Open Symbian: New World Order or Big Yawn?

It’s not every day that a major operating system gets opened up, never mind one that leads the global market in its category.

So, when the news came out last week that that’s just what the Symbian Foundation had done — and four months ahead of schedule, no less! — it was hard not to get excited.

Android is no longer the only big kid on the open source mobile block, it seems, and the scales are now tipped considerably more in FOSS’ direction.

Could this be the beginning of a New Open Source World Order — at least in the mobile world?

Knowing Linux bloggers would have plenty to say on the topic, Linux Girl couldn’t resist taking a small, informal poll. What will it all mean for smartphones — or for FOSS?

‘On Its Way Out’

“It’s hard to say what will happen with Symbian since they appear to be open sourcing to gain lost mind-share,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack told LinuxInsider.

However, “it may very well be too late to gain the developer mind-share back now that we have Apple and Google both getting most of the attention,” he added.

Indeed, “Symbian is on its way out,” agreed Martin Espinoza, a blogger at Hyperlogos. “Even Nokia knows it, which is why their flagship product — the N900 — is based on Linux.

“Unfortunately, Nokia’s Maemo is not entirely Free and Open,” Espinoza told LinuxInsider. “I suspect that the big advantage will be the eventual ability to run Symbian apps on other platforms… which is not that big.”

‘The Problem of Mind-Share’

“A big yawn” was one blogger’s assessment of the news.

“A quick search of the wiki at shows that the developer toolkit, including the x86 phone emulator, is Windows-only,” noted Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.

Ignoring that for a moment, however, “there’s still the problem of mind-share in the noosphere,” she added.

Five years ago, the news would have been interesting, Hudson told LinuxInsider, “but look at how much the field has changed in the last three years,” she added. ” Apple JesusPhones, Androids, and Crackberries all have their own App Stores, and the first two phones didn’t even exist four years ago.”

Windows Mobile, meanwhile, “is swirling around the drain,” she opined.

‘Won’t Make Much Difference’

It actually took until last May for Nokia to get its own app store, “and most people don’t even know it exists,” Hudson pointed out. A quick look through it, in fact, reveals that “they don’t have much: 248 apps, 75 games, 31 audio-visual … 354 apps in total for the default phone.”

Even the BlackBerry — “which you don’t think of as a game platform — has over 1,000 games,” she said.

Nokia’s recent move to make its navigation app free “is a good one,” Hudson opined, “but they’re responding to moves made by the competition, not being the innovator forcing others to play catch-up.”

So, in short, “I’d have to say that open sourcing Symbian won’t make much difference to anyone,” she concluded.

A Matter of Hardware

How much difference it makes, in fact, will be more up to hardware manufacturers and networks than to Symbian, Slashdot blogger hairyfeet asserted. “After all, you could download the code for a TiVo all day long, but without the hardware key, what good was having the code?”

Cellphone providers “like to create artificial barriers to raise prices,” hairyfeet told LinuxInsider. “How many times have we seen that you could buy a phone from provider A and it would have all these great features, but buy the same phone from B and it would have been crippled from the factory to disallow those features?

“If everyone has access to the hardware, that kind of software crippling the phone won’t work, and then they either have to let everyone have ALL the features, or have special phones built with hardware disabling,” he pointed out.

“So, while I wish Symbian luck, I think it is more up to the networks and hardware manufacturers than it is the OS with regards to phones,” hairyfeet concluded. “After all, with no drivers for the hardware it doesn’t really matter WHAT OS code you do/don’t have access to, does it?”

‘How Different from M$!’

Still, hardware questions notwithstanding, the news “is a fine example of a near monopoly graciously sharing with the world in order to compete fairly and with better products,” blogger Robert Pogson opined. “How different from M$!”

Symbian’s move will likely “draw in lots of participation from small businesses and individuals with new ideas for these gadgets,” Pogson told LinuxInsider. “It will surely help Symbian compete with GNU/Linux in that space and may eventually result in Symbian expanding into other lines of computer devices, even the PC.”

That, in turn, “is a good thing,” he concluded. “Competition stimulates ideas and gives us better products at lower prices.”

‘The Way Things Are Done’

Indeed, whether or not it expands into tablets or other devices, the move will likely provide an alternative for developers now wary of Android because of the inherent competition with Google’s Nexus One.

Either way, though, the move is laudable, and it sets a fine example for makers of the world’s other operating systems, Linux Girl would suggest.

Will it launch a new, open source revolution? Probably not. But with every major player that embraces FOSS, the idea becomes a little less “alternative” and a little more “the way things are done.”

1 Comment

  • You might also mention that Nokia’s developer strategy is based on QT ("cute"), the open source foundation for the KDE Linux desktop. An application written in QT will run not only on Windows, Mac, KDE, Gnome, WinCE, and Symbian, but the N900’s open source Maemo Linux as well. In fact, the next Maemo smartphone from Nokia will use QT as the default library (the N900 uses Gnome’s GTK+).

    Symbian’s open sourcing makes the entire Symbian / Maemo / QT smartphone ecosystem unified and open source. I think Nokia "gets it".

    See for info.

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