The mobile open-source world suddenly has a very major new player, after it emerged on Tuesday that the Symbian, Series 60, UIQ and MOAP platforms are to be merged into an open-sourced platform to rival Google's much-feted Android Open Handset Alliance project.
The major immediate difference for companies that deal with Symbian will be that they no longer have to pay a licence fee to the company for using the platform.
Nokia is to buy out the remaining shares in Symbian that it does not already own, and it will then contribute Symbian and its own Series 60 (S60) platform to a new not-for-profit organisation called the Symbian Foundation. Sony Ericsson and Motorola will contribute the UIQ platform, and NTT DoCoMo will contribute its MOAP platform.
The Symbian Foundation will "make selected components available as open source at launch", Nokia said in a statement. The entire new platform will then be made open source over the next two years under the Eclipse Public License (EPL) version 1.0.
Also joining the Symbian Foundation will be AT&T, LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone. That means that almost every member of the new foundation is also a member of the LiMo Foundation, which until now has been the broadest industry collaborative organisation in terms of mobile open source. Excepted from this crossover list is AT&T; Nokia and Sony Ericsson are not technically in LiMo, but Ericsson (one of Sony Ericsson's parent companies) and Trolltech (now owned by Nokia) are LiMo members.
Symbian Foundation members that are also involved in the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) — the organisation developing the Google-led Android platform — include LG, NTT DoCoMo, Motorola, Samsung and Texas Instruments.
"Ten years ago, Symbian was established by far-sighted players to offer an advanced, open operating system and software skills to the whole mobile industry", said Symbian chief executive Nigel Clifford on Tuesday. "Our vision is to become the most widely used software platform on the planet, and indeed, today, Symbian OS leads its market by any measure."
Nokia chief executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said the establishment of the new foundation was "one of the biggest contributions to an open community ever made". It is not yet clear how Trolltech, the open-source software company that Nokia recently bought, will play into Nokia's new project. It is also not yet clear how the open-source community will react to the new Symbian Foundation platform, given Nokia's recent statements about Linux developers needing to learn more about the reality of the business world.
"Nokia is a strong supporter of open platforms and technologies, as they give the freedom to build, maintain and evolve applications and services across device segments and offer by far the largest ecosystem, enabling rapid innovation," said Kallasvuo. "Today's announcement is a major milestone in our devices software strategy."
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi told ZDNet.co.uk on Tuesday that there "was not any hint" beforehand that Tuesday's announcement was going to take place, although it was not a surprise in the light of Android's probable success. Regarding the involvement of so many Symbian Foundation members in rivals like LiMo and the OHA, she said it was likely that those players were looking to use the new Symbian super-platform and Android at "different points in their portfolio".
"The difference here between Android and what Symbian is trying to do is Google is not in [the Symbian Foundation], and the business model around the [new] platform is likely going to be different. Working with Google and their ad-funded scenario might be seen [by operators and vendors] as a threat," Milanesi said.
Milanesi dismissed LiMo as a major factor in the establishment of the new Symbian Foundation, saying it had "so far has proven to be a PR machine than has been unable to deliver consistency across the Linux platform".
Asked whether the Symbian Foundation spelled the end for UIQ — the Symbian-based user interface (UI) that had, until Tuesday's announcement, been controlled by Sony Ericsson — Milanesi said the UI might still prove to be a differentiating factor for certain handsets, now that the Symbian platform was to be open sourced and thus used more commonly by many manufacturers and operators.