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How Nokia Learned To Love Openness 180

Posted by Soulskill
from the deviant-corporate-practices dept.
ChiefMonkeyGrinder writes "Once Sebastian Nyström laid out the logic of moving to open source, there was very little resistance within Nokia to doing so. I think that's significant; it means that, just as the GNU GPL has been tested in various courts and found valid, so has the logic behind open source — the openness that allows software to spread further, and improve quicker, for the mutual benefit of all. That idea is also increasingly accepted by hard-headed business people: it's become self-evident that it's a better way."
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How Nokia Learned To Love Openness

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  • Openess (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sopssa (1498795) * <sopssa@email.com> on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:02PM (#29745869) Journal

    That idea is also increasingly accepted by hard-headed business people: it's become self-evident that it's a better way.

    Of course this doesn't apply everywhere, but with things like Qt (cross-platform application and UI framework) it makes sense that everyone benefits from it. It's large things with thousands of users that do benefit from it, but if you're doing business with the the same product you cant really open it up and except still to get revenue - unless you go for the support route, but it also only works to certain types of products.

    • Re:Openess (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Interoperable (1651953) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:19PM (#29746125)
      Google is a great example of this. They have a good history of open-sourcing when it benefits them and closely guarding source when it doesn't. They manage to come across as a friendly, open organisation while maintaining a highly profitable business model.
      • A bad comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Huge majority of Google's profits come from Internet advertising, which has very little or nothing to do with Open Source. In fact, Google's whole business model largely depends on it closely guarding the search engine's algorithms.

        Google has a lot of Open Source projects certainly and I'm not denying that but any such are - in the end - pretty much a sidetrack. "If we have a thousand nice, small projects some of them will hopefully eventually be profitable enough to justify the rest and perhaps even add a

        • Re:A bad comparison (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Chandon Seldon (43083) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @02:56PM (#29748237) Homepage

          In fact, Google's whole business model largely depends on it closely guarding the search engine's algorithms.

          Not really. What do you think would happen if they published their algorithms? Hint: Nothing. It's not 1999 where Google's results are drastically better than Webcrawler's or whatever. Everyone uses Google. Everyone would keep using Google if someone else popped up and said they had Google's algorithms and a much worse database of sites.

          Hell, for all we know Cuil or Bing has the greatest algorithm ever. No one will ever know because they don't go there.

          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            Not really. What do you think would happen if they published their algorithms? Hint: Nothing. It's not 1999 where Google's results are drastically better than Webcrawler's or whatever.

            And it's also not 1999, where their only source of advertising revenue was via ads displayed on the Google search engine or other associated services.

            Google is currently the King Kong of online advertisement. They were already heading in that direction, and then they bought DoubleClick. The Google.com portal is just one sour

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by WiseWeasel (92224)

            The reason Google can't publish their algorithms is due to the huge SEO market, and people continuously reverse-engineering and exploiting it, leading to Google throwing in a new twist, lather, rinse, repeat. Google's results would quickly become irrelevant if their algorithms were known. Competing search engines barely even register as a concern in this case.

    • Re:Openess (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrgnDancer (137700) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:25PM (#29746193) Homepage

      This. Open Source is self evidently a better way for certain areas of software development and certain companies. It doesn't necessarily follow that it is self evidently a better way in general. Open source libraries make sens in a lot of the same ways that open standards make sense. They're, in fact, the next obvious growth of open standards. If we can all agree on the inputs and the outputs of the blackbox, why don't we all just use the same transparent box instead?

      Open source also makes a lot of sense when you look at "reinventing the wheel" type problems. I need an Operating System for my device. I don't really care about making money on the operating system, I want to make money on the device. Hey, look, here's this Open Source operating system that works on lots of devices, can be easily modified to work on my device, and saves me a ton of work. Open source makes sense. I can save a lot of work reinventing the wheel on a non-monetized product by using something someone else has already done and opened for me.

