Bonum Certa Men Certa

Symbian is Not About Freedom, It's About DRM and Software Patents (Update)

An open-source lip service, side-stepping Freedom

IS SYMBIAN really open source? And if so, then what is the meaning of open source compared to -- let us say -- Free software in its purer form?



Two years before Symbian is actually EPL-licensed, its guys already announce this very broadly just so that they can present this in the press as "open source", giving the illusion that it's "Equally€® Open€®" w.r.t. Linux. It's worth adding that Symbian has attacked Linux in the press for years, often using "fragmentation" as a weapon of choice.

We covered some of these issues earlier in the week and decided to stay quiet about Symbian, but now they have begun spreading some FUD about the GPL, which is precisely what Nokia appears to be escaping. Nokia, a massive lobbyist for software patents in Europe, wanted to justify restricting people's freedom just about a month before taking control of Symbian and announcing an 'open source' strategy for it, only under the terms of the IBM-affiliated Eclipse Public License (EPL). We note from Wikipedia that "The Eclipse Foundation replaces IBM as the Agreement Steward in the EPL," but its roots remain. IBM does not care so much about freedom; not as much as it cares about openness, especially open standards and cross-platform capabilities. Nokia might be after more lenience -- a licence or community that tolerates and facilitates hostile technologies like DRM.

“Nokia might be after more lenience -- a licence or community that tolerates and facilitates hostile technologies like DRM.”Pointing to this news article, one reader writes to us and warns: "Both ZDNet rep David Meyer and Symbian rep David Wood spread a little old-fashioned disinformation about the GPL."

Some of this appears in page 2 of the article. "Wood provides the disinformation and Meyer provides a snide comment or three," alerts the reader.

It's worth adding that it was only about a month ago that David Meyer physically visited Symbian, so there might be reasons for affinity here. Maybe not, but who knows?

As long as Symbian pursues software patents (Novell does this too and so does Sun Microsystems) it can only be treated as an open source dabbler. Another black sheep which comes to mind is TiVo, whose Tivoization problems are further exacerbated by its obsession with software patents, which are used offensively and aggressively. Here is the latest report on that situation (recently mentioned in [1, 2, 3, 4]).

Off and on for the past six years I've been an armchair quarterback for TiVo telling them they should do anything and everything to become profitable, among other things: they should offer pay-per-view downloads (I asked for this in 2002), they should broker deals with cable companies, that they should release software for PCs, that they should move to international markets, and that while I'm not a fan of software patents in general I feel the TiVo patents are original and worth fighting.

What I realized this week is that TiVo has spent the past couple years starting battles on all these fronts, and it looks like (at least to this outside observer) like TiVo is winning on all fronts. Even as their CEO admits more people are using DVRs and skipping lots of ads, I'd say TiVo is doing well.


For Symbian to be treated like a respected member of an open source community it ought to at least set aside the GPL falsehoods and somehow make up for ruining the UK patent system. Software patents are dangerous and moronic, for reasons that the following new post explains.

[w]e believe that the patents system has moved much away from it[s] original purpose but we especially believe the problem is in software patents/algorithms. Saying that algorithms nowadays are more complex and therefore is ok to patent is incorrect. Algorithms get built over others and with knowledge of previous algorithms, a lot of people are near about the same distance from the frontier. The chances of different people hitting the same method to solve a problem is much higher now than before. This is especially true in the entrepreneurial culture (startups) of today.


An open source software patent lobbyist is much like vegetarian cannibal. Goodwill value is earned not just by visibility of some source code and Microsoft too has found that out. Symbian should know better.

Update: in Mr. Meyer's defence, he later posted this in his blog.

Symbian, GPL tension and 'bright lines'



[...]

I gave Wood a call. He conceded that there was "tension between these remarks", but pointed me to an article by Bruce Perens (the originator of the phrase "open source") which discusses something called 'bright lines' - effectively ways of separating open source code from proprietary code in a way that avoids GPL violations.

It's a fascinating article (and flattering, of course, since it responds to an exclusive of ours), and well worth reading. Whether or not it solves the issue of what can be allowed under the GPL, I don't know. But 'bright lines' is the idea that's informing Symbian's metamorphosis into open source. So there you go.

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