The Future of Applications: Facebook, Mobile and Linux

amcpherson's picture

There’s been interesting debate going on recently on the future of applications: where they will be developed, how they will be delivered and on what platform.

On our last Linux Foundation Open Voices podcast, Mark Shuttleworth said:

And so, if you look at the speed of adoption of Facebook applications, for example, it’s far greater than the speed of adoption of any traditional piece of software which you would have to download and install and you have to have different versions you have to manage and so on.

I think he’s right about speed of adoption of apps on Facebook. (How often do you download applications to your desktop anymore? I rarely do.) But something comes before speed of adoption, and that’s speed of development. I think if you looked at the sheer numbers of new applications being developed for any platform (desktop/server/mobile), Facebook would take the lead. Facebook, not coincidentally, runs on Linux, just like virtually all of the new Web 2.0 application development platforms.

Developers define a platform’s health and thus are the most highly prized community. Apple just announced an “opening up” of the iPhone to court new developers to that platform even though CNET casts a skeptical eye:
Call it the iPhone compromise–Apple is giving developers a chance to get their wares on the iPhone, but not every application will work properly inside a browser without native support. The decision means Apple has a better chance of guaranteeing application security and reliability on the native applications it does allow on the iPhone, but it falls short of what other smart-phone companies–notably Nokia–offer mobile-application developers.

Contrast this with Google’s Open Handset Alliance and their Android SDK. Instead of keeping the key applications for themselves, they’d rather the development community do it for them; so much so that they are offering a $10 million Android Challenge.

By using Linux for other platform and opening it up for everyone, Google hopes to extend their desktop search dominance to the mobile world. Instead of a silo, like Apple or Blackberry or Symbian, they hope to enable a cross-device, open platform for mobile developers, incent developers to build great apps and then, just like Facebook, reap the rewards from their own content/advertising vehicles.

Then there is Microsoft who is feeling the heat on multiple fronts: they see the young Web 2.0 developers using the LAMP stack to build their businesses, by-passing .net. They see users realizing Office and Windows are not quite as crucial as they once were since the majority of their activities are now centered online (see Facebook). Microsoft is just now figuring out that when it comes to developers open might be better:
Last week, Microsoft also said it would drop its traditional resistance to industry-wide standards for the way its software renders web pages and, by default, make its Explorer browser work more easily with other web coding tools.
They are hoping Silverlight and their new enhancements to IE will court the developers who are betting on Adobe and Linux. But based on a recent analysis of job listings for Silverlight and Adobe Flash skills by Computerworld, Adobe is far far ahead. And with Adobe’s AIR announcement and their commitment to true cross-platform/cross-device development not optimized/locked in to any specific application or platform, the competition stands to get even more intense.
Not surprisingly, we see developer momentum behind those companies or platforms who are choosing open platforms like Linux and being truly open themselves. The rules of application development are changing. Incumbent advantage is being replaced by transparency and open APIs. If you want to compete for these developers, you need to stay open. Linux is at the heart of these changes.