Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Symbian phone operating system goes open source

By Jonathan Fildes
Technology reporter, BBC News

Nokia phone Hong Kong (AFP/Getty)
Nokia bought the Symbian software in 2008

The group behind the world's most popular smartphone operating system - Symbian - is giving away "billions of dollars" worth of code for free.

The Symbian Foundation's announced that it would make its code open source in 2008 and has now completed the move.

It means that any organisation or individual can now use and modify the platform's underlying source code "for any purpose".

Symbian has shipped in more than 330m mobile phones, the foundation says.

It believes the move will attract new developers to work on the system and help speed up the pace of improvements.

"This is the largest open source migration effort ever," Lee Williams of the Symbian Foundation told BBC News.

"It will increase rate of evolution and increase the rate of innovation of the platform."

Ian Fogg, principal analyst at Forrester research, said the move was about Symbian "transitioning from one business model to another" as well as trying to gain "momentum and mindshare" for software that had been overshadowed by the release of Apple's iPhone and Google Android operating system.

Evolutionary barrier

Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia bought the software in 2008 and helped establish the non-profit Symbian Foundation to oversee its development and transition to open source.

The foundation includes Nokia, AT&T, LG, Motorola, NTT Docomo, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone.

It's useful for them to say Symbian is now open - Google has done very well out of that
Ian Fogg

The group has now released what it calls the Symbian platform as open source code. This platform unites different elements of the Symbian operating system as well as components - in particular, user interfaces - developed by individual members.

Until now, Symbian's source code was only open to members of the organisation.

It can be downloaded from the foundation's website from 1400 GMT.

Mr Williams said that one of the motivations for the move was to speed up the rate at which the 10-year-old platform evolved.

"When we chatted to companies who develop third party applications, we found people would spend up to nine months just trying to navigate the intellectual property," he said.

"That was really hindering the rate of progress."

Opening up the platform would also improve security, he added.

'Mind share'

Symbian development is currently dominated by Nokia, but the foundation hoped to reduce the firm's input to "no more than 50%" by the middle of 2011, said Mr Williams.

"We will see a dramatic shift in terms of who is contributing to the platform."

However, said Mr Williams, the foundation would monitor phones using the platform to ensure that they met with minimum standards.

Despite being the world's most popular smart phone operating system, Symbian has been losing the publicity battle, with Google's Android operating system and Apple's iPhone dominating recent headlines.

"Symbian desperately needs to regain mindshare at the moment," said Mr Fogg.

"It's useful for them to say Symbian is now open - Google has done very well out of that."

He also said that the software "may not be as open and free as an outsider might think".

"Almost all of the open source operating systems on mobile phones - Nokia's Maemo, Google's Android - typically have proprietary software in them."

For example, Android incorporates Google's e-mail system Gmail.

But Mr Williams denied the move to open source was a marketing move.

"The ideas we are executing ideas came 12-18 months before Android and before the launch of the original iPhone," Mr Williams told BBC News.



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
Nokia in full buy-out of Symbian
24 Jun 08 |  Business
Flash moves on to smart phones
05 Oct 09 |  Technology
Symbian to develop mobile apps
16 Jul 09 |  Technology
Mobile phone apps worth a look
16 Jul 09 |  Click
Mobile phone applications grow up
10 Jul 09 |  Click
Tech rivals follow app store lead
16 Feb 09 |  Technology
Palm's effort to woo developers
02 Apr 09 |  Technology

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
ZDNet UK Q&A: Symbian Foundation CEO on why a tablet is 'likely' - 54 mins ago
Personal Computer World Strike gold with google - 1 hr ago
Forbes.com Research and Markets: Mobile Applications: Impacts on Network Operations and Wireless Business... - 5 hrs ago
Financial TimesSamsung aims to triple smartphone sales this year - 12 hrs ago
* Requires registration



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific