Symbian OS now fully open source

Access offered to mobile platform four months ahead of targeted release date

The Symbian Foundation will move forward on Thursday with offering up the full Symbian smartphone platform to open source.

The Symbian 3 platform, including applications, middleware, and the kernel itself, will be offered under terms of the Eclipse Public License and other licenses. "You can download it, you can modify it," said Larry Berkin, head of global alliances for the foundation. Previously, the kernel was made available via open source.

[ See InfoWorld's report on the new Symbian UI in the works to compete with the Apple iPhone and Google Android. ]

"We're open-sourcing 108 packages that will be available at the source code level," Berkin said. Handset manufacturers can modify the code and build differentiated handsets, he said. Originally due to be fully open-sourced by June, foundation members accelerated the process, said Berkin. Code, more than 40 million lines of it, will be available at Symbian's Website at 6 a.m. Pacific Time.

"End-users will see, ideally, differentiated devices, converged devices that are based on Symbian that range from smartphones [to converged devices]," such as cameras or a phone that is a gaming device, he said.

Open-sourcing possibly could result in incompatible, forked versions of the platform, Berkin said. Manufacturers will need to be responsible for their work with Symbian. The market can be self-correcting in situations such as this, he said.

There are 330 million Symbian-based devices in use, according to Berkin. Five manufacturers currently build Symbian devices: Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, Fujitsu, and Sharp.

Symbian technology had been driven by Symbian Limited, the majority of which was owned by Nokia, which then spun it out as an open source project.

Putting Symbian into open source will boost the platform in the marketplace, said analyst William Stofega, program manager for mobile device technology and trends at IDC. "I think it's good for Nokia, and it's also good for Symbian in terms of its viability over all in terms of market share and being able to compete with the likes of Apple and Android and the others," he said.

Also available for download are development kits for building Symbian applications and mobile devices. These include the Symbian Developer Kit and the Product Development Kit.

In November 2009, Nokia put the Linux-based Maemo OS on its high-end N900 "mobile computer," which features a phone and capabilities like email, a Web browser, and video. But the company remains a backer of Symbian, Nokia representatives said.

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