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Open Source to Go

By Jack M. Germain
Sep 30, 2008 4:00 AM PT

The age of mobile computing is upon us. Small form-factor laptops, even smaller netbooks and smartphones keep us continuously connected with colleagues, family, friends and our bosses around the clock.

Open Source to Go

These mobile gadgets make it possible to take all of our data with us wherever we go. Mobile technology also lets us bring our favorite entertainment outlets with us. We carry music to hear on our iPods, videos to view on our smartphones and full-length movies to play on our portable computers.

But lest you think mobile access couldn't get any better, consider the added features open source applications bring to the mix of proprietary platforms and communications programs. LinuxInsider went on a no-cost window shopping spree to find some cool open source applications.

Mobile users carry with them a vast variety of devices. So we looked for the coolest mobile apps hoarded at online software repositories. We searched for great productivity apps, cool games and intriguing communication apps.

Games Galore

We at LinuxInsider nearly became addicted to game playing on palm-sized devices while checking out the portable game offerings out there. Playing a game on a high-powered desktop game machine is nothing compared to the fun that comes from playing games in vivid color on your phone or PDA.

One of our favorite Java-based games is "360 Speed" by HOVR.

This is a car racing game that runs on most phones. The phone selector page on the HOVR Web site helps to match the download to your specific handset. Even the Web site is cool. You can play an actual version of the game on your computer screen.

360 Speed is a realistic racing game that requires fingertip dexterity to execute competitive driving skills. It takes judgment and experience to know when to speed up and when to whiz past the opponents in different weather conditions.

To win the championship at "360 Speed," players have to navigate through an ultimate crash routine with other cars. Of course, even with failure, the crash is fun. The game beckons players to start the course again.

Brain Power

GNU's "5ud0ku" J2ME midlet is a Java-based game that puts Sudoku puzzles on mobile phones and PDAs.

Players enter a numerical digit from 1 through 9 in each cell of a 9x9 grid made up of 3x3 subgrids or regions. The board is already populated with digits in some cells. Each row, column and region must contain only one instance of each numeral.

This is a strategy game. It takes patience and clear thinking to complete each one. What distinguishes this version of other Sudoku games are the pencil mark support and the colored display of the numbers.

5ud0ku Version 1.8 runs on mobile devices with a minimum of 128 x 128 pixels. It offers three difficulty levels and supports pointer devices for smartphones and PDAs.

Other features include four different display sizes, game autosave and load, an undo/redo mode and customized game generation. Depending on the display size selected, players can view possible digits and remaining digits in a sidebar.

Productivity and Communication

It was hard pulling away from games, but we must continue our quest. We found some really cool productivity and communication tools to make the transition back to work fun.

One of the most essential productivity tools we came across was the free version of Evernote. You may have seen Evernote on Windows or Mac computers (those of you who do sometimes use Microsoft or Apple), but Evernote also runs great under Wine in Linux. Perhaps that's a stretch, but the sheer usefulness of Evernote warrants a nod.

Evernote gives users a centralized location for all the notes, photos and voice recordings created on their portable devices. Evernote saves documents and media files on a Web storage platform that can be accessed anywhere. This mobile version of Evernote is a must-have app for saving everything to a centralized location via a cloud-based sync. The USB version resides completely in USB storage -- both the program and the database.

Evernote mobile runs on the iPhone and Windows Mobile.

One of the coolest portable apps we found is an iPod manager called "YamiPod." This standalone application for Linux, Windows and Mac can be downloaded here.

Use YamiPod to manage your iPod content without having iTunes installed. It copies MP3 and AAC files to and from the iPod. Even better, it imports and exports playlists, searches for songs, removes duplicates and creates or edits notes.

Users can copy YamiPod directly to their iPods. It includes a built-in music player and lyrics support. It also displays iPod information such as owner and used space.

YamiPod is powered by the Xoops Project, an Object Oriented, dynamic Web content management system written in PHP.

Apps to Go

Sometimes carrying around a device even as small as a laptop is a hassle. However, programs that run on a USB device can go almost anywhere. They can eliminate the need to carry the computer from one place to another if a computer is available at your destination.

Numerous portable apps are available for download here. With software from installed on a USB drive, all essential productivity tools fit into a pocket. This includes bookmarks, settings, e-mail and the open source business tool suite, OpenOffice.

Each of the programs work well when run separately. But put them together, and the all-in-one collection is the height of coolness in portable open source applications.

The PortableApps platform includes the menu and a suite of productivity and communications apps. The collection includes portable editions of the Firefox Web browser, the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail client, the Mozilla Sunbird calendar and scheduler, and the Pidgin instant messaging client.

Also bundled with the suite is ClamWin antivirus, CoolPlayer+ audio player, a sudoku game, KeePass Password Safe password manager, Sumatra PDF reader, a minesweeper clone and a backup utility and integrated office suite.

By the way, if you are not familiar with the office suite, you should be. It's very similar to Microsoft Office and completely interoperable. The office suite contains Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentations), Base (database utility) and Draw (drawing).

Is "too much screen time" really a problem?
Yes -- smartphone addiction is ruining relationships.
Yes -- but primarily due to parents' failure to regulate kids' use.
Possibly -- long-term effects on health are not yet known.
Not really -- lack of self-discipline and good judgement are the problems.
No -- angst over "screen time" is just the latest overreaction to technology.
No -- what matters is the quality of content, not the time spent viewing it.