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September 11, 2009

It’s good to be open

openLONDON, England – That’s the title of a panel discussion which took place at London’s BFI last night. Chaired by Russell Davies from the Really Interesting Group the discussion set out to explore the development and future of open source. Conversations rocked up because the head of user experience design for Nokia’s Maemo unit, Harri Kiljander, made up one third of the panel discussing the topic. Sitting in the audience, Conversations bumped (once more) into Jussi Mäkinen (we also rubbed shoulders at last week’s Nokia World party), in town to hobnob with Maemo developers during the onedotzero festival.

Russell Davies kicked things off by introducing interaction designer Joel Gethin Lewis, creator of all sorts of cool projects. As a keen user of open source, Gethin Lewis sees the selling of software as “morally wrong” on the basis that it’s “the replication of digital content” which fundamentally costs nothing to replicate. Over the last couple of years Gethin Lewis has become an avid user of Open Frameworks, using it as the basis for a number of projects he’s been involved in. Joel certainly offered a different sense of what Open Source means, but also how the fundamental principles are the same, whether you’re making an entire Mobile Operating System open source, or releasing the code for a recently completed interaction project.

Co-founder and CEO of, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino takes open source out of the realm of software and into the world of hardware. Alex was a student of one of the founders of open source hardware project and together with her team have used the technology in a number of ways. have worked on a variety of projects and Alex describes the team as comprising not of specialists, but “jacks of all trades”. The latest project, which Alex couldn’t talk about, was a special Nokia N900 event happening at onedotzero this coming Sunday (if you’re in London and looking for something to do, you might just have found it – her team is also running a Toy Hacking session at the festival on Sunday afternoon).

In between Joel and Alex we heard the man we’d come to see, Harri Kiljander. I for one didn’t realise Harri’s history at Nokia, initially as an interaction designer on series 40 devices 15 years ago (his first screen to work on was 84 x 48 pixels) before moving on to work on S60 and now on Maemo. Harri opened by joking that the N900’s ability to make calls was “pretty good for a phone company”. During his talk Harri highlighted many of the challenges facing his team in working in an open source environment, such as how to strike a balance in product design, and how to direct the design process in that kind of environment. He was also hot to point out the many benefits too, such as the ability to work with such a broad range of exceptional talent. He closed simply by saying how the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

When the speakers finished, it was the turn of the audience to drive the discussion. With a range of questions coming out relating directly to open source, one interesting one filtered through which struck a chord with this particular correspondent. That was how the commercial and open source worlds can work together in harmony, and actually create something where everyone benefits. Harri countered it very simply, pointing to his N900 and saying “this is living proof of it in action”. And you know what, he’s right.

After all, it’s good to be open.