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Symbian Talks Open-Source Strategy

Vendor neutrality and greater transparency will increase adoption of the soon to be open mobile platform, executives point out.

During the OSCON open source conference, a key Symbian executive elaborated on the reasoning for turning the mobile operating system into an open platform.

John Forsyth, Symbian's VP of strategy, said Symbian is the most widely used operating system for smartphones, and more than 200 million Symbian-based devices have been shipped. But despite its success, the proprietary nature was still holding the platform back, Forsyth said.

"If you want to get through this glass ceiling and convince people that you aren't a single point of failure, then you have to be neutral," Forsyth said during the presentation Thursday. "What it required to break through to the next level of platform success is something that is free and truly independent and neutral. There is no platform like that today, so what we are setting out to do is make one."

Additionally, Forsyth said handset manufacturers are growing wary of depending on a single source for software, and the move toward open source will increase adoption potential in many areas.

Last month, Nokia said it would purchase the remaining portion of Symbian that it didn't already own and turn it over to a new Symbian Foundation with the goal of creating an open source operating system for handsets.

The foundation will get a framework in place for providing royalty-free licenses to all members by next year, Forsyth said. The entire source code eventually will be under the Eclipse Public License, but legal and technical issues need to be sorted out.

Forsyth said Symbian's previous proprietary culture may pose some challenges during the transition, and the foundation is constantly seeking advice from the community on how to proceed.

Forsyth's presentation comes as an analyst report suggests that Symbian will combine with Google's Android operating system. Analyst firm J. Gold Associates said it expects a merger within six months because of the similar open source strategies of the respective companies involved.

Google, Symbian, and Nokia have declined to comment on the matter.

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