Symbian: R&D wants motivated open sourcing

Executive dismisses contention that competitive concerns from Android, LiMo were a prime factor

Research and development efficiency, and not competitive concerns about the Google Android or Linux Mobile (LiMo) initiatives, was a chief driver in the decision to make the Symbian mobile platform open source, a Symbian official said Monday afternoon.

Symbian, which is being made an open source project by Nokia, is to be provided by an Eclipse license in the 2009-2010 timeframe, said John Forsyth, vice president of strategy for Symbian, at the Open Mobile Exchange conference being held as part of the Open Source Convention (OSCON) in Portland, Ore.

He acknowledged there has been much speculation about why Symbian, a successful project that he said has a 60 percent share of the mobile market, was going open source. But Symbian has had a lack of research and development efficiency, according to Forsyth. "This was one of our biggest barriers to growth," he said.

"I think that [Android and LiMo] are not really the motivation behind doing this. I think the biggest motivation behind this is, as I said, R&D efficiency," Forsyth said.

Explaining research and development efficiency problems, Forsyth said that currently, engineering efforts get duplicated by phone manufacturers. Also, there is no mobile-specific open-source community, which is what Symbian plans to offer.

Linux, meanwhile, has suffered from fragmentation, he argued. Some of Symbian's customers use Linux and end up with their own specific branch of Linux for mobile usage.

"It effectively becomes a proprietary platform," said Forsyth.

Another motivating factor for Symbian is that users do not want a single-source technology provider, he said. Those overseeing Symbian decided that to break through to the next level of success, the platform needed to be free, independent, and neutral.

Challenges to the open-source project include creating a culture and dealing with customers with different levels of open-source knowledge. The community also must grow in the right way. The foundation plans to design with transparency, get technical authorities who are independent, and give people a voice, said Forsyth.

"I'm going to wrap up by stating the unbelievably obvious: that we're going to make a lot of mistakes as we do this," Forsyth said.

Commenting on features, Forsyth said symmetric multiprocessing is anticipated for Symbian in the 2011 timeframe.

The Symbian foundation will run the open-source project, Forysth said

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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