Open source software has existed in mobile phones since Motorola’s Linux-based A760 was launched in early 2003. Open source has come a long way, from an early experiment in mobile Linux three years ago, to an accepted strategy today for increasing product value by engaging external communities.
Linux-based software stacks for phones are the leading form of open source software (OSS) today. An array of vendors has crowded the marketplace with Linux software offerings, including MontaVista, WindRiver, Trolltech, Purple Labs, Open Plug, A la Mobile, Aplix, OpenMoko, and Mizi Research. However, OSS stretches way beyond Linux. Recently Sun, Microsoft, Nokia and Adobe have announced or renewed their commitment to open source, too.
One could say that open source software has been making waves in the last few months. Aside from Informa’s Open Source in Mobile conference that took place in Amsterdam in early November, there has been a recent flurry of announcements on open source software:
On November 28 Trolltech announced that it would provide software productisation services to OEM and ODM customers in the form of Greensuite. Specifically, Trolltech’s professional services division will be providing full integration and testing services on a complete stack of software components, whilst offering a choice of components and UI customisation. The stack will comprise of Trolltech’s Qtopia software as well as select third party applications including browser, messaging, multimedia, DRM, VoIP support, Java, office and synchronisation components. Trolltech will be acting as the single point of contact, responsible for software integration, as well as pricing, marketing, legal and commercial issues. The Greensuite partners will be announced over the course of the next few months leading to 3GSM. The proposition is very similar to that of A la Mobile, and Aplix’s BTO offering. ALP is also a complete stack as is OpenMoko, Mizi and PurpleLabs.
Nokia‘s Maemo project is continuing to grow and Ari Jaaksi (Nokia’s Director of open source operations) announced at the open source conference the Sardine device which would follow the 770 Internet tablet, both based on the Maemo stack.
In July Motorola pledged that more than half of the manufacturer’s mobile phones will use Linux within 18 to 24 months. Motorola has further open sourced their implementation of MIDP3, i.e. next-gen Java for phones. At the open source conference, Christy Wyatt (VP ecosystem development) also said that sales of Motorola’s Ming have reached 1% of total phone sales in China, an impressive feat.
In early November Sun announced details of how it is going to open source J2ME and J2SE implementations, marking a major twist in Sun’s Java saga. By open sourcing Java, Sun hopes to leverage community momentum around Java (especially from Vodafone, Nokia and Motorola), sustain the growth of Java and alongside its own engineering services business, and steal the thunder from the competing Flash application execution environment technology.
Handset manufacturer FIC announced OpenMoko, the first fully open source Linux phone software platform, that competes with Purple Labs, Mizi, Aplix, A la mobile and Trolltech.
In late October Access Linux Platform announced it is open sourcing its application framework, a critical part of the phone software stack responsible for managing application lifecycle and communication on the handset.
Linux tools vendor Open Plug announced it had secured a $15m Round B funding in early October.
A la Mobile was started in June by entrepreneur-in-residence Pauline Alker with $3.5m seed funding and is believed to be looking to secure another $10m to fulfil its promise of ‘the Red Hat of mobile’.
Microsoft recently expanded its portfolio of software under a Shared Source license, now providing source code access to the full Windows CE 6.0 kernel.
More Linux stack vendors are expected to follow Trolltech’s Greenphone example, thus offering developer communities full access to ‘real’ phone hardware, a critical step towards growing community contributions to mobile Linux.
This flurry of announcements in the last few months of 2006 can only signal more moves in the forthcoming 3GSM event in February. Beyond the tens of mobile Linux players, the commitment of Sun, Adobe, Microsoft and Nokia to open source is certain to cause disruptions in the predictable future of the mobile industry.
Software vendors, mobile operators and handset who haven’t yet taken the time to understand the commercial advantages (and pitfalls) of open source, now need to.