22 June 2018

June 24th: A doubly historic day for Symbian

Filed under: smartphones, Smartphones and beyond, Symbian, Symbian Foundation, Symbian Story — Tags: — David Wood @ 11:13 pm

This Sunday will be the 24th of June 2018. It’s a doubly historic day for Symbian – and for the evolution of the smartphone industry.

Twenty years ago, to the day, the birth of Symbian Ltd was announced to the world. My colleague on the very first Symbian Operational Board, Bill Batchelor, urged all employees of the new company to “make a special note in your Agenda”.

Here’s a copy of my own Agenda file from that day – taken from my Psion Series 5mx:

The name “Symbian” had been a carefully guarded secret up to that day. The new company had been referred to, within planning documents with tightly restricted distribution, as “Nova” – representing an astronomically bright object. The very idea of a new company took nearly all employees of Psion (Symbian’s parent) as a surprise that morning.

The thinking behind the creation of the new company was spelt out at an “Impact” meeting in the Metropole Hotel on London’s Edgware Road. To mark the anniversary of this event, it’s an appropriate occasion for me to share some of the slides presented that day:

With the wisdom of hindsight, these slides can be seen as a mixture of powerful vision and naively audacious optimism.

Fast forward exactly ten years, to 24th June 2008. That morning, I was in Cambridge, ready to share news to all Symbian employees there that another huge transformation was to take place in the Symbian universe. Here’s my Agenda entry for that day:

I can, again, convey the essence of the news via a selection of the slides used on that day:

Once again, with the wisdom of hindsight, these slides can be seen as a mixture of powerful vision and naively audacious optimism.

More of our thinking was captured at the time by blogposts written by me (“Symbian 2-0”) and my Symbian Foundation Leadership Team colleague John Forsyth (“Welcome to the future of Symbian”).

The thinking behind the Symbian Foundation also built upon an inspired piece of strategic communication from earlier in 2008, led by Symbian’s CEO from that time, Nigel Clifford. He called it “the Symbian story”:

Did either of these powerful visions, set out ten years apart, have much of a chance of becoming a reality? Opinions still differ on these questions. I’ve set out my own analysis in my book “Smartphones and beyond: lessons from the remarkable rise and fall of Symbian” (published in September 2014).


Any former Symbian employee who wishes to take part in some face-to-face reminiscences, and who can be near Symbian’s former headquarters in Boundary Row, Southwark, London, on the evening of Friday 29th June, is welcome to get in touch. Several of us will be gathering, ready to share news and views of what was, and what might have been.

16 October 2009

Personal announcement: Life beyond Symbian

Filed under: Psion, Symbian, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 4:19 pm

I have a personal announcement to make: I’m leaving Symbian.

I’ve greatly enjoyed my work of the last 18 months: helping with the preparations and announcement of the Symbian Foundation, and then serving on its Leadership Team as Catalyst and Futurist.

I’m pleased by how much how has been accomplished in a short space of time.  The transition to full open source is well and truly on the way.  The extended Symbian community will shortly be gathering to exchange news and views of progress and opportunities at this year’s SEE09 event in Earls Court, London.  It will be a very busy event, full of insight and announcements, with (no doubt) important new ideas being hatched and reviewed.

On a personal note, I’m proud of the results of my own work on the Symbian blog, and in building and extending Symbian engagement in China, culminating in the recent press release marking a shared commitment by China Mobile and Symbian.  I’m also honoured to have been at the core of a dynamic and energetic leadership team, providing advice and support behind the scenes.

In many ways, my time in the Symbian Foundation has been a natural extension of a 20 year career with what we now call Symbian platform software (and its 16-bit predecessor): 10 years with PDA manufacturer Psion followed by 10 years on the Leadership Team of Symbian Ltd, prior to the launch of the Symbian Foundation.  In summary, I’ve spent 21 hectic years envisioning, architecting, implementing, supporting, and avidly using smart mobile devices.  It’s been a fantastic experience.

However, there’s more to life than smart mobile devices.  For a number of years, I’ve been nursing a growing desire to explore alternative career options and future scenarios. The milestone of my 50th birthday a few months back has helped to intensify this desire.

