Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tizen Conference 2012, first days

The Linux Foundation sponsored me to travel to and attend the Tizen Conference 2012 in San Francisco and as part of this sponsorship, I'll be blogging about the conference and my insights and thoughts of the talks and keynotes at it. While some parts may seem negative, please keep reading as I have a point with those parts that is illustrated later on.

While some people might think that I see Mer as a competitor to Tizen, or think that I don't like Tizen, in fact, I see the benefit of Tizen for the entire open source community that they're pushing a proper, fast and working, standards compliant web runtime for Linux based devices. And I hope we'll see people putting this on top of Mer. Mer plays a different game than Tizen and hence not a competitor - it's a solid mobile core that everybody can build on and most importantly, rely on despite the moods of corporate giants, to make their devices - where solid delivery, ability to productise and code is king.

There's always a challenge in how to properly launch a commercial open source project. Especially in mobile Linux, there is unnecessary high media and developer expectations to the features and ability of a mobile handset stack that often enough causes mobile OS projects to break their necks and die.

But Rome wasn't built in a day. And so weren't the mobile stacks you see around the today - Android took over 3 years to get to a remotely functioning stack. And this has a tendency to make mobile OS developers develop in 'closed mode' in order to launch properly on day one.

Tizen has drawn a lot of crap from their complete silence and secret cathedral building behaviour up to 1.0 release. But I can say that if I was in their shoes, having to launch a handset device .. and handset stack. I would probably end up doing the same things as they had. In a world where you will see your semi-ugly alpha release screenshots laughed at in news articles about your 1.0 launch, when you have a perfectly working and very shiny final release that nobody seems to bother to even check out, it's hard to argue for transparent development from day zero.

Luckily I'm not in their shoes and I can concentrate on technical core side of things and make it easier for people to make exciting new devices. I'm not a fan of whole-stack projects - for the reasons listed above. And that's why Mer doesn't contain UIs and hardware adaptations - we let people base and develop on a sane core that we can maintain the openness of, while people work on exciting new devices and UIs in seperate projects from the Mer project.

Reputation and history matters a lot as well - There was a lot of disappointment in the demise of MeeGo and the messaging on MeeGo site was that Tizen was the new direction. And people expected there'd be some kind of relation. But there's not - Tizen, at least the handset side (IVI is more related on the Core side), is so very different from anything you knew in MeeGo - your employees would need complete retraining to work with it. The stack is based off Samsung Linux Platform and actually says it's that, when booting up, last I saw. That should lead to interesting discussions with your company lawyers.

And with reputation and history in mind - many from MeeGo remember last years keynote, Monday Morning with MeeGo.. February 11 had happened months before and there was still a fighting spirit in the community, we needed people who were showing passion in their work, the same fighting spirit. And we got something that was closer to Monday Mourning with MeeGo. Which left many people depressed and unimpressed. A talk that spoke more about the fantastic deployments of the platforms that MeeGo was in practical competition with, than about MeeGo itself and it's qualities and achievements.

When a last moment change in the Tizen conference schedule came in, that moved the first keynote which was supposed to be Imad from Intel and JD from Samsung to the morning after and instead, we got a recycled keynote, void of genuine and documented passion for Tizen, with the same recycled material as in the Monday Morning with MeeGo talk and the same speaker as last year - with him even talking about that if people had noticed he would be on schedule, there'd probably be fewer in the room. I was left unimpressed and depressed, again.

I'm ashamed to say it, but I've grown to appreciate the famous "Developers! Developers! Developers!" dance. Somebody showing passion for their work - people who truly believe in their product and their stack. Someone who wants to stirr excitement in developers, CTOs and platform integrators alike. And I harbour a lot of respect for people who truly believe in what they do and that they want to do a good product and good software.

And we got that in the morning after keynote, Imad, the head of Intel OTC and JD, EVP of Samsung, the Tizen technical steering group. They showed their excitement about what they were doing, showing excellent live demos and they understood the challenges in presenting a mobile OS and explained to depth both the challenges and reasoning behind their choices for the Tizen stack - even the controversial ones. I can recommend watching the video when it gets put online.

This is what the first keynote of the conference should have been like. And I was more excited again.

The second keynote, from Tizen Association was interesting, showing the need of operators to provide and control content and the benefit of having to write to one platform (HTML5). Which is funny, when there were also talks about "The web always wins" .. that in practice, the walled garden never wins, the properitary standards will not either. That content from outside the walled garden will always be more interesting and varied than your own content. Doesn't anybody remember AOL? :)

I might be an idealist, but I have difficulty seeing the word 'open' together with the working method of the Tizen Association. When their terms of membership states at
that there is an annual due of membership of Two Hundred and Twenty Thousand USD. And talking about confidentiality clauses.

