Entries Tagged 'Mobile' ↓

Symbian lays foundations for open source

What happens between a company announcing its intention to license its code using an open source license and the resulting project being launched?

Mostly the answer involves a whole lot of legal discussions as the intellectual property and licensing issues are ironed out and the processes and structures are put in place to support the new project.

These sort of arrangements might be fascinating to those of us that study open source development and licensing models but they don’t necessarily make for dynamic conference discussions, if today’s Symbian Smartphone Show was anything to go by.

To be fair to those involved it can’t be helped that the legal hurdles needed to announce the official formation of the Symbian Foundation won’t be completed until later in the year.

But it was a shame that the eagerness of executives and developers to hear about the plans for the new open source project could not be matched by the ability of the presenters to talk openly about their intentions.

It certainly wasn’t for lack of enthusiasm on the presenters’ part, although the repeated necessary legal qualifications seemed to put an unfortunate brake on proceedings despite evident interest in the potential for soon-to-be open source mobile operating system.

The need to maintain the interest levels of would-be Symbian contributors is not lost on those involved in creating the Symbian Foundation as developers were repeatedly reminded that they could begin preparing for the new operating system today, safe in the knowledge that current APIs and the S60 compatibility layer would still be supported when the code is released some time next year.

There was also a lot of talk, of course, about the potential benefits of the soon-to-be open source Symbian code base. While a lot of these have been heard before in relation to other open source projects it is interesting to see an open source community being created in front of you. These then, were some of the major talking points:

  • Business drivers

Speed is the principle proposition of the Symbian Foundation, according to Symbian CEO Nigel Clifford, who noted that a common platform for mobile operating system development would reduce cost and effort for all concerned. It was noted a number of times that the project was being done for sound business reasons as economic drivers make it difficult to charge for software and most vendors have realised that the best way to make money money is through ancillary services and other products.

  • Maturity

The maturity of the code and the partner ecosystem was noted repeatedly, with Symbian being in a position to claim that the open source Symbian OS will offer the best of both worlds – freely available software based on a proven, mature and stable code base.

  • Differentiation

Much was made of the fact that the chosen Eclipse Public License will enable developers to collaborate on the core platform and user interface framework while differentiating on the extensions that add value such as user experience, applications, time to market and hardware support. Meanwhile Kevin Gunn, software product manager at Texas Instruments, noted that over time there would be less of a reliance on the expertise of Symbian developers and engineers, creating opportunities for third parties in terms of services.

  • Fragmentation

Fragmentation is a concern for any open source project and is especially so given the potential for vendors to differentiate. In that regard it is essential for the Foundation to prove the value of collaboration by continuing to churn out updates that enable the ecosystem to differentiate, noted Patrick Olsson, VP and head of software at Sony Ericsson. David Rivas, VP of technology management for S60 at Nokia was confident that if the foundation did do that the value that the platform provides for collaboration would prevent fragmentation.

  • Risks

Of course no one likes to talk about the risks too much, but the presenters did a good job of acknowledging the scale of the project at hand, as over 20 million lines of code will be released over the next two years. Patrick Olsson admitted that for some members of the Symbian ecosystem there will need to be a change of culture to recognise the elements of the platform that are now a commodity and avoid attempting to compete on them.

  • Due process

As David Rivas noted, the biggest risk was in setting up the organisation to manage the project itself. He noted that the employees of foundation members will be responsible for development and engineering but that employees of the foundation itself will not get involved in development. Foundation employees (who will number 100-150) will be responsible for admin, foundation management, support, marketing and software management and will corral the development teams to create the roadmap without getting involved in directing development projects themselves.

There will be a series of councils covering architecture, feature roadmapping, user interface and release, although those again will be staffed by the employees of foundation members, rather than the employees of the foundation. The ownership of individual software packages will default, for the initial stages at least, to the original owner, who will be responsible for its development direction.

