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Brief Report from the Open Source in Mobile conference

Posted by terrencebarr on September 20, 2007 at 3:02 AM PDT

I just returned from two days in Madrid, Spain, attending and speaking at the "Open Source in Mobile" (OSiM) conference.

This was not your typical open source conference. The focus was clearly on the decision makers, executives, and strategists of commercial companies. The audience and speakers were carefully picked and the high price of admission (up to GBP 4225.00) resulted in a fairly small but "high-value" crowd. Many of the important names in the industry were there, including the Dr. Tero Ojanperä (CTO of Nokia), Brian Stevens (CTO of RedHat), Luigi Licciardi (EVP of Telecom Italia), Eirik Chambe-Eng, (Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Trolltech), Hilde Lovett (Director of iLabs/Telenor R&I), and a number of key engineers and business people involved in various open source efforts in the mobile industry.

Most of the conversation and sessions seemed to revolve around bringing Linux to mobile devices - a difficult task as assembling a high-quality, complete, and configurable Linux-based stack is not a trivial effort. Numerous companies are competing in the field resulting in something like 44 different mobile Linux offerings with hundreds of derivatives. Fragmentation in the mobile Linux market is a major problem and is weighing heavily on people's minds (Java ME fragmentation looks relatively harmless in comparison). It may well turn out that Java will again be the unifying language and API that hides the fragmentation of the Linux platform and middleware, similarly to what Java ME did in the early days of the mobile phone market with its many proprietary OSes and platforms (that's not to say we don't need to improve the consistency of Java implementations, too).

Surprisingly little content and discussion was devoted to the upper parts of the mobile open source platform, things like frameworks, services, and  application APIs. This is, I believe, where it gets much more interesting because at the end of the day it is the content and services that drive the industry. Most of the ecosystem, including the end users, the developers, and the carriers don't care much about the specifics of the operating system are as long as it meets the requirements and isn't controlled exclusively by a single vendor. Most people I talked to agreed but clearly the industry is still very much focused on the basics of the OS platform.

Vivek Mody (the Mobile & Embedded Community Marketing Manager) and I did a session on "Sun’s Progress in Open Sourcing Java" (see the picture above where Vivek is talking about the community) which was well attended and we got some good questions on contribution and license topics. I was also part of a panel discussion on finding the optimal balance between open and close technologies on mobile devices. Quite interesting.

I met up with key people at OpenMoko, Telenor iLabs, Celunite, A La Mobile, The Wireless Industry Partnership, VirtualLogix, and Trolltech.  We had some very good conversations with a bunch of action items to establish and deepen relationships between the Mobile & Embedded Community and these folks. Stay tuned for more to come over the next weeks and months.

Overall, a very good networking opportunity.

-- Terrence

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