Launching the Symbian Developer Cooperative

I’ve recently become involved in the Symbian Developer Cooperative, which is publicly launched today. My role as the president of the Board of Directors in this new organisation allows me to help opening up the Symbian ecosystem to individual contributors.

Last year, something pretty awesome happened. One of the world’s most widely used operating systems got released under a Free license. Nokia and her partners worked very hard, and were even able to get through the legal jungle that’s always involved in such high-profile projects very quickly. The result was that the source code for Symbian became available much quicker than initially thought it would. How’s that for a project finishing early, instead of late?

Some months ago I was contacted by the Symbian foundation, who were in the process of setting up the Symbian DevCo, a non-profit organisation registered in the US which will relay between the Symbian foundation and individual developers who wish to take part in developing and directing the future of the Symbian operating system. Coming from the mobile phone industry, which hasn’t been known to be very open in the past, the governance model of the Symbian ecosystem is very much aligned to what works for large corporations. That means that if you want to take part in decision-making, or in maintaining packages in the official Symbian upstream, you have to be a company. Now most players in this ecosystem are, but requiring to be a company can also pose potential barriers to those many who can bring a lot to the Symbian ecosystem. Being able to toy around and develop using a certain technology without any restrictions is at the heart of any open eco-system, and this is where the Symbian Developers Cooperative (or simply devco) comes in. The Symbian DevCo gives a voice to individuals involved in Symbian.

Taking part as an associate in the Symbian Developer Cooperative means that individuals now have

  • The ability to become a Symbian package owner
  • The ability to be nominated for a seat on the Symbian technology Councils
  • The ability to be nominated for a seat on the Symbian Board of Directors.

Those are three important privileges which have previously not been available for individual developers, and I think they’re absolutely critical to opening up the ecosystem, in tandem with Symbian’s source code. In order to low the barrier for participation even more, becoming an associate is free of charge.

My Role – President

That’s what it’s called officially. I’d personally much rather think of it as sanity checker and get-things-go’er. During our first board meeting, which happened last Tuesday, we talked a bit about the roles within the board. My prerogative was, from the beginning "Do not come back with a treasurer’s hat", as that would not be good for anybody involved. (I’m good at spending money, not good at keeping tabs, and even worse at that pesky thing called "acting responsibly". ;-) My idea of this role is to learn, to listen and to get people involved that really care about an independent governing process of the Symbian platform.

While I have to admit I’m rather green when it comes to Symbian, and its ecosystem, there are measures that should alleviate this. First of all, I’m an eager learner, and secondly, much more important, there’s the advisory board which does exactly this: Advise the board, bringing in expertise from the industry and the Symbian community. And if someone comes along who fits the shoe better, I’m all for passing it on. For now though, it’s important to get the thing running, and my experience in running the KDE e.V. together with my awesome fellow board members there comes as an advantage.

This position is voluntary, meaning I do it deliberately, and that I don’t get paid to do it. Well, technically, my awesome boss allows me to spend some of my work-time on this, but it’s all up to me how much that will be. After all I have this time-consuming hobby called KDE already (which also is part of my job). (This is just so I can say that I’m spending 60 hours or more a week on work-work, while in fact large part of work-work is fun-fun. Confusing, but awesome if you ask me.

Isn’t Symbian on the Demise?

It surely seems so. On the other hand, that doesn’t happen within a day or two, and according to analysts, we’re looking at at least another 5 years of Symbian being very relevant in the mobile space. A lot can happen in 5 years, so I think my time is definitely spent well. As of today, Symbian sales are still staggering: 260.000 Symbian-powered devices are sold each day, that’s slightly more than 3 per second (figures are based on the 1st quarter of 2010).

In the end, what matters to me is Software Freedom. Which technical implementation is leading us there is only secondary. If Software Freedom comes a bit closer today, and I think that’s what happened with the release of the Symbian operating system and the opening up of the ecosystem, I’m a happy person and glad to play my part. Taking this responsibility to lead in an area that’s traditionally (and understandable) a weak aspect of the Symbian (and in extension) mobile ecosystem is how I contribute to a world where Free Software is the norm, rather than the exception.

What about KDE?

Does this mean I will leave KDE? Surely not, my role in the Symbian DevCo is only part-time and voluntary. I’m as much motivated and committed to moving KDE forward as I have ever before. My involvement with Symbian will mainly have positive effects on my participation in KDE: my expertise and angle of view will expand, and like the Symbian DevCo benefits from my expertise in running a community-driven Free Software organisation, KDE and the KDE e.V. will benefit from the new insights and expertise I’m collecting as part of my involvement with the Symbian DevCo. Simply Symbiantik, isn’t it? (Ok, I just had to finish this boring blog entry with something really cheesy. Mmmhhhhmmm cheese…)