  • Licensing

The choice of the Eclipse license is seen as important in enabling differentiation, as noted above, but the transition will not be immediate. The official launch of the Symbian Foundation in the first half of 2009 will see the code launched under the Symbian Foundation License, which will enable code to be shared only amongst Foundation members. As the IP licensing issues are ironed out the code will move to the EPL over the next two years.

Could Google be stymied by a lack of openness?

It seems almost churlish to wonder whether Google could be even more successful than it already is with a different strategy, but the company’s approach to open source and open development has come into focus in recent weeks.

On last week’s podcast we discussed whether the company should see the AGPL as more of an opportunity than a threat following Jay’s post about the company releasing more code under open source licenses.

Nik Cubrilovic over at TechCrunch, meanwhile, has written an interesting article about Google’s acquisition strategy and whether its apparent insistence that acquired companies migrate to its technology platform (C++, Java and Python/MapReduce/Big Table/Google FS) causes the acquired projects to stagnate.

“One of the first main challenges for a company that has been acquired by Google is adopting the proprietary technology stack used within the company. Google does use Linux and open source, but their core technologies are all internal to the company,” states Nik.

“Because of the difference in technology, it can take a company anywhere from a year to three or more years to move over to the Google infrastructure and architecture,” he adds while detailing how the likes of JotSpot, Blogger, Dodgeball, GrandCentral and MeasureMap have lost ground during the move.

As he notes this issue isn’t unique to Google (it’s one of many problems associated Microsoft’s pursuit of Yahoo) but the widespread use of .NET and the Win32 API make it less of a problem for Microsoft in most cases. Meanwhile a significant number of the companies Google is targeting will be based on the likes of MySQL, Apache, Python, and PHP.

In concluding his article, Nik states: “The solutions for Google are either to adopt a more open stack in parallel to what they currently use, or to open source their internal technologies (as Facebook and Yahoo! are doing) in the hope that they will spread and gain adoption from more developers.”

However, Google has been open with the concepts behind technologies such as MapReduce and Big Table, if not the code, and the release of App Engine should help create a new generation of projects that are much easier to integrate into Google’s portfolio. It could be that the problem is a matter of the platform’s maturity and ubiquity, rather than its openness.

Then again, the company’s attitude towards openness related to the development of Android has also come in for some stick this week. Could it be that the company is about to find out that there is no such thing as being half-open?

Nokia acquiring Trolltech

Yet another open source acquisition. This time it is mobile device vendor Nokia stepping up to the plate with its purchase of open source development tools vendor Trolltech. Nokia will offer NOK 16 is cash for Trolltech, which values the firm at roughly $153m (taking into account currency conversion and rounding).

Trolltech hadn’t yet announced its financial results for 2007, but had predicted (PDF) revenue to be over 30% up on 2006’s NOK 174.1 ($31.7m). The company has also been good enough to fully explain the implications of the acquisition. As well as the press release and stock market notification there is also a Q&A, a letter (PDF) to Trolltech’s customers, and a letter (PDF) to the Trolltech and KDE communities.

Here are the main points:

  • Will the Qt and Qtopia software remain open source?

From the letter to the communities: “We will continue to actively develop Qt and Qtopia. We also want to underline that we will continue to support the open source community by continuing to release these technologies under the GPL.”

  • What’s in it for Nokia?

From the Q&A: “The key driver for Nokia in this acquisition is cross-platform development. Trolltech’s technology will enable Nokia and third parties to develop software across platforms easier and more cost effectively; this speeds up innovation and brings new experiences to Nokia’s device portfolio and onto PCs.”

  • What’s in it for Trolltech?

From the Q&A: “Trolltech will be a part of a world’s leading organization. The support and credibility this lends to the Trolltech solutions is immeasurable. Nokia plans to deploy applications and services across a number of devices and PC’s built with our technology. This is an opportunity for Trolltech to make a major impact in the market. Trolltech will be able to fulfill the company’s vision “Qt everywhere” and deliver on the goals we have outlined.”

  • Are Nokia’s devices going KDE?

