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Margay's RESTy firewall

Linux-based routers are exceptionally common, but it was interesting to see a Linux-based router at CeBIT which did have a difference. The Margay firewall's developer has chosen an uncommon way of creating the user interface for the device, writing the front end in Ruby and using the light-weight web framework Sinatra. Sinatra is a remarkably simple way of creating web applications in Ruby which makes the more common Rails look overly complex. It is often used for providing simple web based services, but in the Margay firewall it has RESTy Firewalls
Zoom RESTing with firewalls and routers at the Margay stand.
been used to provide a very clean and, on first look at least, effective front end to controlling the device.

The developer explained that the way the code had been written meant the interface was a proper REST interface; web calls can GET, PUT, POST and DELETE resources on the router represented by URLs. Any page in the user interface can also be returned as JSON (a notation based on JavaScript). This is important because it makes the router much more amenable to being managed by other applications using current web techniques, rather than the older, more complex, SNMP. How this design difference plays out for Margay is yet to be seen, but it is good to see open source enabling developers to think and implement outside of the box. If you want to know more about how it's implemented, see the developer's Wiki.

...and Android tablets

I can only, of course, mention the open source things that caught my eye at CeBIT. If you were are CeBIT looking for a calendar system, then Zarafa, OpenXchange and Davical were all there with something to offer. If you wanted to see the latest in extensions for the Eclipse IDE, then there was an Eclipse village with companies such as Talend and Tasktop. And for content management, there were stands for Typo3, Alfresco and others.

But there was another thing that was noticeable; probably due to the nature of the trade show, once you moved away from the open source park in Hall 2, it was rare in the other halls to see many mentions of open source, let alone free software. This is a stark reminder of the marketing funds available to proprietary software vendors; funds that are core to their business models.

There was one bit of open source that was everywhere, and that was Android, specifically Android on tablets. There was, oddly enough, only one company showing Android 3.0 Honeycomb at the show; ASUS had two future EEE models, a slider tablet and a dockable tablet, both based on the Tegra 2 chipset and both running Honeycomb, on its stand. There was also a Qualcomm-based EEE "memo pad" Android tablet which was going to run Honeycomb, but according to an Asus representative it wasn't ready yet – NVIDIA had been faster getting Honeycomb running on its chipset – and so it was shown, complete with dummy bluetooth handset, running Android 2.3. None of the tablets were expected to be shipping before the summer and they currently look very similar in specification and capability to other Honeycomb tablets coming.

AOC had a 7" Android tablet running Android 2.1, complete with chunky hard buttons for Android's Home, Menu and Back buttons; in Honeycomb, the need for these buttons disappears as the functionality of the buttons moves onto the screen, so expect AOC's next tablet to look completely different.

And then there were the rest of the Android tablets. Piled up around the hall with low specifications, low build quality and low prices, often running a modified version of Android 1.6 or Android 2.1 with controls grafted onto the displays status bar. These included the iPad look-a-likes with rocker switches on the side co-opted into being the Home and Menu buttons; these really did work like overgrown phones. Customisation was limited to getting those extra buttons on the screen and throwing some applications onto the device so it didn't look quite so bare. If you want to avoid disappointment, skip these tablets and wait for the Honeycomb tablets from the established manufacturers; and if price is important to you, wait some more months after that for the Chinese makers to catch up.

Even when the devices were running an open source operating system, the hardware makers tend not to mention it, preferring to rely on brands like Android to say that for them. There's a lesson to be learned there: branding is important because marketing doesn't have time to explain all your values ... especially at a trade show like CeBIT.

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