Anyone who has dipped into my personal blog or followed my tweets will have noticed my deep interest in topics such as: the future of energy, accelerated climate change, accelerated artificial intelligence, looming demographic changes and the longevity dividend, life extension and the future of medicine, nanotechnology, smart robotics, abundance vs. scarcity, and the forthcoming dramatic societal and personal impacts of all of these transformations.  In short, I am fascinated and concerned about the breakthrough future of technology, as well as by the breakthrough future of smartphones.

It’s time for me to spend a few months investigating if I can beneficially deploy my personal skills in advocacy, analysis, coordination, envisioning, facilitation, and troubleshooting (that is, my skills as a “catalyst and futurist”) in the context of some of these other “future of technology” topics.

I’m keeping an open mind to the outcome of my investigation.  I do believe that I need to step back from employment with the Symbian Foundation in order to give that investigation a proper chance to succeed.  I need to open up time for wide-ranging discussions with numerous interesting individuals and companies, both inside and outside the smartphone industry.  I look forward to finding a new way to balance my passionate support for Symbian and smartphones with my concern for the future of technology.

Over the next few days, I’ll be handing over my current Symbian Foundation responsibilities to colleagues and partners.  I’ll become less active on Symbian blogs, forums, and emails.  For those who wish to bid me “bon voyage”, I’ll be happy to chat over a drink at SEE09 – by which time I will have ceased to be an employee with the Symbian Foundation, and will simply be an enthusiastic supporter and well-wisher.

After I leave Symbian, I’ll still be speaking at conferences from time to time – but no longer as a representative of Symbian.  The good news is that Symbian now possesses a strong range of talented spokespeople who will do a fine job of continuing the open dialog with the wider community.

Many thanks are due to my Symbian Foundation colleagues, especially Executive Director Lee Williams and HR Director Steve Warner, for making this transition as smooth as possible.  It’s been a great privilege to work with this extended team!

To reach me in the future, you can use my new email address, davidw AT deltawisdom DOT com.  My mobile phone number will remain the same as before.

14 March 2009

Top posting on Techmeme

Filed under: Symbian Foundation, Techmeme — David Wood @ 3:14 am

At the time I’m writing these words, the website Techmeme, which is a technology news aggregator, has the following display:

The top billing on the site is taken by a posting I made on the Symbian Foundation corporate weblog a little over 24 hours ago, on the subject of the Symbian platform release plan.

It’s the first time that something I’ve written on a blog has generated so much coverage. The powerpoint pictures (originally created by my colleague Ian Hutton) which I spent some time tweaking last night, have ended up being copied to numerous locations on the Internet.

If I had known there would be so much interest, I would have taken more time over the posting!

17 February 2009

Symbian Foundation membership documents now available

Filed under: membership, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 12:12 pm

Anyone interested in the process for becoming a member of the Symbian Foundation can now download and view the relevant set of documents here.

These documents comprise:

  • An electronic membership application form;
  • A copy of the Symbian Foundation Licence (applicable to the source code in the Symbian Foundation Platform until such time as that code becomes available under the Open Source Eclipse Public Licence);
  • The Symbian Foundation membership rules;
  • The Symbian Foundation trademark and compliance policy;
  • The Symbian Foundation patent policy;
  • The memorandum of association of Symbian Foundation Limited;
  • The deed of adherence which an organisation must sign to become a member;
  • The member contribution agreement (applicable to those organisations that may wish to contribute code to the Symbian Foundation Platform).

Many congratulations to the team who have worked so hard to prepare these documents for publication!

There’s a lot of information in these documents. If anyone has questions, the first place to look is the online FAQ.

12 February 2009

I’m a friendly spaceman

Filed under: brand, MWC09, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 8:10 pm

A box of my new business cards arrived today – one day ahead of schedule.

They have some elements of the new Symbian Foundation branding:

Different people on the Symbian Foundation Launch team have different doodles on their cards. I’m one of the people who ended up with the cartoon that looks to me like a friendly spaceman.

This is probably going to generate some fun talk when I give these out at meetings in Barcelona next week 🙂

If you think you could draw a better doodle, then see this invitation.

