Mobile touch-screen computers—smartphones and tablets—are more powerful, and much more fun to use, than the computers I met at school, university, and even in my first job in 1997. I believe these machines are the most important development in geo-computing since the proliferation of Linux workstations starting about eight years ago. Geoscientists should be especially excited because here, finally, is the possibility of the tactile, high-fidelity, three-dimensional display we’ve all dreamt of since seeing Minority Report in 2002. And you can buy one for less than $400. Open source software and mobile technology have an uncomfortable relationship. Given that both of the major mobile operating systems, Apple’s iOS and Google Android OS, have Unix-like foundations, there is surprisingly little mobile open source software. Sure, Android itself is open source, but an ironic upshot of this is that device resellers are imprinting themselves strongly on the firmware. This often results in limiting consumer choice, locking them in to unwanted relationships. But openness is not just about open source. Even if we don’t wish to publish all our code in this new, fragile, marginal market, we can help each other build more powerful tools as scientific software spreads to mobile platforms: 1. We can promote open standards and data models; 2. We can share and publish code fragments whenever we can; 3. We can design and document rich application programming interfaces; 4. We can design tools around powerful web-based services that we can reach from anywhere.


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