At 2pm today the mobile technology world will be torn asunder (isn’t that a cool word) by a warp in the space time continuum. Suddenly it wont be the fourth of February anymore. Instead we’ll be whisked through time in our own personal TARDIS to June and the announcement that the Symbian Foundation had not only finished the move from a proprietary operating system to a fully open sourced operating system four months ahead of target, but had released all 108 packages online along with a development kit to allow phones to actually be made from it. The job of transitioning the code to an open source format was huge. After over ten years of development the Symbian OS was made up of hundreds of millions of lines of code so the first job was to streamline it and cut out all the chaff. The entire OS is now down to a slim and sexy 40 million lines of code split into 108 packages that handle different things in the device.
This has been the single largest open source project in the mobile world. For comparison, Android is the best selling open source OS at this moment in time running a Linux model. However Android OS only has about a third of it’s code as open source, meaning that add ons and changes to the system are limited. By making Symbian fully open sourced it’s possible (but not likely) that a developer may build a phone that can run Symbian applications as well as iPhone, Web OS and Android applications if they wanted to and knew how to program the extra bits in. Of course, the respective owners of those OS’s would probably sue, but the possibility is there. Furthermore we have the possibility of Symbian powered feature phones, lacking the Symbian application shell but keeping the operating system and core applications intact. These would act as powerful feature phones with enhanced multitasking capabilities for those who still only use their phones for the out of the box experience. Again, not likely but easily possible. Now that the Symbian Foundation has reached it’s target for Symbian 3 they’re already hard at work on Symbian 4, and attempting to get even more people involved in it. The final aim is to have no more than 50% of the code provided by Nokia themselves and to bring in other companies to add their speciality to the OS.
“As a company that strongly believes in openness and the power of partnerships, the success and speed of the Symbian Foundation’s transition from proprietary code to open source illustrates what we as an industry can achieve when we work together.”
As they always seem to in these cases, analyst firm Forrester had their say on the events, ignoring all evidence so they could get headline worthy news. According to Forrester this is a publicity stunt because Symbian “desperately” need to catch up with Android and the iPhone. The facts that Nokia’s market share grew this year (taking their share prices up 10%) before the announcement, Symbian phones sell ten times as many as iPhone and Android put together and that Symbian’s closest competitor is RIM with their Blackberry phones, and that Symbian’s open sourcing plans were first mentioned two years before the iPhone came out was conveniently ignored by this market analysis firm, making this writer wonder why anyone bothers consulting them in the first place.