Originally I wasn't going to write about Nokia's decision to purchase the rest of Symbian and then open source the code
, but a few people have written in to ask about our take, and the more I think about it, the more interesting it becomes. There's certainly been a palpable fear
lately among some that things like the locked-down iPhone represent a dangerous "future"
to be avoided.
But that doesn't seem to have much historical support. New markets often are driven initially by locked down and proprietary solutions, but openness tends to prevail in the long run. The reason many markets start out with closed and proprietary solutions is that you need a comprehensive enough solution to address the market, and it's often difficult to do that in an ad hoc manner. A proprietary solution gives control to one person or a small group of people who can easily drive the project to where it needs to be to drive adoption. However, in the long run, more open solutions then win out, because competitors realize that the real game is being a platform
, which is more important than being the comprehensive supplier. And the way to become a platform is to sign up as many developers
as possible, and free them to make your platform much more valuable. That's much easier to do in an open or open source environment.
This is why we're seeing this particular decision to open up Symbian, and also explains Google's open approach with its Android offering
. It also explains why Apple's iPhone, which was totally closed at the beginning, has been slowly opening up to try to combat the rise of more open competitors.
Finally, this move by Nokia is a recognition of the economics
of infinite goods. Just as IBM helped massively boost its services business by betting big on Linux, Nokia recognizes that freeing up Symbian helps turn it into a services company
as well. Freeing up that infinite good (the software) helps generate more demand for the scarce "services" provided by the company. There may be some stumbles along the way, but on the whole this is exactly the type of bet the company needs to be making. And, at the same time, it shows that there's little to fear concerning a future world of "closed" systems a la the iPhone. Every such closed system is merely an opportunity and an invitation for competitors to become more open.