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How Nokia Learned To Love Openness 180

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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  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:08PM (#29745949)

    Nokia should be emulating Apple here. The key to success is to LIMIT access to the device, and to clamp down on what developers and users can and cannot do with it. By allowing the device to be "open" they succumb to the same kind of temptation that has caused Linux (and every other piece of open source software) to be such a collosal failure. I know I will get moderated as a troll since this is Slashdot, but there is absolutely no proof that openness, or open source, contributes to a products success. If anyone disagrees, then name a single piece of open source software that is better than its closed source competition. You cannot, because open source means lower quality due to its inherent lack of focus.

  • 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.
  • by Tellarin ( 444097 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:27PM (#29746245) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • FTFY (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Weaselmancer ( 533834 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @12:28PM (#29746249)

    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 serious problems. Xorg was needed to route around them.

    So I'd say give OS a chance, but don't expect it to be a magic panacea. You still need to handle personality conflicts, code conflicts, and you still need someone at the helm that has a good sense of direction and good conflict resolution skills.

  • Re:Openess (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TemporalBeing ( 803363 ) <bm_witness@yah[ ]com ['oo.' in gap]> on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @01:56PM (#29747393) Homepage 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. 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 - Darwin and OpenDarwin - to encapsulate the open source nature of the underlying system.

    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. They can instead let the community do that and focus on what they do best; providing back when they modify the underlying system.

    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.

    It could if they did it right. Apple did it right. Microsoft could follow suit. The likelihood of Microsoft doing so at least anytime in the near future is near zero. Windows built on a Unix/Linux platform could be done very well; and a lot of the little details that keep being problematic for Microsoft would likely go away - e.g. security, firewalls, etc. It would also allow Microsoft, like Apple, to focus on what they do best; though they have likely lost track of what that is.

    If Microsoft focused on the right part of the stack (e.g. understanding business needs, custom software enhancements, adding support to open source projects, and providing support contracts), then they could very well be a strong distribution/competitor in the open source market. But they would have to drastically change their business model and self-perception - and that won't happen until at least Balmer leaves, if not a CEO or two after him.

  • A bad comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @02:00PM (#29747439)

    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 whole new sector to our income and others just manage to keep us in the headlines..." Then they opensource some of those projects and that's great.

    But Open Source certainly has nothing at all to do with their core business (searching and advertising), quite the opposite.

  • Re:Openess (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @02:03PM (#29747491) Homepage

    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 paddle.

    Put simply Apple develops OS X using some Open Source components. Linux device manufacturers use an Open Source OS.

  • 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.

  • Re:Openess (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mR.bRiGhTsId3 ( 1196765 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @03:01PM (#29748313)
    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 changing all of their drivers (which I'm sure the hw mfrs. would love after the joy that was Vista) as well as delivering a perfect emulation layer or nothing will work.
    Apples move made sense, because, in effect, the had hit rock bottom and could only stand to gain from such a move. Microsoft has everything to lose, since if they don't do it perfectly, their competitors can point and say, "Incompatible! You might as well migrate to our platform instead."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @03:14PM (#29748495)

    I (GP) earn my living from SEO [] business. So our (a rather large group. Certainly many thousands, most likely tens of thousands of people worldwide) business idea is practically "You pay us a high sum of money and we make your site get better ranking in google, which will boost your profits by a huge margin".

    This is pretty much walking on a thin line. Optimizing a client's site as much as possible without going too far (Overoptimizing may lead to penalties from Google)... The site must appear well made and natural to both users and Google while still being optimized as far as possible. Now, imagine we knew exactly how the search algorithms worked. That would lead to one of two options:

    1) The algorithms are complex enough that SEO would stay as the craft of those who actively follow numerous blogs, message boards, etc. about the subject. Top results for practically *every* search term would be based on who pays the most.

    2) The algorithms are simple enough that people make very good "Website Optimizers" based on them. Practically every site becomes optimized to the limit. This is done by the companies, the government, etc... The only thing that search rankings will depend on is how much high quality links are pointing towards the site.