From ZDnet: “Nokia’s intention is to use Trolltech’s technology to develop its next generation of software horizontally across “all the major software platforms in the world”, said [Dr Kai] Öistämö [the head of Nokia’s devices unit] who specified Series 60, Series 40, Windows Mobile, Apple OS X and Linux. However, he stressed that Nokia’s existing Linux-based devices, such as the N810 tablet, would continue to use the Gnome environment rather than KDE.”

This is a very interesting move, and one that potentially backs-up Jay’s contention that 2008 will be the year of non-desktop Linux.

The innovation dilemma

Jaron Lanier’s Long Live Closed-Source Software! is well worth a read if for no other reason than it challenges a number of assumptions about the value of open source software. For the same reason, it should be read in conjunction with the numerous critiques that have followed.

Lanier’s argument is that the open source movement has largely failed to produce anything innovative, but has instead just produced newer and less expensive versions of existing software.

“Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it,” he writes.

Glyn Moody responds with a list of open source innovations “The basic TCP/IP protocols? All open. The Web’s HTTP and HTML? All open. BIND? Open source. Sendmail? Open source. Apache? Open source. Firefox, initiated in part because Microsoft had not done anything innovative with Internet Explorer 6 for half a decade? Open source.”

Meanwhile, LXer takes issue with Lanier’s choice of the iPhone as the example of the sort of innovation he is looking for. “First, there’s the question: ‘Why did the Linux community didn’t come up with the iPhone?’ That one is simple to answer: The Linux-community doesn’t make hardware. We also have to note, the iPhone isn’t that innovative at all, only its marketing is. Apple is good at trendwatching and marketing, not at research or radical innovation.”

The main issue I have with Lanier’s article is that it assumes that open source is the exclusive preserve of a community of individuals. “The open-source software community is simply too turbulent to focus its tests and maintain its criteria over an extended duration, and that is a prerequisite to evolving highly original things. There is only one iPhone, but there are hundreds of Linux releases,” he writes.

This ignores the fact that a significant proportion of open source software development is in fact done by corporations, or employees of corporations, through structured processes designed to fulfill a desired communal goal. While a lot of open source development has been focused in the past on providing alternatives for existing software, I would argue that corporations will increasingly turn to open source as a development model specifically because it enables innovation.

As Savio Rodrigues writes: “When a vendor has a truly innovative product, they do whatever they can to increase their return on investment. In most cases, this means that the source code isn’t released. The conclusion is not that OSS projects don’t innovate. Rather, that projects that are truly innovative are developed by vendors whose benefactors (VCs or Wall St.) want the biggest bang for their investment.”

Reducing development costs is a way of improving return on investment, and open source has distinct advantages lowering commodity development costs, while enabling developers to focus on innovative development (this is the innovation opportunity I have mentioned before).

By collaborating on open source development of commodity components, corporations are able to reduce their costs while focusing their attention on innovative value-added services (sticking with the mobile phone market as an example, witness the Open Handset Alliance, or the LiMo Foundation).

It could be argued that the above example reinforces Lanier’s point that true innovation happens behind closed doors. I would respond that the role of open source as – at the very least – an enabler for innovation, should not be overlooked. I would also comment that the commercial use of open source development methods is still very much in its infancy.

As Bruce Byfield points out: “Probably the most important innovation in free software is the concept itself — the idea that you benefit from giving knowledge away, rather than hoarding it… The implications are so far-ranging that, after a decade of free software-based business, we’re still working them out — and that, more than anything else, shows just how innovative free software is by definition.”

Reinventing the Linux phone, Google-style

So after all the hype, it’s not a Gphone but a Linux-based platform for mobile devices and an industry alliance. There are more questions than answers raised by the Android announcement, and from an open source perspective there are two big ones:

How does this compare to the existing mobile Linux initiatives?

It’s not as if the world is starved for mobile Linux platform alliances. Motorola, NEC, NTT DoCoMo, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, and Vodafone announced the formation of the LiMo Foundation in January 2007 with the goal of creating a Linux-based software platform for mobile devices.