      Open source makes less sense when your software is your product. Microsoft is understandably reluctant to release their source code. It is not self evident that Microsoft would benefit from opening up its products. In fact, most would agrue that the opposite is self evident.

      Apple looked at the same problem that Nokia is looking at and decided that since they had an operating system in house already, it made more sense to just modify it then modifying someone else's open operating system. It's worked for them and it is not self evident that making a different choice would have worked out better.

      It is self evident that using Open Source is superior in certain situations and under certain circumstances. It is self evident that NOT using Open Source is superior in certain situations and under circumstances. It is NOT self evident that using Open Source is inherently superior. At least not to me.

      • Re:Openess (Score:5, Insightful)

        by GMFTatsujin (239569) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:52PM (#29746557) Homepage

        Great points. Here's my two cents.

        I bought a N800 because it was the right hardware for what I wanted to do. I needed something I could write on, something I could instant message on occasionally, and something that was light enough and small enough to have on me all the time. Some phones are good for messaging, some notebooks are good for writing, but the N800 brought it together for me.

        Having Maemo, the open source OS, come specially developed for the N800 was a super plus because it offered me a lot more flexibility. True, a lot of what's out there is the standard issue FOSS apps -- but that's the point. I've run SSH sessions from my N800 to diagnose headless server issues, for crying out loud.

        The rest of the time, I write on it, do some twitter, and keep it comfortably out of the way but close at hand. It's a brilliant device, Nokia made some great hardware choices, but they're not in the software biz. FOSS only helps make it better, and was a solid development choice.

      • Re:Openess (Score:4, Insightful)

        by replicant108 (690832) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @01:40PM (#29747171) Journal

        Apple looked at the same problem that Nokia is looking at and decided that since they had an operating system in house already, it made more sense to just modify it then modifying someone else's open operating system.

        Except that Apple's operating system is based on modifying 'someone else's open operating system'.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by DrgnDancer (137700)

          Yes and no. If we want to call the kernel the operating system, then yes. Beyond that it gets a lot more complicated. They are making use of parts of an open kernel, and many open tools, but the vast majority of what users see as "OS X" or "iPhone" OS is Apple code. If the the Free BSD project disappeared tomorrow, Apple would shrug, hire a couple more kernel developers and move on. If the Linux Kernel project disappeared tomorrow most of these "Linux Device" vendors would be up a creek without a paddl

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TemporalBeing (803363)

        Apple looked at the same problem that Nokia is looking at and decided that since they had an operating system in house already, it made more sense to just modify it then modifying someone else's open operating system. It's worked for them and it is not self evident that making a different choice would have worked out better.

        But remember, Apple didn't just use their own stuff - they took an open source project (FreeBSD) and built their stuff on top of it; in the process they created two more projects - Dar

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DrgnDancer (137700)

          You're making the same point as the guy above you, but doing a much better job. I agree that Apple makes use of (and, quite fairly, contributes back too) Open Source software in many low level areas of OS X. However it is equally true that neither OS X itself, nor the iPhone OS can be called Open Source products. They are distinct from Darwin and OpenDarwin in ways that Linux device manufacturer's operating systems are not usually distinct from "Linux".

          In a way Apple demonstrated my point very well. The

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          I think you missed the point. Apple switched to BSD because it gained them something in a reasonable term. From what I remember (I was very young at the time) OS 9 sucked. It didn't even have pre-emptive multitasking. So, Apple swapping things out for BSD on hardware they could control and even then it took a few iterations before OS X didn't suck. On the other hand, Microsoft has a huge, widely deployed ecosystem. Sure, they could realease Windows 11/BSD or something in a few years, but that would involve
          • by gbjbaanb (229885)

            Sure, they could realease Windows 11/BSD or something in a few years, but that would involve changing all of their drivers (which I'm sure the hw mfrs. would love after the joy that was Vista)

            It'd be ironic if Windows was the OS that depended on ndiswrapper :)

          • Re:Openess (Score:5, Informative)

            by TemporalBeing (803363) <bm_witnessNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @05:02PM (#29749935) Homepage Journal

            I think you missed the point. Apple switched to BSD because it gained them something in a reasonable term.

