Ari Jaaksi on Nokia and Open Source and the N770

Stephe points to a white paper on Ari’s blog that details the early learnings at Nokia around open source and product delivery. This learning predominately focuses on the Nokia N770 and maemo project. The N770 is an “Internet Tablet” and is the predecessor to the N800, which I’m the proud owner of. If you’re unfamiliar with the N800, you can get an LQ branded look here.

The 10 page white paper is full of useful information and insight and is a worthwhile read in its entirety. Here are a few highlights.

On cost savings:

The biggest cost savings came from the utilization of already available components. We utilized several free components and subsystems as such, with no modifications.

We also improved several components to better meet our requirements. Such improvement is cheaper than creating the needed functionality from scratch.

Some 2/3 of the code of the Nokia 770 is licensed under an open source license. These components made it possible for us to build the software cheaper than we could have done using closed and proprietary technologies.

On code quality:
If we compare the code from open source to the code developed by us, our conclusion is that open source is of better quality. We have more bugs and problems in the Nokia developed code. This is only natural because the majority of the Nokia code is build from scratch and is thus very young. Open source code, on the other hand, has mostly been used by others already. They have fixed the most severe errors already before we started to use the code.

On engineering flexibility:
Open source is flexible when we needed to fix a problem or change functionality. We often requested bug fixes or modifications to the commercial closed components on our platform. If the vendors didn’t have the capacity or will to fix the problem on time, we had few options. We could not fix problems ourselves because the companies using closed source didn’t want us to access their source code. With open source components, though, we fixed bugs yourself, hired somebody else to fix them, or worked with the communities for the modifications. We thus had many options available, and in most cases we managed to fix the problems at hand. The free access to the code and to the developers improved the quality of open source originated components within the final product.

On confidentiality and the open source community:
We worked intensively with communities already before we announced the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Open source approach requires openness and information sharing during development. A high publicity launch, on the other hand, is the way to introduce consumer products to the public and you do not want to reveal the products before the launch date. There is thus a potential conflict between the open source openness and product launch secrecy.

The credentials, work, and history of open source hackers are open for everybody to see. The hackers typically want to work with interesting things also in the future. Therefore, they don’t want to become famous for jeopardizing somebody else’s project and misusing their trust. Thus, openness and open source can actually be much stronger bond than any NDA or monetary sanction one can put on an individual or a company.

Based on our experiences, we can combine open communication and product confidentiality. We had no information leakage prior to the commercial product announcements, although we had had tens of developers working on the software with us. For some of the developers, we had told very detailed information about the forthcoming product. Developing products in open source and yet maintain the confidentiality of the product plans and roadmaps was possible for us.

and a summary:
Our experiences demonstrate that open source technologies and development model suit very well for such devices. We created the product in shorter time and with lesser resources that we have managed to develop other products utilizing proprietary software. In essence, open source offers time and cost savings in a form of readily available components and subsystems, available developers, and effective development model.

It was clear at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit that Linux in the mobile space is going to be huge. Even though Nokia has a serious investment in Symbian, they are exploring what the future holds for mobile Linux. That future looks very bright.


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