With the mainstream shift away from desktop to mobile devices, it seems the relevance of open source ecosystems is diminishing. The two major mobile OSes have a very effective grip on the mobile OS space, and they have engendered app models that do little to encourage or motivate open source designers and developers. So now might be a good time to remind ourselves of some of the benefits that open source projects confer.
The benefit I am considering increasingly is the control open source projects give communities over their experience and priorities. In particular, in the current mainstream device use context there’s little room for economically disadvantaged voices. Where the entire raison d’être of a platform is monetization (something that applies to both mainstream mobile platforms, though they go about it differently), lack of economic might translates directly to lack of impact.
The marginalization of limited income impacts everything from design (developing world personas aren’t likely to appear on a design team’s list) to implementation (everyone has a recent, fast device, right?). Open source projects empower communities to develop solutions tailored to their own needs, independent of their monetization potential or other considerations. So, no matter your role in society, if you want help establish more equity in the world, then please support open source!
In spite of some valiant efforts, a mainstream mobile OS that is truly open for users will not become a reality anytime soon. The next best thing we can do is focus attention on open source apps. In future posts, I will try to discuss some mobile open source projects that work well enough to replace popular proprietary and/or monetized ones. But for now, if you are on Android you can check out F-droid: the go-to store for open source mobile apps. Many of these projects are eager for contributions from designers and developers. But even your simple act of using an open source app helps to establish and promote it.