            OS9 was good, but it wasn't going to take them to the future. Fortunately for Apple, Steve Jobs created NeXT and built NextStep after they booted him from Apple. When they brought him back (circa 1996), they did so through buying NeXT. Jobs then threw ought the next version of MacOS that was in the works (big failure project for Apple), and took NeXTStep and renamed it Mac OSX.

            It had nothing to do with convenience for Apple at the time other than they needed a new OS. But it was Job's foresight that brought it to the table.

            Apple also went out of their way to ensure their license (AAPL) was Open Source Compliant, and have done a fine job working with the Open Source Community, including maintaining CUPS and several other projects.

        • by Guy Harris (3803)

          But remember, Apple didn't just use their own stuff - they took an open source project (FreeBSD) and built their stuff on top of it; in the process they created two more projects - Darwin and OpenDarwin - to encapsulate the open source nature of the underlying system.

          Well, to be more a little more precise, Apple bought a company (NeXT) that had taken an open-source project (Mach) and a non-open-source-at-the-time project (BSD - not open source as it included AT&T-licensed code) and built their stuff on top of it, and then took NeXT's stuff, updated it with {Free,Net}BSD code (which, by that time, had become open-source), and continued to develop it (both the open-source stuff and the non-open-source stuff atop it).

        • by Guy Harris (3803)

          And...

          Why did this work for Apple? B/c it let them build off a base system that worked pretty much everywhere, and focus on the quality and other aspects of the system their users care about instead of having to worry about all the nitty-gritty details of writing and supporting an entire operating system and all the utilities that come with it.

          Actually, Apple pays a significant number of people to "worry about all the nitty-gritty details of writing and supporting an entire operating system and all the utilities that come with it" - some parts of OS X might not be much modified from the upstream BSD version, but, for example, the kernel has some FreeBSD bits in it but is developed independently, and the same is true of libc (well, libSystem, as it's called).

      • Ok, I agree that open source may not be superior in every possible situation, but I lack counter-examples and yours isn't really obvious. Would the clients of Microsoft be better or worse if they colaboratively developed the software they buy? Would it be cheaper or more expensive? Would it have lower or highter quality? In short is Microsoft a leacher or a constructive member of society*?

        * Specificaly for Microsoft, the answer is quite easy, but it doesn't extend to other software dealers on any obvious wa

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:03PM (#29745893)

    If those business people are happy to only compete on hardware, then yes.

    If those business people also want to compete on software, OR, they don't read the license ("who reads the license?") and accidentally infringe, and therefore have to try to reach some agreement with a bunch of people who want nothing but to destroy them and see them humiliated, they might become less happy.

    Nokia has decided to only compete on hardware, so no problem for them. Others who want to compete on software might disagree.

    • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:10PM (#29745995) Homepage

      If you take other people's work and build on it and call the end result your own without
      bothering to consider the terms involved then you quite rightly deserve to be humiliated.

      It's no more than what you would get for acting like a toddler in any other context.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Tellarin (444097)

      Nokia did not decide to only compete on hardware.

      They decided that their improvements to the base software (open) plus their hardware, will sell more phones than competitors. And if other people help you maintain the base software, all the better.

      They don't need to open whatever software modules they feel should remain closed for now. Also, if it's your platform, you know it better than outsiders (at least for a while) and can also take advantage of that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Eil (82413)

        They decided that their improvements to the base software (open) plus their hardware, will sell more phones than competitors.

        Exactly. They get more hobbyists to hack on their code, more community interest, applications, code contributions, testing, bug fixes, and visibility.

        Most companies are afraid to open source their code because there's this fear that competitors will either use it and sell it in their product, or will "steal" ideas from it. The reality is that NIH (not invented here) syndrome almost al

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Hatta (162192) *

      accidentally infringe, and therefore have to try to reach some agreement with a bunch of people who want nothing but to destroy them and see them humiliated

      Who said anything about the BSA?

