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Nokia Goes Even More Open Source, Opens Symbian

Symbian Foundation Opens Wide

  • February 4, 2010
  • By David Needle

It's official. Nearly two years ago, Nokia spent $410 million to buy all of Symbian, the mobile operating system software in which it already owned a major stake -- and promised to turn it into a new, royalty-free mobile software platform.

Today, Nokia announced that the Symbian Foundation, an organization it created after the buyout, will release the software as open source under the Eclipse Pubic License.

"We've spent a lot of time at the Foundation with partners to work things out, scrub the code, and we're very proud of it," Larry Berkin, head of global alliances for the Symbian Foundation and its general manager in the U.S., told InternetNews.com. Berkin also noted the open source release comes four months ahead of the Foundation's original estimate of June 2010.

Good news of any kind is a plus for Nokia, which has seen a gaggle of smartphones (the Apple iPhone, the BlackBerry, and more recently, Android devices) gain a sales edge in the U.S. Still, Nokia remains a market leader in Europe and a leading provider of mobile devices globally. Since its release ten years ago, Symbian has shipped in over 330 million devices around the world.

"Symbian has predominantly been a European phenomenon," concedes Berkin, who in previous positions ran development for Palm's Palm Source. "But in Europe, Symbian is a very strong success story. It's only in pockets of the U.S. but I think you'll see that change with handset manufacturers now and stronger sense of engagement with where we're headed. It's truly a community-driven effort."

Research firm IDC said the move could well help Nokia gain greater acceptance of Symbian.

"It's increasingly important for smartphone platforms to offer developers something unique," IDC analyst John Delaney said in a statement. "The placing into open source of the world's most widely used smartphone platform emphatically fits that bill. It will be exciting to see where this takes the industry."

For developers, Berkin said Symbian is also working on ways to make it easy to publish Symbian apps that are digitally signed and secure across different app stores, courtesy of its Symbian Horizon program. But the effort won't entail its own, branded application download store.

"The Symbian Foundation hasn't talked about creating its own app store, and we're not planning to," he said.

Under terms of the new open source license, Symbian said any individual or organization can now freely take, use and modify the code for any purpose, whether that be for a mobile device or other hardware. Berkin said netbooks and tablet PCs, devices some developers have already started to explore with Google's Android mobile software, are logical candidates.

Symbian said its commitment to openness also includes plans to publish a platform roadmap that will detailed upcoming features in the works for this year and 2011. "Anyone can now influence the roadmap and contribute new features," the Symbian Foundation said in a statement.

All 108 packages containing the source code of the Symbian platform can now be downloaded from Symbian's developer Web site under the terms of the Eclipse Public License and other open source licenses, according to Symbian. Also available for download are the complete development kits for creating applications (the Symbian Developer Kit) and mobile devices (the Product Development Kit).

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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