Communication, conversation and collaboration: Lee Williams SEE09 Keynote

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Taking to the stage in an open necked shirt and faded blue jeans, Lee Williams, Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation, opened this year's Symbian focussed show, the Symbian Exchange and Exposition. With a nod to British sensibilities, he did throw on a casual sports jacket, but Williams was in an animated mood.

“I've heard other companies stand up and say the have the world's most powerful operating system,” he countered. “I think they're wrong.”

“If it took me six months to add cut and paste,” he confessed “I'd be embarrassed.”

“And anyone who says we are standing still....” a chilling pause, “is so wrong.”

It's clear that the press coverage and recognition that the Symbian Foundation has or has not picked up during the last year is not to Williams' liking. Although Symbian as an operating system has been around since 1999 (or earlier depending on how you classify the days of EPOC and SIBO), he sees the Foundation as a start-up. Admittedly a start-up that was conceived at the heart of a rich and robust community, but a small and agile start-up that licensed a trademark and has made huge advances in the last year.

SEE 09 Keynote

From a blank canvas at launch, the Foundation now has 165 member companies working with the community towards a common goal; 16 packages are now open sourced under the Eclipse licence, including the microkernel (which was opened ahead of schedule); a solid roadmap from where they are now to the drive forward with Symbian^3 and Symbian^4.

A lot of the detail of the roadmap has been driven by the community, and Williams has spent much of the last year talking to Foundation members. “Every meeting I have builds up a tiny part of the roadmap. Everyone is willing to have a conversation that talks about the future. That's quite rare for an Open Source movement.”

Is that a touch of paternal pride on stage? No matter the language used, the numbers involved show that this is one of the largest Open Source projects, with 40-50 million lines of code and 11 years of work behind it. The model now is one of collaboration and co-operation, and Williams' focus in the keynote, and indeed for the whole show, is to share the roadmap and gather community ideas to keep the project moving.

One of the most intriguing slides of the presentation was the number 466 – that's the number of features currently under development for the next versions of Symbian (^3 and ^4). Williams went on to highlight three of them – near field communications (which seems to have been hanging around the fringes of the mobile industry for a very long time); a new conceptual user interface (although unfortunately just a mock up, there are no new products being launched by the Foundation at this show); and the addition of Social Media API's, which will allow the moving of social interactions away from the existing isolated application model to a full and holistic integration with the platform.

One area launched in the new Symbian web site is the Ideas section (, an area where the Foundation is inviting everyone to come in and discuss its views on the mobile world, and specifically where Symbian OS is going and what they want to see on the platform in the future. In exactly the same way as Williams has been talking to the existing members, the conversation is now opening up to a much wider audience. There may be a natural hesitancy to put up revolutionary ideas here, but this could prove to be a useful tool to help guide (or confirm) future direction.

As a Foundation that acts as a clearing house for ideas and provides direction under the advice of its members, it would be difficult for Williams to come out on stage at Earl's Court this morning and give a “One more thing” style of presentation. But that's not the style of the Symbian Foundation. Williams has built up an organisation that is driven by the community and is discovering new ways of aligning with it and how to work together.

Whether that's enough in the consumer market remains to be seen – but the Foundation continues to fulfil its mission to provide members with the best mobile operating system possible for every use case.

-- Ewan Spence, Oct 2009.

We'll have more from Lee Williams and the Symbian Exchange and Exposition in the upcoming All About Symbian Insight special podcast.