      • !offtopic (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hatta (162192) *

        I usually don't complain about moderation, but come on. The parent was claiming that those who used open source software and didn't follow the license would be confronted by people who want to destroy them. I was merely pointing out that using proprietary software and failing to follow the license would get you a visit from the BSA and be much more likely to destroy your business.

        Sorry if that was too subtle for you, but in an article about the suitability of open source software for business use a compar

    • by Nursie (632944)

      "("who reads the license?")"

      Anyone who wants to distribute software, particularly if they're doing it for money, that's who.

      Otherwise they're no better than the guy selling ripped-off DVDs at the local market.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Free software projects seem to be much kinder and gentler than proprietary vendors when it comes to infringement. They tend to start by asking nicely in private for the infringer to "make it right" and if they agree, even help them save face by announcing the release as a positive and forward thinking step.

      It's the proprietary vendors that tend to lead with lawsuits demanding zillions in imaginary damages (that the unwitting infringer may or may not have), injunctions against shipping at all until the matte

  • In this case (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kdawgud (915237) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:15PM (#29746063)
    Well, in this case it may have made sense for Nokia. They are a hardware company, so giving away the software for free would not directly harm their income. Other industries won't be convinced so easily (i.e. companies that make money off of selling software to the masses).
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ksempac (934247)
      Mod this up. It's been known for years that IBM and others hardware companies need software to sell their machines and therefore it makes sense for them to be involved in Open Source. By reducing the cost of software to zero, they manage to get more hardware sales.
      Software companies on the other hand don't have such incentive to go Open Source, since that reduce the dollar value of their product. And therefore you see MS opposing Open Source.
      The odd one is/was...Sun, a company that never decided whether i
      • by c0d3g33k (102699)
        One could argue, of course, that "software companies" never did have much of a foundation on which to build a product to begin with. Unless they were able to distort reality by invoking "intellectual property rights" and similar techniques to bring artificial scarcity to a realm that by it's very nature facilitates abundance at very low cost. Until we invent the universal replicator, on the other hand, 'hardware' companies can rely on natural scarcity to support their business model. The smart companies,
        • by Al Dimond (792444)

          Hardware companies do the same thing. For most types of processors the design is what's really valuable. I used to work for Nvidia; they had no fabs (they probably still don't). The GPUs themselves are fabricated by independent companies, mostly in Taiwan, IIRC. Yes, fabricating an IC takes a lot more effort than copying bits around, but Nvidia still takes home most of the profit because it controls the design -- and that's really pretty fair, as it was indeed Nvidia that put up the R&D money to des

      • Cue back to the eighties. Hardware vendors were selling hardware, software was there to sell hardware. Then Bill came along and proved that software could be sold on its own right. An industry was born.

        Same time-frame. Hardware vendors were selling hardware, software was there to sell hardware. Industry decided that software was company secret. Richard Random Hacker wanted to tune his printer driver to be able to print. HP didn't want to open up the source code to that driver. This annoyed Richard, and a

    • One thing I want to add to all of this is that open != free. There's no reason you can't have open source under a license that does not allow for reselling or whatever.

      There are more choices in licensing than just GNU and BSD.

      I'd be interested in seeing a software company take this route and see if/how well it does.

  • Too little, too late.

    Now with Android showing the way, they realize how closed development put them behind. I enjoyed my Nokia phones, but I got frustrated with the lack of development.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by the ReviveR (1106541)

      Too little, too late. Now with Android showing the way, they realize how closed development put them behind. I enjoyed my Nokia phones, but I got frustrated with the lack of development.

      Too little? Too late?

      You mean full linux platform where you can simply type "sudo gainroot" to get root access?
      Platform to which it will be almost trivial to port a huge library of current linux apps?

      Personally I really don't like Androids "open". The under the hood it's a closed platform that gives you a Java i

    • How is it late? Symbian was opensourced in 2008.

