Sunday, March 16, 2008

Mobile Linux will surely come next year... it has done so many times before.

Last week I happened to have the annual "do you think mobile Linux will replace Symbian next year" discussion. That discussion has become quite a tradition over last 5+ years and the plot is safe and predictable. It goes like this:

The Insider: "Harri, do you think that mobile Linux will replace Symbian next year?"

Me: "Based on what I see happening today in mobile industry, I don't think so. I don't see why that would happen, because current Symbian ecosystem is finally working quite well and the investments that all stakeholders have made to that are big. Why throw that all away just now?"

The Insider: "Because of money, of course. Can't you see that Linux is free?"

Me: "Yes, Linux is free but the human work to make a mobile phone isn't. Did you know that Symbian license is $2.50 per phone, not bad I think if you compare what you get for that money."

The Insider: "But Symbian is bad! It isn't open and I can't do whatever I want to do. There is also this stupid signing system. Think if you had a completely open terminal without any restrictions. Wouldn't that be just cool!"

Me: "Yes, that would be cool but unfortunately the Linux phone wouldn't be any more open than Symbian phones are now. The restrictions and signing requirement are not there because of Symbian, it is because the operators want so. Operators will not allow that kind of openness in their networks, because that would just explode the amount of support calls coming to their helpdesk. There is already at least one operator in US that has cancelled a bunch of subscriptions just because those people misused their helpdesk. And please think about this: operators really aren't willing to support any new platform at the moment. If there is a new platform coming, something old must be thrown away. Mobile Linux is not adding one more platform, it is replacing an old one." 

The Insider: "I can't understand why I should learn a new language to implement stuff to Symbian, I just want to write applications like I do for my Linux desktop. And where is the open source development for Symbian?"

Me: "You don't necessarily need to learn anything new to implement something for Symbian, there are lots of different runtime options available and there is also OpenC/P.I.P.S plugin that allows you to run posix-stuff in Symbian. Just take some open source project and try that like I did when I ported Loudmouth to Symbian. It is not difficult at all. What your mind can imagine, your hand can implement - also for Symbian"

The Insider: "Maybe so, but I will not do that!"

Me: "Why is that?"

The Insider: "Because Symbian is dead, just dead! You see, I have top secret classified information that manufacturer X will this year drop support for Symbian and replace it with Linux. Of course I cannot tell you more."

Me: "Yeah, said the same thing last year, do you remember?"

(The Insider walks away. Play fades out, overtaken by music and darkness)

I guess some commenting words are needed here.

First of all, this mobile-Linux-will-come stuff has been around in mobile industry as long as I can remember, at least seven years. Of course, some day that happens but until then I will just wait. When I can go to local store and buy Linux-phone and my customers can do the same and they want to do it, then mobile Linux is here in a way "The Insider" wants and I will care.

Symbian is not perfect nor ultimate endpoint of all mobile development. It just happens to be here with 188 million phones sold, 77 million of those sold last year with 50% growth compared to last year.

Mobile Linux doesn't necessarily need to "come", it is hear already. The problem for enthusiasts seem to be that it is not used in the volume models for the largest terminal manufacturers.

The Insider is not an actual person, don't get mad if you think you recognize yourself.


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