Will open source succeed in the mobile space?


Open source has come to the forefront of the mobile space this year in a big way.  Nokia spun off Symbian and created the Symbian Foundation to put the mobile OS into open source to drive development.  Google’s Android made a big splash with its openness designed to drive development by removing obstacles for adoption.  It sounds like the mobile space is getting more open than ever and that things should be rosy for the way forward.  A recent presentation by John Bruggeman, Chief Marketing Officer of Wind River, given at the Open Source in Mobile conference in Berlin paints a radically different picture.

Wind River is a founding member of the Open Handset Alliance behind Android and a Core Member of LiMo, the mobile Linux foundation dedicated to the advancement of Linux on mobile devices.  Bruggeman’s presentation carried all the more weight as a result of his company’s heavy involvement of the open source drive and is surprising to say the least.  His talk covered five main points:

1.Linux phones will never be as good as the iPhone

2.The mobile industry has been confused and misled by the Symbian Foundationannouncement

3.Operators insist on hedging their bets

4.Phone manufacturers won’t let go of the past

5.Too many people in the mobile value chain just don’t get it

His talk has generated a lot of buzz including a response by David Wood, a VP at Symbian who takes issue with Bruggeman’s main points, especially point #2 about Symbian.  It definitely would appear that things are heating up over the Symbian Foundation and how they are working with the development community and it will be worth keeping an eye on this as it can have a far-reaching impact on the mobile space.



@mark, as if open source developers are not able to create something stable?

take a look at debian stable…

or are you saying that there needs to be a wall between third party software and the core os, in case the software pulls a funny and brings the whole device down?

if thats the case, one have to ask one of two things, why is it out in the wild? and why did the user install it?

i play around a lot with my N800, but not as much as some of the other people found on the internettablettalk forum.

but if i knew that i needed to depend on the thing working at all times, i would be less inclined to do so.

Mark Roddis

Actually I was rather “broad” with my statement and I wasn’t considering all the devices out there that have open source code under the skin however in all the examples given, a proprietary interface has been placed over the top to “protect” the user.

But as turn.self.off points out, when you take some of the control away from the developers, you have to question if it really open source in the true “spirit” of open source software and as Jason says, Android “is not quite open source” so what do we do with that.

But thinking aloud.

Because a phone is expected to be 100% stable and reliable at all times, is the idea of keeping the core locked down and away from the open source development community not a good idea? But to then open things up a little (such as what SE are doing on the Xperia) still allows the community to come up with good stuff.


Many of the mobile OS developers using Linux are building layers over top of it, which is what Android did. They explained it to be not quite open source, it’s better and competitive with iPhone.


The statement that “open source has failed consistently in consumer devices” simply flies in the face of reality.

Samsung’s NV10 and NV11 cameras run on Linux and open source software. Archos line of media players runs on Linux and open source software. A growing number of phones from Motorola, including the new MotoROKR E8, run on Linux and open source software–Motorola estimates that 60% of their product line will be based on Linux within a couple of years. There are numerous other examples.

I was present at the conference where John spoke, and I saw this presentation. It’s kind of too bad that you took only half of John’s (kind of tongue in cheek) presentation: he noted at the outset that, no matter what he said, point 1 was irrefutable, since it was up to him to define what “good” meant.

There were also an accompanying “Five Things That Mobile Linux Can Do to Succeed”, which balanced the presentation a lot more than one might think from reading this summary here… I won’t try to reproduce them from memory, but it might be worth getting in touch with Bruggeman and getting the entire story…

Ricky B.

@Mark Roddis: Open source has already succeeded in *several* consumer devices, and I imagine will continue to do so. Just focusing on Linux, we have numerous routers that use Linux, tivos that use Linux, and so on: consumer devices where the consumer has no idea what is going on under the hood, like Motorola’s linux lineup of dumbphones.

And if we expand it to BSD, we can add most of Apple’s lineup… of course, only the kernel and other libraries there are open source. Remember that Firefox is open source and in the consumer space, and Safari’s webkit is a rebranded open source khtml.

Jordan Willms

“Linux phones will never be as good as the iPhone”. That statement is entirely true if open source distribution for phones are as fragmented as the *nix open source community today. There are so many different distributions, not enough standardization, etc.

Until the open source community starts sleeping in the same bed, the won’t produce any bleeding edge offspring for the consumer market.

J, http://www.sumolabs.com


i would say that yes, granny would be happy, as long as the pre-installed software does the basic stuff without fail.

what i see however is that rather then allowing the community to do its thing, the companies try to impose old school control and “differentiation” by adding proprietary software into the mix, that handles vital functions.

this result in much gnashing of teeth as the geeks see where the problem source is, but cant go in and fix it, instead having to report it to the company, a effort that often appears like tossing notes into a black hole.

the big thing about open source is that its going against the grain that the IT industry have been working with since the day of bill gates letter to the hobbyists.

i think the biggest thing about open source vs say microsoft windows is that the latter have way many more self trained “admins” out there, so granny can call on the grandchild or neighbors son to get that troublesome box fixed.

hell, even vista has printer install issues…


An open OS on mobile devices in a functional business model will be confounded and hindered at every turn by services providers that will want to monetize even the most miniscule aspects of the open OS eco-system. I’m looking at you Sprint/Verizon/ATT et al. Even T-mobile is going to have a really hard time trying to control their urge to strangle the life out of the open model.

Mark Roddis

I am yet to be convinced that open source will succeed on ANY consumer device.

To date when we have seen attempts to “push” into this space, it has failed.

This is not because open source is not capable but because this is the consumer space and NOT the geek space. Sure most readers of this blog would be happy with a Linux desktop and an open source phone but would their granny?

Most open source GUIs (and to play in the domestic consumer space a GUI is 100% essential) are clunky and ugly. Try and add a printer to an EeePC running Linux or install a bit of software and suddenly you are making command line changes and my granny more certainly does not do command line.

So whilst open source might be technically better in many ways, to the end user ease of use will always be more important and like it or not, there are a lot more non techie people than geeks out there so the majority wins.

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