Smart phones get their smarts from open source

Did you know that even proprietary mobile platforms leverage and support open source software?

Recent statistics from the cell phone industry and research released yesterday by Black Duck Software (my employer) make it clear that the mobile segment is vibrant with open source activity.

My blogomaniac buddy Alan Shimel recently posted a piece arguing that Android, the open source darling of the mobile world, looks pretty small against the elephantine overall mobile market which

odence-droid
comprises mostly un-smart phones. Despite that, he points out that recently open sourced Symbian "is a major force in the traditional handset OS market." Substantiating the point, Tony Bradley writes for PC world, "Symbian has nearly as much market share as the rest of its competitors combined--including the iPhone, with more than 330 million Symbian smartphones in use."

I agree that 'droid seems to get all the attention with huge brand recognition from cool ads like this one. Conversely, it's pretty easy to overlook Symbian as its brand tends to be pretty buried by the ten big name vendors who currently offer Symbian handsets. Similarly, the full extent of the role of open source in the mobile market isn't immediately obvious. Alan looks at the various mobile platforms, and that's the right place to start, but to get the full picture you've got to look both on top of the platforms (at the applications) and "underneath" at the components that make up the platforms.

The Black Duck survey looks at the growth in open source projects for mobile overall and for various projects. The overall number of mobile projects, mostly (although not exclusively) apps has grown an impressive 39%. More impressive though is the continuing acceleration of projects targeted for Android; there were 224 new ones started up in '09 representing an whooping 168% growth. So the consumer brand recognition is clearly complemented by a lot of developer attention. Interestingly, two proprietary platforms were in a dead heat for second, iPhone and Windows Mobile. Both added about 75 projects growing both totals by 43%. Maemo projects grew 50% on a small base; this industry observer predicts impressive future numbers from MeeGo, the Moblin/Meamo rollup. So clearly, even on proprietary mobile platforms, there's a lot of open source development going on.

In a companion blog to the press release, Peter Vescuso, the mastermind behind the survey, makes an interesting side note that supports my other point. Look inside those platforms and you find even more open source. Peter describes a number of the open source components went into the proprietary iPhone platform. It's a great example of the prevalence multi-source development as I described in an earlier posting.

If you want to get a visceral feeling for it, try this little experiment: Grab the nearest iPhone and drill into Settings>General>About>Legal. You'll find more legalese than you ever wanted to read, reflecting Apple's obligations based on the licenses and copyrights of myriad open source components in the platform: GNU, BSD, Free Software Foundation, Google, Digital Equipment Corporation???...my thumb is getting tired from scrolling. Check it out yourself; it's a hoot.

If you know where to look, the mobile industry is teaming with open source. Farmer Raymond would say, "Why, there's more open source in mobile than you can shake a memory stick at!"

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