Footnote: Blogger tells me this is my 100th blog posting. When I wrote the first, back in June last year, I scarcely imagined that my 100th posting would be featuring a friendly spaceman. But as we say in this business, you have to expect the unexpected!

New blog – things are developing nicely

Filed under: brand, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 12:41 pm

Starting today, there’s an official Symbian Foundation blog, here.

The blog will give a flavour of the new Symbian Foundation brand. The declared intention of the blog is “to start a proper dialog with the planet, to introduce ourselves, and to let you know what we’re up to”.

The site also contains the latest press release of endorsements from companies supporting the Symbian Foundation. With this release, the count of these companies has reached 78.

6 February 2009

Reviewing architecture

Filed under: architecture, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 10:25 pm

I spent two days earlier this week in the company of a group of highly experienced software architects. As you may be aware, software architects are a special breed of people. They’re the people who enjoy worrying about the fundamental technical design of a software system. They try to identify, in advance:

  • The best partitioning of the overall system into inter-connected parts (“divide and conquer“);
  • The approach to the design that will preserve the right amount of flexibility for future evolution of the system (“design for change: expect the unexpected“);
  • The technical decisions that will have the biggest impact on the lifetime success of the system (“finding the biggest bang per buck“);
  • The aspects of the design that will become the hardest to change (and which, therefore, are the most urgent to get right);
  • The software development processes that will be the most sacrosanct in the creation of the system (the processes that even the best software engineers will be obliged to follow).

People who get these decisions right are among the most valuable members of the entire project team.

The software architects that I met over these two days were employees from eight of the initial board member companies of the Symbian Foundation. This group of architects has been meeting roughly once a month, for around the last six months, to carry out preparatory work ahead of the formal launch of the Symbian Foundation. The grouping goes by the name “Architecture and software collaboration working group”. Because that’s a bit of a mouthful, it’s usually abbreviated to ASW WG.

It’s not the only such working group. For example, there’s also the FRR WG (looking at Feature, Roadmap and Releases), the FOL WG (Foundation Operational Launch), the FG WG (Foundation Governance), and the IMC WG (Interim Marketing & Communications). In each case, the working group consists of personnel from the initial board member companies, who meet regularly (face-to-face or on a conference call) to progress and review projects.

Several of these working groups will transition into ongoing “councils” when the Symbian Foundation is launched. For example, the ASW WG will transition into the Architecture Council. The Symbian Foundation councils are being formed with the purpose to support the foundation community and grow the competitiveness of the Symbian platform by:

  • Identifying high-level market, user and technical requirements;
  • Soliciting contributions that address those requirements;
  • Coordinating community contributions into regular platform releases;
  • Providing transparency for all community members regarding future platform developments.

The four main councils can be summarised as follows:

  • The Feature and Roadmap Council invites proposals for contributions from the community and seeks to coordinate new contributions into a unified platform (or tools) roadmap;
  • The Architecture Council invites and reviews technical solutions for new contributions in order to ensure the architectural integrity, backward compatibility and fitness-for-purpose of enhancements to the platform;
  • The User Interface Council invites and reviews descriptions of new user interface elements and develops guidelines to help ensure high quality device user experiences;
  • The Release Council coordinates the integration of contributions into stable and timely platform and tools releases.

As I said, I attended this week’s meeting of the ASW WG. Personnel from eight of the initial board member companies were present. It was evident that some of the architects were already on very familiar terms with each other – they’ve worked together on previous Symbian projects over the years. Other participants spoke less often, and seemed to be newer to the group – but when they did speak up, their contribution was equally pertinent.

The meeting had a full agenda. About half of the time was devoted to collectively reviewing (and in some cases reworking) documents that are to be published on the Symbian Foundation web infrastructure around the time of the launch of the organisation. These documents included:

  • The operating charter for the Architecture Council
  • Foundation device software structuring principles
  • Template and Example for Technical Solution Descriptions
  • Foundation Device Compatibility Verification Process
  • Reference Execution Environment Selection Process
  • Recommended practice in the use of the software collaboration tools chosen by the Symbian Foundation – including the SCM (Mercurial) and Issue Tracking (Bugzilla) tools.

