In case you missed the news, Symbian has achieved it’s goal of being a fully open source operating system. Before I start, I have to congratulate Lars Kurth (former CDT guy) and the gang at the Symbian Foundation. It’s an incredible effort to take a commercial product and clean it up to be consumable under an open source license. To finish ahead of schedule is a tribute to the passion and dedication the Symbian guys have for this new direction. Very cool.
But as much as I appreciate the work they did, I do worry how well it’ll succeed. Yes, I’m open source guy and am a huge fan of open source projects and working with diverse communities coming together for a common goal. But at times, I don’t think it’s enough in order to be successful, especially if you are in the platform business.
Funny enough, while I was calling people “Apple Fanboys”, someone called me a “Microsoft Fanboy” (I didn’t even know it was possible for someone to be a Microsoft fanboy). But yeah, I appreciated how Microsoft built up their app developer ecosystem. Even though it’s all closed, Windows is still massively successful, thanks mainly to the apps people build for it. The same is true for Apple, obviously. There’s a reason why 150,000 iPhone apps headlines their marketing material.
The important difference I’m starting to realize is that open source platforms appeal to platform developers, the guys that port the platforms to new devices. Having an open source platform helps get you on to more and more devices as the barrier to entry is much lower, or at least the run-time royalties are much lower.
But it’s applications that drive device sales and application developers are a different bunch. You need a great set of tools and a great set of APIs and a great ecosystem with promises of riches to appeal to application developers. And that’s independent from how open your platform is I’m afraid.
With all these mobile platforms entering the mainstream, it’s a big fight for app developer mindshare right now. And that’s a much bigger fight than for platform developers. Either way, it’s a great day to be software developer!