Can't Keep A Good Tech Closed
By Mike Masnick, Fri Dec 03 01:00:00 GMT 2004

As hard as some in the industry are working to keep things as closed and locked down as possible, the open source world tends to force things to change. Companies need to learn to embrace openness, before it engulfs them.

Many companies in the mobile data industry still seem to think that mobile devices will take a different path than computers and the Internet. They believe that closed systems, where control is in the hands of the provider is still possible. They have proprietary systems that keep pesky outsiders where they belong: outside -- and believe things can always remain this way.

The problem is that most people recognize that computers and mobile devices come from the same computing concepts, and if they're free to do what they want with their computers, shouldn't the same be true on their devices? While it may not seem like a huge deal on its face, the Netherlands Forensic Institute has open sourced its Tulp2g mobile phone forensic software. What this software lets users do is "extract and decode all data from GSM SIM cards," including phone call logs and SMS messages. There are other, commercial software products that let this be done, but now that the product is open sourced it's available to anyone.

Personally, this sort of tool seems useless to me. I have very little need to extract that information off of my phone or other electronic devices. However, by open sourcing the tool, and putting it into the hands of developers all over the world, it pretty much ensures that useful applications will come out of it.

What this signals, in part, is that as much as mobile operators and device makers want to keep end-users in the dark about things, it's going to be increasingly difficult to do so. Things have a way of opening up, and when that happens, it's smart to embrace the opening. Trying to hold it back has never worked, and more open systems almost always result in unexpected, but compelling applications and services. If people in the industry is serious about pushing for mobile data adoption, they should encourage projects like this one, which put the right tools into the hands of the people who will create the applications and services that drive mobile data usage. The downside is that such tools can and will be used in ways that operators and vendors don't like -- but it's a small price to pay to find the truly compelling offerings that will come as a result.