Intel and Nokia are two of the largest tech companies on the planet, but when it comes to developing a new mobile operating system, they’ve opted to not just team up, but to enlist the legions of open source developers out there. And in the process, they’ve learned a great deal about interacting with the larger open source community.
The two companies’ goal is to press forward on MeeGo, the joint project resulting from Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) and Nokia’s (NYSE: NOK) move to combine their respective mobile Linux efforts. Even before they joined forces earlier this year, Intel and Nokia have been working closely with a number of high-profile open source projects — putting the two in prime position to share some insight on productizing open source.
During a pair of sessions at this week’s Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit, Intel and Nokia executives provided some insight into where MeeGo might be going and talked a bit about what’s necessary in being successful in open source and Linux.
“There is nothing secret about the secret sauce. You have to first understand where we come from at Intel in how we deal with software,” Imad Sousou, director of Intel’s open source technology center, said. “One of the primary drivers is that when somebody uses a piece of software, we want them to have the best experience using that software on Intel platforms.”
As far as contributing to Linux, Sousou said that Intel’s participation in the community is straightforward.
“It’s about contributions,” Sousou said. “You contribute what you want to see and, second, you use the open source model — you don’t try some other model.”
For the MeeGo project specifically, Sousou said that Intel has hundreds of engineers working on the effort. He added that about 80 percent of Intel’s MeeGo engineering work happens in upstream project communities like kernel.org and Qt that make up the underlying technologies used in MeeGo.
“We really want to push all the work upstream and then take it down from there to build our community,” Sousou said. “When we talk about how we want to work with open source, it’s really about working and contributing with the upstream. It’s as simple as that — there are no other secrets.”
When it comes to the MeeGo project itself, transparency and openness are key aspects for Sousou. He added that the MeeGo project is run under the auspices of the Linux Foundation, which is important for keeping the project process as open as possible.
Open source origins, but closed source product
While the MeeGo project itself aims to be open both in terms of code and process, both Nokia and Intel execs admitted that the code that actually ends up on the final consumer devises that use MeeGo won’t be entirely open source.
“When Nokia ships a product, there will be closed components in the products,” Ari Jaaksi, vice president of Maemo devices and MeeGo operations at Nokia, told the audience. “MeeGo as a platform is fully open source and open.”
As an example, Jaaski noted that if a Nokia MeeGo device includes Adobe Flash or Skype, those components are not open source. He added that if Nokia ships something that deals with its own specific manufacturing process, the Finnish mobile phone giant may choose to keep that code closed as well.
Intel’s Sousou added that there are vendors who unfortunately insist on offering only proprietary drivers, and users will see those closed source drivers making their way into products as a result.
“You will see that MeeGo is a complete open source solution, but sure, there will always be — as much as we hate it to be the case — certain things that will be closed source,” Sousou said. “Frankly, at the application level, I don’t see that as a problem.”