    • Re:Now they get it. (Score:4, Informative)

      by EvilNTUser (573674) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @01:34PM (#29747079)

      Maemo version 1 was released in 2005 on the Nokia 770. Before Android, before the iPhone. Just because Nokia's roadmap was a bit longer doesn't mean they weren't showing the way.

      In six months we'll have all our lightweight desktop apps running on our phones and people will finally realize just how far ahead of everyone else Nokia really is.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Krneki (1192201)
        I hope you are right, I really do.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CortoMaltese (828267)

        In six months we'll have all our lightweight desktop apps running on our phones and people will finally realize just how far ahead of everyone else Nokia really is.

        Some [youtube.com] heavyweight [youtube.com] as well.

        • by gbjbaanb (229885)

          blimey. and connected to a big screen too, all it needs is a keyboard and the desktop could be dead for a lot of people (I'm thinking the sales guys, not just consumers).

          cheers for the links.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mdwh2 (535323)

        Thanks for the info - this is the kind of thing I'd really be interested in seeing. A geek site giving us cutting edge news - instead it's just "Apple Apple Apple now you can get Iphone 3G, and look at a website!", telling us news about the Iphone, 3 years or so after almost every phone on the market has adopted it.

        In six months we'll have all our lightweight desktop apps running on our phones and people will finally realize just how far ahead of everyone else Nokia really is.

        I hope so. Although I fear it w

    • by tpwch (748980)
      Right, because android existed back in 2005 when nokia released the nokia 770, their first linux-based device, and the first in the series of what is now the N900. They would never have tried that if it wasn't for android.
  • FTFY (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer (533834)

    That idea is also increasingly accepted by hard-headed business people: it's become self-evident that it's^H^H^H^Hit can be a better way.

    It can be a better way. It often *is* a better way. But it is not automatically a better way. A lot of it depends on project organization and leadership. Just like other non-OS projects.

    Remember the great XFree86 wars and all the infighting? And the massive Xorg fork that was needed to get past all that? I'd say that XFree86 is an example of a OS project with se

  • by tick-tock-atona (1145909) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:45PM (#29746451)
    Nokia's "open" strategy will pay off big time in the long run. At the moment, their major threat is the iPhone, which inherits all of apple's strengths (RDF [techeblog.com], UI design) as well as it's weaknesses (software/hardware lockdown).

    The next-gen Nokia phone [arstechnica.com] on the other hand (successor to the N900) will get all the hardware features of the iPhone, but with the openness of a linux software stack. Want to make an app that downloads podcasts? Fine! Want to use your phone as a modem? No problem! In fact, no corporation enforcing their moral or business rules on how you use your phone, or alienation of talented developers [macworld.com]!

    Maemo and Qt being open source will ensure that the software features of the Maemo platform quickly eclipse those of the artificially limited iPhone platform. Maemo's based on Debian - so Nokia automatically gets just about every open-source software package in existence available on their platform.

    I think this is the most serious threat that the turtleneck sweater brigade have yet seen.
    • The next-gen Nokia phone [arstechnica.com] on the other hand (successor to the N900) will get all the hardware features of the iPhone, but with the openness of a linux software stack. Want to make an app that downloads podcasts? Fine! Want to use your phone as a modem? No problem! In fact, no corporation enforcing their moral or business rules on how you use your phone, or alienation of talented developers [macworld.com]!

      Sounds like the way my N97 (S60 R5 device) works ;).

    • Want to make an app that downloads podcasts? Fine! Want to use your phone as a modem? No problem!

      You can do all that on an iPhone too - you just jailbreak it (and even some podcasting apps are in the app store).

      The issue blocking that is not open source, it's carriers (and Apple to some extent). Android on T-Mobile has some issues with what they will allow as well (and rooting is not really much different from jailbreaking in terms of user ease).

      As another person noted, Nokia's attempt to do this is too la

      • You can do all that on an iPhone too - you just jailbreak it (and even some podcasting apps are in the app store).

