Open source has won on mobile devices, because it makes for better software, says Funambol’s Fabrizio Capobianco
Open source has become the dominant choice for mobile device operating systems because it’s the best way to bring innovation to this growing market and because wide community support delivers the highest quality software, said the president of Funambol, an open-source mobile software company.
“On mobile, we won. There’s just no other way to put it,” said Fabrizio Capobianco, president and co-founder of Funambol at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) 2012 in San Francisco. Funambol is a provider of open-source software to sync data from a variety of end-point devices running any number of operating systems.
Open source moves faster
The conference covered open-source developments in some of the fastest-growing markets in IT, namely big data, cloud computing and mobile. On 21 May, Microsoft and SUSE jointly announced at the conference a product that integrates SUSE Manager and Microsoft’s System Center to enable concurrent management of Linux and Windows server environments.
Increasingly, enterprises are investing in mobile technology because workers are demanding it so that they can stay connected with colleagues, customers and partners wherever they are.
Capobianco traced the history of open-source mobile technology over the last decade and cited recently released Gartner research that shows the Google Android OS captured 56.1 percent of the global smartphone market in the first quarter of 2012, up from 36.4 percent in the first quarter of 2011. It was followed by Apple’s proprietary iOS platform with a 23 percent share, the open-source Symbian OS from Nokia at 8.6 percent and the proprietary BlackBerry OS from Research In Motion at 6.9 percent.
Android was the product of a startup in 2003 that was acquired by Google in 2005. Google released Android as open source in 2007, and the first Android-based smartphones went on sale in 2008.
“The reason why open source wins is the quality,” Capobianco said. “Open source will apply to mobile better than in any market we have ever seen because mobile is complex and complexity is where open source thrives.”
The complexity stems in part from the wide variation in the design and capabilities of mobile devices, particularly smartphones and tablets, as well as the differences in the capabilities of carrier networks worldwide, he said.
The belief in the quality of open source was revealed in a survey of vendors and nonvendors that was released by OSBC at the conference. It listed quality as one of the top three advantages of using open source, along with lower costs and freedom from vendor lock-in with a proprietary product. It used to be that quality was cited as a risk factor in arguments against going open source.
“Obviously, we’ve seen the maturity of projects, but also people are much more trusting of the open-source development model and that it can produce good code because they’ve seen that it produces good code,” Matt Aslett, a research manager in the data management and data analytics space at 451 Research Group, said in an interview at the OSBC.
Capobianco cited other examples of mobile operating systems that started out as proprietary but converted to open source. Nokia released its Symbian operating system as open source in 2008, and Hewlett-Packard open-sourced in 2011 the webOS mobile platform that it acquired with its buyout of Palm a year earlier. Those two OSes didn’t fare too well, however, as Nokia announced in 2011 that it was abandoning Symbian in favour of using Microsoft’s Windows Phone in its products going forward. Then HP withdrew from the smartphone and tablet markets altogether that same year, though it will still develop the operating system for use in other devices.
Also important to open-source mobile development was the decision by Sun Microsystems in 2006 to open source its Java programming language, opening the door for developers to create mobile applications using a variation of Java called Java ME (for Mobile Edition).
To be sure, Capobianco had to give a tip of the hat to Apple, which released the iPhone in 2007. While iOS is proprietary, iPhone stimulated the mobile application industry in a way previous mobile platforms had not. In retrospect, everything in mobile history before June 29, 2007, when the iPhone first went on sale, was “pre-iPhone” and everything since is “post-iPhone,” he said.
At the time, however, Apple faced criticism from the Free Software Foundation for the closed and restricted design of the iPhone.
While wildly popular with customers and immensely profitable for Apple, iOS penetration still pales in contrast to the overall market share of Android on mobile devices, Capobianco noted.