February 15, 2010

Nokia and Intel Unite to Create New Mobile OS

Unlikely partners Intel and Nokia have joined forces in an attempt to fend off increasing mobile competition from Google, Apple, and Microsoft. The two companies have merged their mobile OSes into one entity: MeeGo. You can expect the first mobile devices running on MeeGo later this year.

MeeGo is a merger of Nokia’s Maemo OS and Intel’s Moblin OS, both of which are Linux-based. Maemo is the platform that runs the Nokia N900, while Moblin runs on phones such as the LG GW990 and netbooks from Foxconn, Acer, and others.

Overall though, both are small fry when compared to Google’s Android platform or Apple’s iPhone OS, which could be part of why Intel and Nokia felt it was necessary to team up.

As for how the thing will work: well, it’ll be built around the Moblin core OS, but it will utilize Nokia’s Ovi Store for its apps. It’ll be hosted by the Lunx Foundation as an open source project. Oh, and MeeGo will not just be for mobile phones either, but is intended to work on netbooks, tablets, and televisions as well.

In some ways, the entire thing just seems like a “too little, too late” attempt by both companies to muscle their way back into the smartphone market that Apple and Google have been taking by storm. Neither Moblin nor Maemo have the intuitive interface of Android or the iPhone OS (or the app catalog of either), and it’s tough to see how a merger will change that.

Still, at least they’re not giving up without a fight — it’s too big of a market to simply surrender. Combining resources and encouraging open source additions will probably help its development as well. We’ll see what the two companies come up with later this year.
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February 6, 2010

FBI’s Most Wanted: Your Browsing Activity

FBI Director Robert Mueller wants ISPs to track “origin and destination information” about their customers’ browsing habits and store them for authorities’ use for two years, according to a CNET report.

That would mean monitoring the IP addresses, domains and exact websites users visit, and then storing that information for months. If officials who support this measure get their way, federal, state and local law enforcement would be able to access the information via search warrant or subpoena.

Access to exact URLs would require deep-packet inspection, which could be a violation of the Wiretap Act. The courts would end up having to make a ruling one way or the other if authorities try it.

The argument in favor is that the FBI has long been able to do this with telephone call information, but since so much telephone communication has been replaced by web activity, this would just be a preservation of existing powers. And those in favor insist that no actual content would be released to authorities — only points of contact. For example, authorities can see that a phone call was made from one number to another, but they don’t know what was said unless they wiretap.

The FBI says it could use an ISP’s data to investigate suspected child pornographers, but there are obviously potential abuses as well. The good news for privacy hawks who oppose this sort of thing just as strongly as they do the CIA’s alleged use of social networking data is that no significant progress has been made to get this done; consider this more a statement of intent. It’s not the first though; a formal request was sent to congress almost two years ago.

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February 4, 2010

Symbian OS Goes Open Source

As of today, the source code of Symbian 3 mobile OS (the successor of previous Symbian versions, S60, S40 and others) is open and free to use. Nokia had acquired Symbian back in 2008, turned the consortium that makes the software into the Symbian foundation, and has now decided to make it available to all phone manufacturers. The source code is published under the Eclipse Public License (EPL).

Although it’s the most popular mobile OS, powering some 330 million phones, Symbian has been in some sort of a limbo lately. On one side, it competed against the increasingly popular (and completely closed) iPhone, while many manufacturers, such as Motorola, opted to use the open source Android, which offers a much more similar experience to iPhone than most Symbian phones.

Lee Williams, executive director of the Symbian Foundation, claims that the new, open Symbian has an advantage over Android. Symbian is fully open, he says, while “about a third of the Android code base is open and nothing more. And what is open is a collection of middleware. Everything else is closed or proprietary.”

Still, one can’t help but wonder whether Symbian is a bit late to the game here. Many manufacturers have already all but ditched Windows Mobile and Symbian in favor of Android, and some of them (like Motorola with their Droid) have been quite successful with Android-based devices. Whether the new version of Symbian, together with the move to open source, will be enough to make Symbian interesting to manufacturers, remains to be seen.
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