Nokia's Open Sourcing Of Symbian Shows How Closed Markets Become Open

from the fear-not dept

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.

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  • identicon
    Kiba, 24 Jun 2008 @ 7:16pm

    Add the OpenMoko commercial effort to bring a truly free phone to the marketplace then you got a truly powerful recipe
    for this historical process of opening up the source code.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Paul, 24 Jun 2008 @ 9:41pm


      I was going to actually mention the OpenMoko. I think its a pretty good example as to why closed platforms are good in the beginning. They get released much more quickly. OpenMoko will be awesome (at least in theory) but its taking forever. If all phones of that nature took as long as OpenMoko has been taking, it would have been odd because it would have 1) taken forever for the first usable stuff to hit any mass market (developers only or even customers) and 2) take a while for it to iron out what features are useful or not and what people actually want in these phones. At least now with all the smart phones out there that came out relatively more quickly than open source alternatives, people know what features and functions are useful so they can approach open source alternatives with mroe focus than just, "hey, lets make an OS for a phone." now its, "Lets make an OS for a phone that meets this criteria."

      So, in the end, OpenMoko will hopefully be a lot better and more useful, but closed platforms helped us get to a point where OpenMoko could be built with a more intelligent design in mind from the get go as opposed to doing user research.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ian, 25 Jun 2008 @ 1:47am

    Thanks for commenting on this, Mike. I've also heard Nokia want to go into services and your explanation about infinite goods makes sense. Given they now have complete control of Symbian, they will have hold of the most knowledge and experience there, and so their time will be more valuable to others.

    Keep up the good work, Mike.

    (As a side note, I have been trying to gain knowledge and experience over the last year to increase the value of my most scarce resource - my time - to others too.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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