Turning our pockets into nodes on the global network

In an engaging review of the dramatic changes in the mobile telecommunications industry over the past decade (“Europe holds a losing hand in the high-stakes mobile game”, September 5), John Gapper identifies Linux as an also-ran in the mobile platform wars. This cannot be the case as Google’s Android is based on Linux and released under a similar open source licence.

Open-source, standards-based Unix operating systems (Apple’s iOS shares many of these traits) are the native environment for internet applications. The web is largely built on these efficient systems composed of building blocks that can be adapted for different purposes. From an engineer’s perspective, they were the path of least resistance for handsets when mobile networks were opened to internet connectivity, turning our pockets into nodes on the global network.

There is an even larger story here. The internet is based on open standards and protocols, and by its very nature it levels the playing field for systems built in collaborative environments outside of closed, commercial environments. Like Linux (which shares Nokia’s Finnish roots), many core internet development tools (Apache, Perl, PHP, Ruby, WordPress and so on) are developed by teams distributed all over the world. Network externalities, cost effectiveness and a generation of developers who have come of age in this environment propel the trend. This global collaboration makes it almost futile to evaluate trends in terms of national or continental champions.

Silicon Valley had become the destination of choice for much of this activity because it is the closest analogue in the physical world. California is a relatively new land of immigrants within a nation of immigrants. It is open, adaptable and welcoming of change, somewhat like the technology it creates. This is perhaps why companies housed there have best understood how to create value in this new environment for software tools and services.

Originally published as a Letter to the FT editor.