    I exaggerate only slightly. I can guarantee that the results you would get from Google would be vastly worse than now if their search algorithms were public. It's not the competitors they need to worry about.

    (And for the record, I do think that Bing gives a lot worse results. If I would need to use something else than Google, I would instantly turn to Yahoo!)

  • by kbrannen ( 581293 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @03:25PM (#29748643)

    ... 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.

  • Re:Now they get it. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CortoMaltese ( 828267 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @04:39PM (#29749635)

    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 [] heavyweight [] as well.

  • Re:Openess (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @05:01PM (#29749917)

    You are failing to differentiate between selling ad space and writing ad copy. And obviously if the latter is done honestly then it's no more evil than anything else.

    If you don't like looking at ads, you can skip Google or run a filter. That they don't provide you with their resources completely gratis doesn't make them evil or dishonest. In fact I don't think ethics enter into it at all. They're not a monopoly, and what they provide is not essential for life.

    I'm not even saying that they aren't evil; just that you're going to have to find a better criteria than your (understandable) annoyance with advertisers.

  • by jilles ( 20976 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @05:07PM (#29750017) Homepage

    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 chips coming from a very small range of companies so from that point of view it doesn't really matter what you buy. The software on top makes all the difference and the immaturity of newer platforms such as Android can be a real deal breaker when it comes to e.g. battery life, multimedia support, support for peripherals, etc. There's a difference between running linux on a phone and running it well. Nokia has invested heavily in the latter and employs masses of people specialized in tweaking hardware and software to get the most out of the hardware.

    But the real beauty of the N900 for the slashdot crowd is simply the fact that it doesn't require hacks or cracks: Nokia actively supports & encourages hackers with features, open source developer tools, websites, documentation, sponsoring, etc. Google does that to some extent with Android but the OS is off limits for normal users. Apple actively tries to stop people from bypassing the appstore and is pretty hostile to attempts to modify the OS in ways they don't like. Forget about other platforms. Palm technically uses linux but they are still keeping even the javascript + html API they have away from users. It might as well be completely closed source. You wouldn't know the difference.

    On the other hand, the OS on the N900 is Debian. Like on Debian, the package manager is configured in /etc/sources.list which is used by dpkg and apt-get, which work just as you would expect on any decent Debian distribution. You have root access, therefore you can modify any file, including sources.list. Much of Ubuntu actually compiles with little or no modification and most of the problems you are likely to encounter relate to the small screen size. All it takes to get to that software is pointing your phone at the appropriate repositories. There was at some point a Nokia sponsored Ubuntu port to ARM even, so there is no lack of stuff that you can install. Including stuff that is pretty pointless on a smart phone (like large parts of KDE). But hey, you can do it! Games, productivity tools, you name it and there probably is some geek out there who managed to get it to build for Maemo. If you can write software and package it as a Debian package and can cross compile it to ARM (using the excellent OSS tooling of course), there's a good chance it will just work.

    So, you can modify the device to your liking at a level no other mainstream vendor allows. Having a modifiable Debian linux system with free access to all of the OS on top of what is essentially a very compact touch screen device complete with multiple radios (bluetooth, 3G, wlan), sensors (GPS, motion, light, sound), graphics, dsp, should be enough to make any self respecting geek drool.

    Now with the N900 you get all of that, shipped as a fully functional smart phone with all of the features Nokia phones are popular for such as excellent voice quality and phone features, decent battery life (of course with all the radios turned on and video & audio playing none stop, your mileage may vary), great build quality and form factor, good support for bluetooth and other accessories, etc. It doesn't get more open in the current phone market currently and this is still the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world.

    In other words, Nokia is sticking out its neck for you by developing and launching this device & platform while proclaiming it to be the future of Nokia smart phones. It's risking a lot here because there are lots of parties in the market that are in the business o

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @07:53PM (#29751547)

    Then why there are closed components in Maemo? Why DRM is included in the upcoming Maemo 6?

  • Re:A bad comparison (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WiseWeasel ( 92224 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2009 @10:01PM (#29752579)

    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.

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.