        Unless you have one of the new 3GS's. Or every time Apple releases an update and re-jailbreaks it.

        Nokia has all sorts of toys to play with. There's Python for Symbian, the N97 has more than the iPhone in a similar form footprint (everything that the iPhone has except multitouch and fully integrated kinetic scrolling which will come in the next two weeks with an OS upgrade, FM transmitter, 5MP

      • "You can do all that on an iPhone too - you just jailbreak it"

        Only there's no "just" on jailbreaking the iPhone but a really big deterrent.

        How many people do you think you can get to jailbreak their phone even in your wetest dreams? One in ten thousands? Just for a comparation, how many people do you think that unlock their phones after their subsidizing contracts, a perfectly legal and safe practice only a bit obscured by the providers?

        • How many people do you think you can get to jailbreak their phone even in your wetest dreams? One in ten thousands?

          Pinch media has real stats. Four million unique devices jailbroken, and those are the ones that allow Pinch Media connections. Cydia claims over a million using their store to some extent. What you miss is that a lot of people have other people jailbreak for them, if it's too hard...

          There are around 50 million devices out there, you do the math. It's much better than "one in ten thousands".

    • by c0d3g33k (102699)

      I think this is the most serious threat that the turtleneck sweater brigade have yet seen.

      Except for the inconvenient fact that I can't find a piece of hardware (aka phone) with an open enough software stack on a carrier that provides good coverage where I live. I can find the former, but only by getting a phone from a carrier that doesn't have coverage at places like, oh, I don't know, MY HOUSE. The turtleneck sweater brigade have a little bit of breathing room due to the way the market works in the phone industry. Give me hardware/software uncoupled from carriers, and your statement holds m

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by kbrannen (581293)

        ... Give me hardware/software uncoupled from carriers, and your statement holds more weight. Sadly, that's a fantasy world at present.

        I don't know where you live, but in the US, you'll be able to buy the N900 directly from Nokia (so no operator subsidies AND no operator removing stuff they dont' like), and assuming you have a working SIM card for ATT or TMobile (whichever works best in your area), you can slap that in and use it. (This is termed "open channel" in the industry.)

        Disclaimer: I work for Nokia and I have an N900. It's got a lot of positives and if you're so inclined plus have the skills, you can do development for it.

        • by bug1 (96678)

          Disclaimer: I work for Nokia and I have an N900.

          Can the Nokia N900 be 100% functional with only open source... (or does it depend on closed source drivers) ?

          If essential software for the n900 is closed then this article is somewhat ironic.

    • Why wait for Maemo when you have Python for S60 [nokia.com], besides a free SDK for C? I already have open-source podcast players running in my phone and mobile Wifi hotspot sharing my 3G connection, without having to jailbreak,

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jilles (20976)

      You might make the case that the N900 already has the better hardware when you compare it to the iphone. And for all people dismissing Nokia as just a hardware company, there's tons of non trivial Nokia IPR in the software stack as well (not all OSS admittedly), that provides lots of advantages in the performance or energy efficiency domain; excellent multimedia support (something a lot of smart phones are really bad at), hardware acceleration, etc. Essentially most vendors ship different combinations of ch

  • Palm used to have a pretty neat developer community that would make their stuff do all kinds of wacky things. I've read a bit about the original creator of the Palm Pilot and how his company would get bought out and all the corporate folks would come in, and then he'd run off and start another company (Handspring) and introduce new ways to expand the device (remember the springboard modules? I actually had the GSM visorphone module one way back when). Anyway, I'm pretty distraught that Palm is kinda goin

  • Nokia or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Open Source
    Tell me I'm not the only one who thought of Dr. Strangelove when seeing the original title...
  • The GPL has been tested in court? I must have missed this one. I know of disputes that were settled out of court, but I am not aware of any court directly ruling on the GPL. Has the GPL been tested **IN** court? Please provide some references.

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