There is also the LiPS Forum, which was formed by France Telecom, PalmSource ARM, Cellon, Esmertec, FSMLabs, Huawei Technologies, Jaluna, MIZI Research, Montavista Software, and Open-Plug to develop standardized application programming interfaces to define Linux-based services for mobile phones.

Meanwhile the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum, was formed in July 2003 by Sony, Hitachi, NEC, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, and Panasonic and has a Mobile Phone Profile Working Group which has been working since late in 2004 on a common API for mobile phone functionality.

Then there is the Linux Foundation’s Mobile Linux Initiative, which was set up to accelerate adoption of Linux on mobile handsets and other portable devices and to provide a mobile profile for the Linux Standards Base.

Then of course there are a number of commercial mobile Linux platform and open source software vendors/projects, including Trolltech, Funambol, and OpenMoko.

So is the Android project reinventing the wheel? There certainly appears to be overlap with the LiMo Foundation. For its part, LiMo says:

“LiMo and the Open Handset Alliance, in fact, share membership across the mobile Linux ecosystem. There are no philosophical or technological obstacles preventing LiMo and the Open Handset Alliance from working together synergistically.”

That is no doubt the answer you would expect to see, although the point about sharing members is a good one. Even if Google feels like replicating some effort, joint OHA/LiMo members will probably not be so keen.

One such member is Wind River. It’s chief marketing officer, John Bruggeman, told Stephen Shankland: “LiMo, very candidly, wasn’t moving fast enough. There’s nothing like a good announcement like this that will get you back, focused, and get you to speed up.”

Shankland also got some insight from LiMo executive director, Morgan Gillis on how the two could work together. “Google’s focus is on the mobile user experience and LiMo’s focus is on the underlying middleware platform,” he said.
Over at the Linux Foundation, Bill Weinberg also welcomed Google to the mobile Linux party, even if he does have some doubts about the impact it will make:

“The Android platform and the accompanying Open Mobile Alliance may constitute another Linux ‘knitting circle’, or could represent the tipping point for mobile Linux and a unifying force in a fragmented space. In either case, having a company like Google with a visible commitment to Open Source behind Linux in mobile raises the atmospheric pressure,” he wrote.

How open is open?

It is interesting to note that although Android is based on the GPL-licensed Linux kernel, the software stack will be released under the Apache v2 license.

“The Apache license allows manufacturers and mobile operators to innovate using the platform without the requirement to contribute those innovations back to the open-source community. Because these innovations and differentiated features can be kept proprietary, manufacturers and mobile operators are protected from the “viral infection” problem often associated with other licenses,” reads the FAQ.

Stephen O’Grady, quite reasonably, wonders how this is possible while others are concerned that the license choice will actually give more power to carriers to lock down phones to run only the services they want to provide.

“Manufacturers and carriers are free to use Android to make crippled, locked-down phones full of proprietary, closed software,” notes Sasha Segan over at PC Magazine.

“Verizon or AT&T could conceivably launch their own gPhones, tap into a fast-growing global developer community, and cherry pick the apps they want to allow on their devices, and then ship them with all the restrictions they currently use on their other handsets. How would Google prevent this?” wonders Stephen Wellman at InformationWeek.

The Android FAQ suggests they might be right:

“Because the Apache license does not have a copyleft clause, industry players can add proprietary functionality to their products based on Android without needing to contribute anything back to the platform. As the entire platform is open, companies can remove functionality if they choose. Applications are not set in stone, and differentiation is always possible.”

Then again, while these are the biggest questions from an open source standpoint, there is an argument that to focus on the open source nature of the announcement is to miss the point entirely.

“This isn’t about open source; ultimately, it’s about ad delivery,” notes The 451 Group’s mobility research director, Tony Rizzo. “While the open source community may applaud a company of Google’s stature jumping into the fray, its motives are hardly altruistic. The company sees an opportunity to deliver huge numbers of ads to mobile users.”

Subscribers can read Tony’s take on the announcement and its implications for the mobile industry here.