The rest of the meeting involved:

  • A discussion of the XML metadata files which are to be maintained (by package owners) for each component in the whole system
  • A review of progress of the project to create the infrastructure and web services which will be accessed by foundation members and by the general public following the launch of the foundation
  • A discussion of the principles for identifying and supporting package owners.

From time to time, the gathering briefly bordered on the surreal. For example, it was debated whether packages should most accurately be described as “collections of collections of packages” instead of “collections of packages”. And there was a serious discussion of whether “vendor supported environment” should gain a hyphen, to become “vendor-supported environment”. But this kind of intense scrutiny is what you’d expect from the highly analytic individuals in attendance – especially when you realise that it’s the desire of these architects to communicate their design ideas as clearly and unambiguously as possible.

(I say all this from the standpoint of someone who had “Software Architect” as the job title on my business cards for several years in the early 1990s.)

Indeed, there was a lot of good-natured ribbing between the attendees. The remark “You might hate me for suggesting this, but…” was interrupted by the rejoinder, “Don’t worry, I already hate you”, followed by laughter.

The meeting became particularly animated, near the end, during the review of the project to create the Symbian Foundation web infrastructure. It became clear to the working group members that the documents they had long debated and refined would soon become published to a much, much wider audience. All the months of careful preparation will culminate in what is anticipated to be a flurry of interest from Symbian Foundation members in the proposals and votes that will take place at the first meetings of the councils:

  • Although there will be at most 12 voting members on any of these councils, the agendas and supporting documents will be made visible to all Symbian Foundation members in advance of council meetings;
  • These members will be able to make their own opinions known through channels such as mailing lists;
  • Over time, the members who repeatedly raise the most insightful comments and suggestions about the business of a council will be invited to formally join that council (and will gain voting rights).

1 February 2009

Signs of change

Filed under: Nokia, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 11:40 pm

My main place of work since September 2000 has been Symbian’s offices at #2 Boundary Row, a short walk from Southwark tube station in central London. During all that time, the building has displayed signs with the “Symbian” name.

But when I visited the site earlier today, the signs of Nokia’s acquisition of Symbian are now very visible: the Symbian signage has been replaced by Nokia signage.

1st February marks the next stage in the integration of Symbian, the company, into Nokia. As with all large changes, the idea is to tackle things stage by stage – to avoid too many things all changing at the same time. Legally, Symbian became a part of Nokia Group back in December. 1st February sees Symbian employees adopting new email addresses, new security passes, and logging into a new network. More changes will occur in the weeks and months ahead – including key dates in the launch of the Symbian Foundation organisation, and the availability of Symbian Platform releases (replacing the previously separate Symbian OS and UI releases).

Joining Nokia’s IS network also means retiring Lotus Notes as our mail engine (although we’ll keep using Lotus Notes for various internal discussion databases and other groupware purposes). Those of us who are working as part of the launch team for the Symbian Foundation are experimenting with Google Apps as the provider of our email services. I’ve had a Google Mail account for my personal use for a number of years, so I’m already familiar with this system. It’s got some fine features. My first couple of days using it for business purposes, however, are making me wonder if it really is fit for more demanding usage. Time will tell. In the meantime, to my mind it’s another illustration that browser-based apps are not yet fit to fully displace locally hosted apps. They’re not fit to fully displace such apps on the PC, and they’re very definitely not fit to fully displace such apps on mobile devices.

28 January 2009

Package Owners contemplating the world ahead

Filed under: architecture, Nokia, packages, passion, Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 3:13 pm

I’ve just spent two days at the very first Symbian Foundation “Package Owners workshop”, held in a Nokia training facility at Batvik, in the snow-covered countryside outside Helsinki. The workshop proved both thought-provoking and deeply encouraging.

In case the term “package owner” draws a blank with you, let me digress.

Over the last few years, there have been several important structural rearrangements of the Symbian OS software engineering units, to improve the delivery and the modularity of the operating system code. For example, we’ve tracked down and sought to eliminate instances where any one area of software relied on internal APIs from what ought to have been a separate area.

This kind of refactoring is an essential process for any large-scale fast-evolving software system – otherwise the code will become unmaintainable.

This modularisation process is being taken one stage further during the preparation for opening the sources of the entire Symbian Platform (consisting of Symbian OS plus UI code and associated applications and tools). The platform has been carefully analysed and divided up into a total of around 100 packages – where each package is a sizeable standalone software delivery. Each package will have its own source code repository.

