In a meeting with eWEEK prior to the start of the Symbian Smartphone Show here, David Rivas, vice president of product and technology management for S60 Software in Nokia’s devices business, shared a road map of Nokia’s plans regarding open-sourcing its developer platform and the Symbian operating system. Nokia announced plans to acquire Symbian in June.
“We hope to close the acquisition by the end of the year, and in the first half of next year we’ll launch the Symbian Foundation,” Rivas said. Meanwhile, the Symbian OS, S60, the UIQ (formerly known as User Interface Quartz) and MOAP (Mobile Oriented Applications Platform) software will all be contributed to the Symbian Foundation in the first half of 2008 and the source code will be made available to members, with the first integrated release of the entire stack available in 2009. Moreover, the overall platform assets will be made available as open source within the next two years, Rivas said.
Why is Nokia going this route? Well, certainly to try to maintain its lead in the handset space, as Linux and open-source alternative technologies may begin to eat into Symbian’s market-leading share of the business. But, also, “the fundamental economics of software development leads you to open-source software,” Rivas said.
The whole plan is dependent on whether Nokia’s deal to acquire Symbian goes through, Rivas said, but added that the deal is all but done.
“Our CEO is asking us why we’re spending a pile of money for Symbian just to give it away,” Rivas said. “However, we’re creating an open-source foundation to distribute and manage Symbian OS and the S60 software, called the Symbian Foundation. This organization is truly open to anybody who wants to join, and we’ll provide the source code for free to anyone who joins the organization.”
Rivas said right now Symbian boasts about 46 percent of the smart-phone market, but combined with NTT Docomo under the Symbian Foundation umbrella, the organization will hold about 60 percent of the market.
“Because Symbian OS is the market leader, we have the ability to drive demand and value,” Rivas said. He noted that Symbian is the most mature smart-phone platform. “We’re at a point with the handset industry such that all the manufacturers are landing on a buy decision in the build versus buy situation. And as we look out on the landscape we see Windows Mobile, Android and S60. There’s free and there’s proprietary and royalty bearing-which is well represented by Redmond. Free has been immature, with one phone in the market. With the Symbian Foundation move we have a system that’s free but mature.”
Member Priorities to Drive Foundation
Moreover, Rivas said what Nokia is talking about has not been done before. “Our development process will take place in the open-source mode, and we’ll be accepting contributions from the entire industry.”
And the foundation’s development priorities will be driven by member contributions. “We will encourage and enforce contributions with the Eclipse license,” he said, noting that the foundation will use the Eclipse Public License as its primary licensing vehicle.
The fee to join the Symbian Foundation is $1,500. But the foundation itself is funded by its original equipment manufacturer board members. The 10 founding foundation members are Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, LG, Vodafone, AT&T, NTT Docomo, Texas Instruments and ST-NXP Wireless.
“The act of taking 40-plus million lines of code and turning it into open-source software will take some time, and we don’t want to wait,” Rivas said. “So on Day One we’re making it all free for members. The assets will be delivered as open source with an aggressive schedule starting at the foundation’s launch.”
Meanwhile, Rivas said the foundation is applying more of a carrot than a stick to encourage members to use the standard Symbian OS and S60 platform rather than to fragment the software.
“The foundation will run a fairly broad set of tools to deal with fragmentation and run a strong branding program,” Rivas said. “We hope to keep you from forking by having a high value system. But if you want to fork you can fork; we have a license for that called the EPL.”
Rivas had generally positive things to say about the Android offering, but he was much less effusive about Apple’s iPhone, despite carrying a Mac. “They do everything for themselves and see no value in an open platform,” he said. “We believe in product differentiation, and this platform has to make it possible for folks to make it unique. We believe there’s a lot of value in more than one manufacturer driving the development.”
That said, Rivas noted that the foundation as it stands has the support of seven device manufacturers, 225 million devices, 250 device models, 250 operators, tens of thousands of applications, and 4 million developers.