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Encourage innovation through open source

Posted: 02 Oct 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:802.11? Boingo? Wi-Fi? open source? digital media?

I have to confess that I never really got it about open-source software. The concept was strangely reminiscent of the early days of the Web, where site operators were giving away essentially everything to drive traffic to their site and, consequently, boost advertising revenue.

Well, that didn't work out that well, and the bubble burst. Still, open source has achieved significant success in the Web world, primarily for server-based applications, most notably in the form of Linux and Apache. Users of open-source software have noted savings from using less expensive hardware, and the ability to customize and repair problematic software at will.

It is indeed possible to make money in open sourcelots of it, in fact, as we've seen with companies like Red Hat and IBM. The key is in understanding the place of open source in the value chain. But it's clear that the push for open source is being driven more by users than by suppliers.

I'm a fan of client-side functionalityboth in extensions to WLAN protocols, and in drivers and related software. I'd prefer extensions to 802.11 to put roaming and load-balancing under the control of the infrastructure, not the client. I'll settle for functionality that makes it easier to establish an authenticated connection between mobile clients of many forms and both public and private infrastructures.

Boingo, the hotspot aggregator, recently announced its Embedded Wi-Fi Toolkit as an open-source product. While aimed at subscriber-unit manufacturer and service-provider communities, enterprises and other end-user groups can use open-source products to get a leg up in deploying customized functionality or to verify what their mobile devices are really doing.

Open source encourages innovation, even if it is of no direct value to (in this case) Boingo. Somehow, I suspect Boingo will get a good bounce from going the open-source route and be viewed as an innovator offering the industry something of value in exchange for recognition.

- Craig Mathias
Principal, Farpoint Group

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