(Packages are only one layer of the overall decomposition. Each package is made up of from 1 to n component collections, which are in turn made up of from 1 to n components. In total, there are around 2000 components in the platform. Going in the other direction, the packages are themselves grouped into 14 different technology domains, each with a dedicated “Technology Manager” employed by the Symbian Foundation to oversee their evolution. But these are stories for another day.)

Something important that’s happened in the last fortnight is that package owners have been identified for each of the packages. These package owners are all highly respected software engineers within their domain of expertise.

We’re still working on the fine detail of the description of the responsibilities of package owners, but here’s a broad summary:

  • Publish the roadmap for their package
  • Have technical ownership for the package
  • Be open to contributions to their package from the wider software community
  • Evalutate all contributions, and provide useful feedback to the contributors
  • Maintain a good architecture for the package
  • Act as feature sponsor in their package area
  • Manage package deliveries.

This is a huge task, so most package owners will rely on a network of approved committers and other supporters in order to carry out their role.

(Instead of “package owner”, the word “maintainer” is used with a similar meaning by some other open source projects.)

Over the next month, the nominated package owners (along with some of their line managers) are each attending one of three introductory workshops. Each workshop lasts two days. The goal of the workshop is to review and discuss how software development processes will alter, once the source code for the package is available to a much wider audience. Many processes will remain the same as before, but others will alter, and yet others will be brand new.

As I said, the first of these workshops has just finished. There were people from at least three different continents in attendance. I knew a handful before, but for many others, it was the first time for me to meet them. Without exception, they are singularly impressive individuals, with great CVs, and (in most cases) with glittering track records inside Nokia or Symbian.

Not surprisingly, the newly minted package owners brought a variety of different expectations to the event. Several already have considerable experience working with open source software. Others are, naturally, somewhat apprehensive about the changes.

A series of presenters covered matters such as:

  • An overview of the operation and architecture of the Symbian Foundation
  • Great software developers and open source principles
  • Tips on growing a successful community of external contributors
  • The importance of meritocracy
  • Tools and processes
  • IPR considerations, licensing issues, and legal aspects.

There were also small group breakout sessions on topics such as “What are the key challenges and issues facing package owners?” and “What are we going to do differently from before?”

What impressed me the most were the events on the first evening. After a dinner and optional sauna session, the participants gathered again in the seminar room, and spent another three hours reviewing ideas arising from the group breakout sessions from earlier in the day. The passion of the package owners stood out. In their own individual ways, they displayed a shared strong desire to explore new ways of engaging a wider community of software developers, without destabilising the mission-critical projects already being undertaken. These are all busy people, with multiple existing tasks, but they were ready to brainstorm ways to adopt new skills and processes in order to improve the development of their packages. (And I don’t think it was just the Lapin Kulta speaking.)

I half expected the fervour of the debate to die down after a while, but the buzz in the room seemed as strong at 10.50pm as at 8pm. There was a constant queue of people trying to get hold of the marker pen which had been designated (with limited success) as giving someone the right to speak to group. The workshop facilitator had to speak up forcefully to point out that the facilities would be locked shut in ten minutes.

With this kind of intelligence and fervour being brought to bear in support of the Symbian Foundation’s tasks, I’m looking forward to an exciting time ahead.

8 January 2009

Symbian Foundation – Open for recruitment

Filed under: Symbian Foundation — David Wood @ 10:06 am

As announced on Jun 24th last year, the Symbian Foundation is expected to start operating during the first half of this year.

In the last few days, plans for the operation of the Symbian Foundation have taken another significant step forwards, with the creation of a recruitment microsite to help attract and identify the best possible people to staff the organisation.

The website describes roles in Technology, Marketing, and Operations. It includes a draft statement of Symbian Foundation values.

The website is still work in progress – some jobs have detailed specifications, whereas others are currently only listed by job title. At time of writing, the jobs listed are all UK-based, but there is mention of roles in San Francisco and Finland too.

I expect the recruitment team at Harvey Nash (who are running the site on behalf of the Symbian Foundation) are going to be busy!

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