Open-source project to get gadgets talking via the net

Zap and Shake Webinos application Webinos-powered application Zap and Shake can share pictures or videos from a phone to a TV

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More than 5,400 developers have downloaded a new open-source operating system designed to enable digital devices to communicate with each other.

They are now looking at ways in which Webinos could be used to connect a range of devices such as mobile phones, car stereos, heart monitors and TVs.

Webinos is a 15m euro ($18.4m; £11.8m) project supported by more than 30 organisations, including the EU.

BMW, W3C, Sony, Samsung and Telefonica are among its commercial partners.

While other operating systems that use the internet to connect devices to each other already exist, most are pre-installed and cannot be customised by individual users.

Free for all

Technical co-ordinator Nick Allott told the BBC Webinos was designed to provide an alternative to proprietary systems developed by Apple, Google and Microsoft.

What is open source?

The creators of open source software allow others to access to their products' code to allow them to examine and modify its contents.

However, they may still exercise intellectual property rights over it - for example forbidding an adapted copy of their work being sold for profit.

As a result some firms which develop open source projects charge for add-on services rather than the software itself.

The California-based Open Source Initiative has published a commonly-accepted definition of the term on its site.

It says software licences should not discriminate against any group or field of endeavour, and should be technology-neutral - in other words not restricting the product to any single computer platform or style of interface.

The best known examples of open source software include Android and other Linux-based operating systems; the Mozilla Firefox browser; the Gimp graphics editor; and the WordPress blog software.

So far people in 155 countries have accessed the Webinos website.

"People want to control the technology because if you control the technology you control the money," he said. "But it should be free and open to everybody.

"Where we are operating is trying to build the open-source community. That's how web browsers started."

Webinos is designed to run on PCs and Android-operated mobile handsets.

Car manufacturer BMW was also looking at incorporating Webinos in its vehicles, Mr Allott said.

"If you get on your mobile phone and find out your destination before you get in the car, you'll be able to push it to the car and it programmes the sat-nav ready to go," he said.

"Same with music - you choose your playlist, you can consume it on your phone and push it into the car."

The technology also lends itself to healthcare. One demo application enables a heart monitor to share data with the wearer's mobile phone and the computer of their GP.

The user can dictate who has access to the data, meaning that if they change doctor, they can also change their access to the heart monitor records.

The open-source movement has grown steadily in recent years.

A survey in May 2012, carried out by web monitoring service Pingdom, of 10,000 popular websites found 61% were powered by either Apache or Nginx open source software.

Fixing bugs

Ultimately the success of an open-source project relies on it being able to sustain interest among its users.

"There are lots and lots of open-source projects which never attract a community," said Ian Brown, associate director of Oxford University's Cybersecurity Centre.

"They are released and the codes go online, but they aren't quite useful enough to build a head of steam. Open source means anyone can look but not that anyone actually will."

While there are security benefits to open-source material - with the whole community finding and fixing bugs along the way - it also leaves the door open to hackers.

And, according to Mr Brown, some research suggests the two are evenly balanced.

"What you lose in open source is security through obscurity," said Mr Allott. "What you gain is a lot of peer review."

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