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Mobile // Mobile Devices

Nokia Plans Mobile Software Surge With Open-Source Symbian

Information Week
InformationWeek Daily - Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Editor's Note

Symbian: As Open As They Wanna Be (But How Much Is That?)

What with Google's Android currently stuck in the state of a work-in-progress, it was only a matter of time before someone else ponied up their own open source competition for the smartphone/handset market. But it isn't some newly-minted firm flush with a round of startup funding -- it's Nokia's own Symbian, to be merged with the S60, UIQ and MOAP(S) platforms into one great big happy open source mashup. Well, that's the theory, anyway.

We can put aside the fact that nothing will appear, even on paper, until well into next year. By that time the first Android handsets are likely to be out, even if they're still first-generation models designed more to hook early adopters than the broad swath of consumers. No matter: the intent is what matters, and the intent is to liberate Symbian from its proprietary roots and make it something that can be contributed to and derived from freely.

Again -- that's the theory. What strikes me first of all is that we are not just talking about one platform being opened, but several -- with pieces from each being merged into a whole. Small wonder we're not going to see anything solid with this until '09, since the Symbian Foundation (the new partnership between Nokia and basically everyone who's not Microsoft or Google) has to figure out exactly how all the pieces fit together. After Sun's hassles with opening Java, for instance, I don't believe for a minute that anyone can simply wave a Proprietary-to-GPL Wand and make the magic happen by fiat.

What I see mattering most with any open device initiative -- whether Google's or Nokia's or what have you -- is what kind of community is involved, and how the members are expected to contribute. A community that is more corporate-centric than truly developer-centric is going to stay corporate. Nokia is doing this primarily as a pre-emptive strike against Google (and Microsoft) to preserve turf that they fear will be eroded by both open source and proprietary solutions. So if there's a community here, it's one of industry partners and not guys at keyboards.

Can Nokia build a community of any kind around an open source Symbian? Read the rest of my blog post and let me know what you think.

Serdar Yegulalp
[email protected]

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