What’s up with the Symbian Foundation?

In one of the first posts on the Symbian Foundation’s new blog the following proclamation was made about the future of Nokia’s proprietary S60 mobile operating system:

We’re going to give it all away: For free.

It’s now almost a year later and I have to ask: What’s taking you so long?

There’s been lots of hot air & cute cartoons, and now there’s a bizarre countdown page that’s supposed to get me all worked up about something I quite frankly don’t understand.

For example, my Nokia N97 is listed as a Symbian^1 device — a bit odd, since there’s no evidence of any open-source software on it. It’s got the same certificate-driven DRM as any other current S60 handset, so it’s Symbian^1 how, exactly?

On the web Andrew Munchbach of Boy Genius has reported that the Foundation is skipping Symbian^2 entirely and bringing Symbian^3 to market later this year. Wonderful. Except that nowhere in the article or the original source is there any mention of when the actual code for the OS will be released.

I had to turn instead to Wikipedia’s short entry on the Foundation, which merely indicates that the Symbian source code will be made public “mid-2010”.

Am I missing something here?

If the Symbian Foundation wants to release the code right now, what’s stopping them? I’m aware that Symbian is designed for other handset makers and operators who want to deliver a carrier-branded Symbian experience. So why are these people standing in the way of making the code public? Are they haggling over the price? It’s supposed to be free, isn’t it?

Are there issues with, say, the licensing of proprietary audio and video codecs? Such things haven’t gotten in the way of a typical desktop Linux distribution — or Maemo, for that matter.

If you ask me, the way in which the Symbian Foundation has operating to date goes against the very ethos of open-source software — that is, get something out there, then let the community help you make it better.

What we appear to have instead is yet another flavour of “open” that, from the steep membership requirements to DRM-friendly applications to an interminable delay for anything of substance, doesn’t really seem that open at all.


  1. These things take a lot of time, especially the more mature the codebase.

    The Symbian Foundation has already done a great job with their website and opening up conversations about features and capabilities. Now we will get to see how well this works with a mature mobile operating system going open source. I remember the growing pains Firefox had moving from Netscape to Mozilla to Firebird, etc. before it became the widely-accepted browser of today. Hopefully Symbian’s transition will be a bit smoother.

    Now that they’ve released it, I’ll be looking at you for a complete analysis of the licensing that covers the components…

  2. As far as I can tell, Symbian (and Maemo) are on track. Symbian 2 was S60V5 with a renaming and code cleanup, just to make sure everything that says “Nokia” now says “Symbian”. No changes from S60v5 to SF2, other than renaming and cleanup.

    The one Maemo 6 device that’s projected for release this year is also on track. Nokia has always said there’d be five “developer” devices before consumer devices.

    Did you catch the Fireside Chat with Julian of the Symbian Foundation? He’ll tell us what’s up!


    Keep up the freedom fight, my good man!

  3. As an aside, since Matt brought in Maemo, I installed the new firefox (fennec) onto my older N800. It’s not as snappy as on the N900, but it runs as well as the default N800 browser, with lots more functionality. Looking forward to playing with that.

    We need another MobileTron with the Symbian and Firefox guys!

  4. And kudos to All About Symbian for addressing the elephant in the room — specifically why open-sourcing the OS took so long:

    “The transition process involved three key steps: firstly sanity checking the code to ensure it was ready for EPL (patents, IP, license headers etc.), secondly working within corporate processes (e.g. requirements process within Nokia, general legal requirements and changes in package ownership) and thirdly co-ordinating the release both internally and externally.”

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