The client opportunity for Linux

Perhaps a better title for my post from Friday (“The irrelevance of desktop Linux”) would have been “The irrelevance of the desktop PC”. The AP has published an interesting article about PC trends in Japan that provides some context and outlines the opportunity that does exist for Linux as a client operating system.

“Japan’s PC market is already shrinking, leading analysts to wonder whether Japan will become the first major market to see a decline in personal computer use some 25 years after it revolutionized household electronics,” the report states. “Overall PC shipments in Japan have fallen for five consecutive quarters, the first ever drawn-out decline in PC sales in a key market, according to IDC.”

Of course PC makers have come to a different conclusion about the future potential of the PC, but consumer usage trends suggest that PC demand in Japan is likely to continue to decline. “More than 50 percent of Japanese send e-mail and browse the Internet from their mobile phones, according to a 2006 survey by the Ministry of Internal Affairs,” the AP report continues.

“The same survey found that 30 percent of people with e-mail on their phones used PC-based e-mail less, including 4 percent who said they had stopped sending e-mails from PCs completely. The fastest growing social networking site here, Mobagay Town, is designed exclusively for cell phones. Other networking sites like mixi, Facebook and MySpace can all be accessed and updated from handsets, as can the video-sharing site YouTube.

“And while a lot of the decline is in household PCs, businesses are also waiting longer to replace their computers partly because recent advances in PC technology are only incremental, analysts say. At a consumer electronics event in Tokyo in October, the mostly unpopular stalls showcasing new PCs contrasted sharply with the crowded displays of flat-panel TVs.”

As I noted in the update to Friday’s post the opportunity for Linux ‘lies in no longer thinking about the desktop as being defined by the traditional PC‘. Open source has been successful where it causes disruption. Making Linux look and feel like Windows with the hope that it might gain more than 4% of the PC market is not disrupting the market.

I also wrote ‘as the PC increasingly becomes a device for accessing online services the technology that runs on the PC itself increasingly becomes irrelevant to the consumer‘. I was struggling to think beyond the PC myself – the point is that new appliance-style client devices will emerge that will make the PC – and the client operating system – irrelevant. The opportunity for Linux lies in those client devices.

Green with envy over the Greenphone

The coolest thing I saw at LinuxWorld Expo San Francisco last month was the Trolltech Qtopia Greenphone. The Greenphone is a Linux-based mobile phone, based on the company’s Qtopia Phone Edition platform. It is targeted at software developers who are looking to bring their applications to the emerging Linux phone market.

Today at the CTIA Wireless I.T. & Entertainment 2006 Convention, Trolltech announced pricing/availability (press release) and community support (press release) for the Greenphone. The ‘development kits’ are available today at the $695 US and $890 US price points. Developers who intend to release their applications using the open source GPL license are eligible for the lower price.

Trolltech is not marketing the Greenphone as a consumer device, as its focus is selling Qtopia Phone Edition as a platform for mobile device manufacturers. As much as phone may be the envy of the geek consumer, its purpose is to provide software developers with a device to showcase their work.

PS: Trolltech – if you’re reading this, please send me an evaluation unit! 🙂

Introducing the CAOS Research Service

I am pleased the announce today the we have officially launched the 451 Commercial Adoption of Open Source (CAOS) Research Service and the first CAOS Report – “Stack and Deliver,” covering the open source stack provider space. For more details on these announcements, I invite you to take a look at the two press releases that were sent out today:

The 451 Group Introduces the 451 Commercial Adoption of Open Source (CAOS) Research Service

The 451 Group Cuts Through the ‘Single Throat to Choke’ Hype from Open Source Stack Providers in New Report

Many thanks go out to Dennis Callaghan, Chris Noble, and Nick Patience, for working with me on the first CAOS Report, as well as all of you who took part in the end user survey, vendor briefings, and discussions both on and off the record. Also, many thanks go out to Rachel Chalmers for so diligently covering the open source space for The 451 Group for years and years and also authoring our special report, Cashing in on open source software, which was published last December.

I will be blogging about the various components of the CAOS Research Service in the days ahead.