As of 4th February, the source code of Symbian 3 mobile OS will be offered as a free open source download for anyone wanting to dabble with it. Nokia, which in 2008 had acquired Symbian and established the independent non-profit Symbian Foundation, has decided to publish the source code under the Eclipse Public License (EPL). Being the most widely distributed smartphone platform, this event marks the biggest relocation from proprietary to open source software in history.
According to Larry Berkin, head of global alliances for the Symbian Foundation, there are currently 330 million Symbian-based mobile devices in use around the world. Five manufacturers build Symbian devices namely Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Fujitsu and Sharp.
Symbian’s relocation to open source is huge news for mobile developers who can now download it and modify it to suit their own tastes and goals. Any individual or organization can influence the future of the OS, create new features and build market opportunity. However, the move to open source may give rise to incompatible and branched versions of the platform, says Berkin. Originally meant to be published in June, the process was accelerated by Foundation members and more than 40 million lines of code are now available at this location.
Having long been the dominant mobile OS, Symbian faces competition from the likes of Google’s Android and the iPhone OS. Though, as Glyn Moody points out, developers are aware of the Symbian platform and are therefore less likely to make a move to Android and other Linux-based platforms. Furthur, executive director of the Symbian Foundation Lee Williams claims that Symbian has an advantage over Android as only a third of the latter’s code has been made openly available. With such a view in mind, the iPhone OS seems out of the game considering that it is completely closed/proprietary.
In light of this significant move, it is intriguing to note that Symbian may have been a little late in entering the open source arena. A number of manufacturers have ditched Symbian and Windows Mobile in favour of Android, and have had success with it too (e.g. Motorola). Whether the new version of Symbian along with its move to open source is able to win back manufacturers remains to be seen.