But I was reminded of a quote from my former boss, Harri Hakulinen, from his MeeGo blog, speaking of Nokia's choice of WP7: "... What I had witnessed from the side, thanks to Sami J. Mäkinen, was of course the birth of Linux. And, in so many ways, I feel that we have now "replayed" the same with MeeGo in last 12 months.
Co-incidentally, at that time I had a summer job where we replaced some ancient Nixdorf and IBM mainframes with another new OS, called Windows NT. It was hard to explain to Sami and others, that from the point of view of those companies I worked for, Windows NT was, in fact, like "open environment", compared to those things that they had been using before."

And perhaps this is how it's like with Tizen. That compared to how it has been before, this is actually more open than the previous situation for the ecosystem. At least the code is open, actively developed, looking to be intended to be developed in the open, not only codedrops, with a proper code submission process. So perhaps that's an improvement on top of what we have had with Symbian and Android.

What I am more encouraged by in terms of openness, is what I learned in the Tizen Architecture talks, where there is a strong push towards that there will actually be as little Tizen specific WebAPIs as possible. That there's an active desire to use W3C standards where possible and to submit APIs to the standards process. Which makes me hope that for the parts that really matters - the developer facing APIs, that there will no vendor lock down. In the end, the winner would be the Web. And even if Tizen did go away one day, that the code would be living on. Just like MeeGo's code has. Because it's open source.

From an entirely architectural point of view, Tizen architecture (SLP-based) has a lot of NIH in it - it's own telephony stack instead of oFono (though I hear that's coming), and a lot of self-made libraries and methods. Which may impact the portability of the web runtime.

I'm hoping that Tizen will realize the importance of separating the web runtime from OS stack. That one of the reasons that the web standards have developed so fast, has been the ability to get many people to upgrade their browsers over the air.

We probably cannot assume we'll see Tizen 1.0 to Tizen 2.0 upgrades on our handsets - aftermarket hardware adaptation is really hard.  But we should make sure that at least for a few generations, we can keep on delivering the web runtime to older devices. To foster a standards compliant and secure web runtime for our apps - just like the browsers has fostered it for the web. And I think this is one area Tizen could potentially be very agile in, comparing to other platforms.

The last talk of the day was on Tizen security - Ryan Ware was presenting along with his Samsung counterpart, where compared to many other platforms, the focus has been to ensure end-user privacy, and not on the need to protect content owner content. That's the right direction - especially in a world where devices are turning very promiscuous and interacting in sometimes unsafe manners with other devices.

One of the most important parts of a conference is not so much the presentations, but the people there and the discussions in the hallway - the 'hallway track'. This is a concept that any conferences doesn't always understand - the importance that people can discuss outside the conference rooms. Tizen conference has as usual done a great job on this (thanks to Amy Leeland's fantastic work), providing good space and hacker lounges with whiteboards for people to properly discuss. I've sat down together with many key people in my line of work and had intellectual discussions about the challenges we meet. And I've gotten to know more people that I previously didn't.

And of course - when working on a distributed-across-the-world project, I've been able to go out and have our traditional icecream shop visit (since 2009) with the rest of the participants of my project. So far it has been a good conference, looking forward to be seeing more presentations today.


  1. On the one hand, I'm jealous of you for being sponsored to this event. I very much miss seeing and sharing a beer with mobile device hackers from all over the world. On the other hand, I'm so happy for you that you've managed to surf the stormy seas of mobile Linux and somehow come out still floating on the waves.

    All I can do is hope and pray that I can keep buying and hacking mobile Linux devices into the future. I agree that the more standard the stack, the better, and separation of the web runtime from the OS is very desirable. And that the stated security objective "to ensure end-user privacy, and not on the need to protect content owners" is true, not simply rhetoric (like in MeeGo).

    I hope the OS / application runtime decoupling gains momentum. If it does, perhaps there will be a "best of all worlds" OS out there that will have a solid, standard, open source Linux OS core (like Mer) with multiple application runtime layers that work like plugins. It would be able to run WebOS apps, Tizen apps, and even Android apps...

  2. I hope the Tizen guys are considering implementing the WebAPIs Mozilla is working on in the "Boot to Gecko" and "Open Web Apps" and trying to standardize via the W3C, etc.
    I the discussions in the dev-webapi list at Mozilla, I have seen people from Apple and Google discuss with Mozilla folks so far, but IIRC not Samsung/Intel/Tizen folks - maybe they are part of discussions of those APIs in the actual standards bodies though.
    Would benefit the whole Web ecosystem if we'd all pull into the same direction on those APIs.

  3. Do you think it's likely that the 1st consumer phone will have hw "at least" as good as the dev device?
    I dont think it has any chance of making a impact if it's hardware isn't notably better than WP8's.
    Sure there's many other important factors, I'm well aware.
    But something as superficial as that really does matter from user take-up perspective.
    I dont expect them to make the hw as good as their top-end android ph, but it needs to at least be competitive with WP8/BB10 etc.