Celestia. It’s actually slightly embarrassing to admit how much time I’ve spent on this program back when I used my Linux computer. Now this great program is available on Windows and Mac too! Celestia is an open source astronomy program. The amount of information this program has about the solar system, the stars, the galaxies, and anything astronomy-related is amazing! This program even allows you to fly around the cosmos and read all about the universe—it’s very fun and very educational.

There are some smartphone apps that are kind of similar to this. Star Walk for iPhone is great, and Google SkyMap for Android is basically the mobile version of Google Sky, which is worth looking into as well. Anyhow, download Celestia for your computer and play around with it.

Mobile app stores. Okay, this is a long one. In Part 1 of this article, I explained what app stores are, but now it’s time to really dive into them. This could get nerdy, so be warned. Tons of smartphones running on a whole list of mobile operating systems are out there. We’ve talked about Apple’s iPhone iOS and Google’s Android, etc. These are the most popular mobile OS’s and probably the only ones that really matter, even though we should still keep our eye on RIM’s PlayBook OS and HP’s Palm WebOS and maybe even Microsoft’s new WM7 OS. Each of these major mobile operating systems has its own app store. I’ll mainly be talking about Apple’s App Store since it’s leading the industry with the largest, most advanced selection of apps: more than 300,000!

History lesson: The idea of a closed app market (which is what every major app store is today) had always been thought of as a bad, scary thing. Back when Blackberries and Windows Mobile were dominating the market, the idea was to keep things pretty open for developers, as they are on computers. A developer could make any program he wanted for a smartphone and distribute it himself, however he liked and for a long time; this seemed like a fair, efficient way to make smartphones useful. Well, there was a problem with this. Like a computer program, a smartphone program could be developed and distributed by anyone. This was/is very nice for hackers, virus makers, and lazy software developers who pumped out loads of crummy, half-made, broken software. And as you can imagine, smartphones started to take a hit, especially Windows Mobile. Blackberry did okay, because it was more of a niche business tool and had a much smarter, reliable OS to start with. Anyhow, when companies like Apple and Google started developing their Mobile OS’s they took a different approach, which was risky but has been a flaming success. They decided to control the software that others put on their OS and phones. Like I said, originally this sounded like an evil thing to do, but it proved to be a win, win, win. 

This approach is a huge win for the creators of the OS and devices/phones, because they can keep up their image of having a safe, virus-free environment. They also prevent poorly written programs from ever hitting their users. This ensures that the user never receives a virus or incomplete program, which gives a manufacturer like Apple or Google a good image. Plus, the manufacturer actually shares with the developer the income from every app. So, while the developer of the program/app still gets most of the revenue from the purchased app, the distributor (the app store) gets a small cut too.

This is obviously a win for users. Users now have a one-stop place to view and download apps, and they know those apps are going to be safe and actually do what the description says they’re going to do. Surprisingly, this is also the best thing that’s ever happened to developers. Even though Apple or Google (or whoever it is) is taking a cut from them every time a copy of the developer’s app is bought, developers are making more money than they ever could have on an “open app” OS, and they’re all getting the recognition that they’re looking for. I had never even considered developing for a mobile OS until companies like Apple and Google made the closed OS popular. Now I am working on several iPhone apps, all to be released this year.