BMW wants to go open

Ian Skerrett, our fine director of Marketing at the Eclipse Foundation, pointed out this article from MotorAuthority.com. BMW apparently is feeling out the market to see if there is an appetite by tier one manufacturers to work together on an open source stack for in-car infotainment systems.

The concept BMW has in mind reminds me a lot of Google’s Android who just recently released all the source to the Android platform for cell phones. Android is Google’s attempt to open up the software stack for much the same reason BMW wants it for automotive, to ensure leading edge software applications can be built for those platforms with minimal obstacles. We’ll see how well the master plan works, but I like the concept.

That would be quite a twist from the current proprietary mindset that these guys have today, and I’m not sure they are ready for the co-opetition this would take. Of course, we’re pretty used to it at Eclipse where platform vendors fighting in this space work together on open source tools. That’s fine, since that isn’t our core competency and we’re building a much better IDE together than we could independently. But that’s where we draw the line.

Ian concluded his blog entry by inviting BMW to the Automotive Symposium at Eclipse Summit Europe (I am looking forward to ESE as well!) But this brings up a sore point that we often talk about but one that seems impossible to solve. If they want the software stack to be completely open like Android, then they aren’t doing it at Eclipse. The Eclipse Board forbids GPL code within it’s walls. But I would think such a stack really could only be done on Linux and that’s a non starter. You could look at Symbian which will be EPL in the next few years, but I’m not sure Symbian is the right choice for this, especially if they want to link up with Android.

And this bugs me to no end. We are seeing some serious investment happening in open source platforms, the whole platform. The culture of commercial co-operation on open platforms at Eclipse makes it a natural to host such endeavors, which in turn would raise its profile immensely in the embedded and mobile community. Too bad the Eclipse Board shoots itself in the foot on this.