacturing and designing.

We look at open sourcing as the freedom to access and modify software and, clearly, it can go much further than this. Fairphone is a completely open and collaborative project and would not be possible were it not for open sourcing. Open sourcing is the way to a better world, and Fairphone have started a new revolution for smartphones that I can get exited about.

References:

Collins, K. (2014). Fairphone: how to build an ‘ethical’ smartphone (hands-on). Wired. Available at: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2014-03/05/fairphone-hands-on [Accessed 14/09/14].

Mier, J. (2013). Fairphone Operating System. Fairphone, Available at:http://www.fairphone.com/2013/09/20/fairphone-operating-system/ [Accessed 14/09/2014].

Mitew, T. (2014) iOS vs Android: the two futures of the mobile net. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBQDsZG8nVk&list=UU2RaUOoqFYKBjm0JQ4gwzHQ [Accessed 09/09/14]

Roth, D. (2008) Google’s Open Source Android OS Will Free the Wireless Web, Wired. Available at: http://archive.wired.com/techbiz/media/magazine/16-07/ff_android?currentPage=all [Accessed 14/09/14]

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About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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2 Responses to Open source software – the path to a better world?

  1. ml079 says:

    Great blog! Great use of references and outside sources also. I ejoyed the inclusion of a step above the classic debate of Apple vs Android with the example of the Fairphone. It will be interesting to see if another commodification can rival the two biggest corporations in the smartphone market, as currently they posses 110% of the profit market with competitors such as Nokia turning a loss over the year.

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