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22 February 2010, 11:56

Keeping the Web open and mobile

by Mary Branscombe

Palm’s directors of developer relations, Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith say the mobile Web needs diversity and power - and an open source Facebook application.

Smartphones aren’t just competing for users; they’re competing for the developers who create the cool apps that draw in the users. Palm’s approach is to harness the popularity of Web development, with Flash support on the way, but to back that up with the extra power of the Plug-in Development Kit, and an underpinning of open source.

When The H asked Almaer and Galbraith to explain the benefits of that approach, they told us that it’s all about the power of the open Web. Despite their background with Mozilla Labs (where they were behind the open source Bespin cloud IDE project), they both emphasise the importance of the open Web over any specific browser. “It's important that the platform stays as the Web, not a specific implementation,” says Dion Almaer; “We want Firefox to do well, but you don't want it to be the 90% browser or people will start coding to Firefox instead of the Web.”

Galbraith agrees that even if it makes life harder, open is the way to go; “The developer who gets frustrated says ‘I wish there was just one browser and the world would be simple…’” Almaer finishes his thought for him; “And then there would be no competition and no development.”

Almaer says that thanks to openness, “The Web is the biggest development platform ever; it has a billion users. There isn't a company that has a billion users.”

Open Web, open libraries, open Facebook

Palm Pre Plus
The Palm Pre Plus.
Source: Palm
But if Palm apps are Web apps, and Web apps can run anywhere, why would users and developers pick Palm? As you’d expect from the pair who started the Ajaxian community, they point out the importance of developer tools like the Mojo SDK, as well as what the Palm platform can add. According to Almaer “One piece of Mojo is the component framework that wraps the widgets and the entire experience, another piece is the service layer available through Mojo and that’s how you access native features. What we call an opinionated user interface framework is one piece of that; we say opinionated because we’ve got a strong HI (human interface) team that have strong opinions on the UI (user interface).”

Web apps get the benefit of the Palm look and feel, including the Facebook app that Galbraith says Palm has just finished enhancing. “Because you can run Web apps on so many devices, if you do want to take advantage of Mojo you get this UI toolkit. You can make your app on Palm look beautiful if you want take advantage of our UI.” The app goes beyond the Synergy feature that pulls your Facebook contacts into the Palm, adds Almaer; “Because of the capabilities of our platform we can do rich notifications, we can do different things, we can embed information [from Facebook]. And we have a Facebook developer library that makes really easy for developers to consume Facebook services and use them in their apps.”

Not only are the libraries available to any developer; Galbraith says Palm will open source the Facebook app, so that other developers can see how they did and build on top of it. (There are very few open source Facebook apps even for the desktop and Palm’s Facebook app appears to be the first open source mobile Facebook app of any kind).

Next: Performance or simplicity?

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