Open source can win the Kindle-Apple tablet wars

We want software, we want our Internet, and inevitably, we are going to want open source on our tablets.

Special Report: Apple Tablet

Amazon has released a software development kit for its Kindle tablet, with an app store to come.

ZDNet bloggers have been weighing in, mostly negatively. Most don't think the apps have a chance, and most don't think Amazon can hold off the vaporous appearance of Apple's tablet.

I bought a Kindle 2 for my daughter this Christmas, and I tried to publish my book on Moore's Lore at the Kindle store just yesterday. It seems clear that there is much here for software writers to do.

For instance, do you know I couldn't upload a PDF to the Kindle Store? Still not supported. And some publishers have disabled the speaking feature on the Kindle 2 in fear of offending the voices on talking books.

This puppy needs to be opened up.

With Apple and a host of wannabes pushing into the tablet space, it's also clear developers have choices on what to support, choices that will drive markets to open over time. They will make their initial choice based on the market share of the device they are writing for, and the freedom they have to innovate.

Then, just as in the PC era, they will look to collaborate in different ways. This gives open source an opening.

Let's start with the opening bids. Amazon's success is based on its relationships with traditional book publishers. Apple has the music space.

Both companies have largely bypassed the Internet and its folkways. Amazon controls its users' online access. Apple uses "apps" to make online sessions proprietary to sites.

Which means there is an opening here. A Microsoft tablet, for example, might support all types of software, including open source, perhaps with WiFi and an integrated phone. Or (better yet) a Google tablet, maybe made by HTC, its Chinese partner in the Android. Running the Chromium OS.

Second, let's look at what Apple and Amazon have already done to the content industries they aligned with.

Music is no longer a CD, it's a song, and its magic price point is 99 cents, not $15.99.

Books are going to soon find they're no longer books, they're content. If you can get Twitter on a Kindle, you can get ZDNet. Hey, ma, look at me, I'm an e-book.

Price points are also changing rapidly. My own Moore's Lore book is $1.99. Just like Sanjay Gupta's "Change Life." And, as Larry Dignan points out, Amazon is giving developers 70% of their net. Did I say developers? I meant authors and publishers. No, on second thought I meant developers.

Once books are digital content, by the way, what is a publisher? It's no longer someone in manufacturing and distribution. It's a marketer. It's an agent. They should be getting an agent's cut. And they're no longer the gatekeeper to what's out there they were before.

Thanks to the Kindle, in other words, everything has already changed. All sorts of playing fields have been leveled. Pandora's box has been levered open. It can't be shut.

And once the box is open, competition goes wide. We want software, we want our Internet, and inevitably, we are going to want open source on our tablets. How an author makes money in that environment I don't know, but I think I can, and I'm anxious to try.