Nokia's Symbian Treatment Stirs Criticism on Eve of Symbian Event

Nokia has long promoted Symbian as an open-source OS. Since partnering with Microsoft, however, changes to policy have made some question any use of the word "open."

Nokia has a big Symbian announcement planned for April 12, but it is already receiving heavy criticism regarding its treatment of the mobile operating system.

In a March 31 blog post titled "We are Open!" on the Symbian blog, a Nokia official announced that the company is making the latest version of the Symbian source code available to development partners, and that almost all of the source code is now uploaded to While in February Nokia committed to making Microsoft's Windows Phone its primary smartphone OS, the official reiterated in the post that the company still plans to ship another 150 million Symbian smartphones and to keep supporting updates to the OS.

"To achieve all of this, we need the collaboration with our platform development partners and continue to value an open way of working," Petra Soderling, head of Open Source Symbian smartphones for Nokia, wrote in the post.

While the source code is available for downloading, there are new restrictions that are out of sync with the open-source nature of Symbian that Nokia has long promoted.

In an unsigned April 4 post on the Symbian blog titled "Not Open Source, Just Open for Business," a Nokia official clarified:

""As we have consistently said, Nokia is making the Symbian platform available under an alternative, open and direct model, to enable us to continue working with the remaining Japanese OEMs and the relatively small community of platform development collaborators we are already working with."Through these pages we are releasing source code to these collaborators, but are not maintaining Symbian as an open source development project. Consistent with this, the Nokia Symbian License is an alternative license which provides an access to Nokia's additional Symbian development for parties which collaborate with Nokia on the Symbian platform.""

Nokia added that it is monitoring registrations and "approving the aforementioned platform collaborators."

In an April 11 report, Ars Technica suggests the "Japanese OEMs" comment refers to Fujitsu, and writes that it is "disappointing that Nokia doesn't seem to care anymore. After spending hundreds of millions of euros and many years of effort to be able to distribute the code under the [Eclipse Public License], it seems absurd to throw it all away and revert to a license that imposes bizarre restrictions on source code access.", taking issue with Nokia's use of the word "open," highlighted some of the fine print in Nokia's Symbian-related documents in an April 2 post, pointing out, for example, that instead of a patent grant there's now a new copyright license, as well as a no-reverse-engineering clause and a confidentiality agreement.

"Nokia can do whatever it wants with its own stuff. But please don't use the word 'open' for this," Groklaw added. "Partnering with Microsoft may make you start to talk like Microsoft, I guess, and keep promises like Microsoft too. But I don't think this is an accurate use of the word 'open.'"

Italian open-source analyst Carlo Daffara, on his blog, describes Nokia's bungled handling of Symbian, which "could have been a contender," as "a pity."

"The long list of confusing announcements and delays, changes in plans, and lack of focus on how to beat the competitors like iOS and Android clearly reduced the willingness of commercial partners to invest in the venture," writes Daffara.

Regarding Nokia's latest move, he added, the announcement "sounds like a death knell. Obtain the source code through a DVD or USB key? You must be kidding. Do you really think that setting up a webpage with the code and preserving a read-only Mercurial server would be a too much of a cost? The only thing that it shows is that Nokia stopped believing in an OSS Symbian."

Little is known about Nokia's planned April 12 event, which will take place in London. Invitations, sent to the media earlier this month, said only, "Discover what's new with Symbian smartphones." Nokia has made previous promises of a dual-core 1GHz processor smartphone, which it's possible Nokia will make good on.