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Microsoft, 'open' data, and the curse of open source

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Do the rise of cloud computing and the outbreak of peace on open standards in the browser mean programmers will be forced to find new ways to make money online?

In the last few days, Microsoft surrendered to common sense by announcing that Internet Explorer will finally embrace common standards with HTML5.

It was a critical moment that potentially means the end of the lock-in that enabled Microsoft and others to charge for their coding work. While IE might be free, billions of hours were spent on custom coding as Microsoft, partners, and an entire industry built web sites, applications and online services first for Microsoft's browser and then for everybody else that bothered to adhere to web standards.

The disappearance of this walled garden - due to happen with IE 9 - has coincided with the feverish rise of smart-phone makers and service providers falling over themselves to give consumers access to things like Twitter and Facebook on their handsets.

Apple, Palm, Microsoft, Google, Blackberry, and Symbian are fighting to prove they too offer access to exactly the same handful of social networks so their users can also Tweet their way through important business meetings.

Increasingly, this battle to carry the same services requires both integration between services and between those services and the operating system.

Palm, for example, has Synergy in its webOS that links and merges contacts, calendar information and messages to avoid fumbling through different screens. On the other end of the scale, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series has a long way to go on basic integration and multitasking, but we should expect it to catch up over time in classic Microsoft fashion.

This trend for integration is starting to reach into the world of the desktop. Lucid Lynx - the next version of the Linux desktop due imminently - will integrate Twitter and Facebook into the software, according to Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth.

That should merge the desktop and online worlds so people don't have to fire up their browser or a separate application to use their social applications.

All this means that while each mobile and desktop operating system is unique and highly complex - facts that let developers charge for the time and work that goes into building their software - they are all targeting exactly the same data by writing to exactly the same APIs, be they Facebook's or Google's vast repository of search queries or geo-location information.

This trend of writing to what speakers at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) this week in San Francisco, California called "open data" - never mind the whole issue of proprietary cloud lock in - is being further driven by giants like Microsoft and Google.

In health, for example, you have Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health - two growing repositories that are seeing Microsoft and Google set themselves up as massive gatekeepers of information. They have recognized that in the information age, survival comes not by adding more features to applications or operating systems but by owning the information itself and then letting others access it. Talk about buying your way into the future.

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Next page: Oh my, OData

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