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With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

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Doomed By The Desire For Control?

There's plenty of talk about how Nokia's embrace of Microsoft's Windows Phone has doomed Nokia. But has Nokia's embrace actually doomed Windows Phone?

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As I've written before, we've entered a connected era, where society is a mesh of meshes of relationships. The Internet is both the cause and the effect of the meshed society. Among its other attributes, the meshed society is transparent and carries an expectation of equal access. When these things are absent or degraded, the mesh routes round, enfolds and eventually eliminates the inequity.

Centralised To Meshed

This applies equally to the markets the meshed society has made - and that includes the mobile device market. While the mobile carriers and their equipment suppliers may like to think they still live in the old hub-and-spoke society where they could call the shots on the market, the truth is that by embracing the mesh they will have to live by the rules of the mesh. That's why their failure to make Europe-wide mobile data costs reasonable is now provoking EU intervention, for example.

Given a key principle of the single market in Europe is that citizens must not face discriminatory pricing, why should two EU citizens sitting together at the same table in Europe be charged different prices for the same mobile data service on the same network? Where once the mobile operators had the sympathetic ear of legislators, today the mesh includes those legislators - who now want change.

Nokia and Microsoft

Extending the principles of transparency and equal access further, I believe Nokia's newly-announced relationship with Microsoft may well have consequences they did not anticipate. They clearly think that their collective might will make the market:

Nokia and Microsoft intend to jointly create market-leading mobile products and services designed to offer consumers, operators and developers unrivalled choice and opportunity.

But by creating a special relationship with Microsoft, where Nokia has rights to influence the Windows Phone platform in ways others do not and are unlikely to be able to negotiate, Microsoft has ensured that other phone manufacturers will be cautious about using the same technology rather than a platform like Android where a much more open environment exists. Why would any other manufacturer want to use a platform where they play junior partner to "a broad strategic partnership"?

This is the thinking of the old hub-and-spoke world of powerful intermediaries, and it's exactly the sort of arrangement that the meshed society abhors. In the old world, seizing control and being the hub was the way to wealth. But in the new world, playing well with as many others as possible - gaining influence - is the key. By attempting to seize control, Nokia and Microsoft are actually likely to lose influence. Time will tell, but the meshed society isn't going away - only those who ignore its principles will do that.

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