Nokia buys Symbian to form open-source Android killer

Nokia buys Symbian to form open-source Android killer

Summary: Nokia is to buy out Symbian and set up a new open-source platform with Motorola, Sony Ericsson and NTT DoCoMo, forming a major rival to Google's Android

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 license fee to the company for using the platform.

Nokia is to buy out the remaining shares in Symbian that it does not already own for $410 million, and it will then contribute Symbian and its own Series 60 (S60) platform to a new not-for-profit organization called the Symbian Foundation. Sony Ericsson and Motorola will contribute the UIQ platform, and NTT DoCoMo will contribute its MOAP platform.

mobile platformsThe 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 organization 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 organization 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 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.

Topics: Nokia, Mobility, Open Source

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • Open sores are good, but when is it too many?

    It's about time Symbian went open sores. I guess, Nokia, Mot and others saw the writing on the wall.

    Never mind Android, the real fear is Apple iPhone. The juggernaut is unstoppable if left without a serious response.

    Open Sore Symbian is a step in the right direction BUT too many open sores lead to infection and death.
    Note the current Open Sores:
    Android, Moblin and 12 other Linux sores out there. Ouch.
    • It's OPEN SOURCE

      But I generally agree... Apple is showing that too much choice and too many options isn't necessarily a good thing. The end result is a lack of focus.
      • True ...

        ... too much choice is not always a good thing but neither is too little choice.

        Microsoft has been immensely successful by fostering choice. Windows offers to the consumer a one-stop OS solution which meets the needs of 90% of the market. It succeeds because it lets OEMs and end-users put together pretty much whatever configuration they want.

        Apple has done exactly the opposite. They control the platform from the bottom up. There are very few hardware choices but they are tightly integrated - leading to a very high level of reliability. That said, Apple accomplishes this by selling only premium products at premium prices.

        A 'baseline' iMac costs twice that of a 'baseline' Dell (where most consumers shop) -never mind that the iMac performs considerably better since most consumers don't need the high-end capabilities of the Macintosh.

        All that said, there are those who want still more choice and more flexibility. These folks are attracted to UNIX/Linux -- where everything is left up to the systems administrator.

        This approach may offer the most choice but it requires the most special knowledge as well.
        M Wagner
    • Here's what I want:

      An open-source phone with a screen somewhat larger than the i-phone, i.e big enough to show a useful amount of information, with a 3G or maybe 7.2 Mbps data connection, and good open-source p.i.m. apps which you can download and install/deinstall yourself.
      So Apple CAN stopped. I've not been remotely tempted to shell out hundreds of quid on their fiddly little slow handset, just to join a crowd of fashion victims!
      • Apple iPhone might e overpriced ...

        ... but it is naive to think that premium services are going to be "free" just because they are built on open-source. Innovation costs money and those that lead the way will always command a premium price.
        M Wagner
        • "Might be" ?

          There's no doubt about it that the iPhone (and anything else with an 'i' at the start of the name) is so overpriced its not even worth thinking about...
      • Nokia vs. Apple

        I believe Nokia has the opportunity to move into a power position over apple. We all know they make a better product as far as the phone but will the addition of this company help?

        I just want a demo phone...whatever happened to cell phone companies offering a free phone with service. Let some people demo the phone get responsive feed back and free advertising what better way to do it...that's the only way their going to get ahead of apple.

        Well let me tell you, my 15 yr. old neighbor just traded his bedroom speakers for an i phone and was walking by bragging about it. It looks like they are ahead there to. I didn't like to i phone anyway but, I am just saying the i phone's got a jump on the market.

        It's not a practicle phone at all. I would like to see the nokia be everything that a blackberry and an iphone aren't. and that would be useful and pracitcal.

        Scott B.
  • As Igor said, "It's alive!"

    Since the invention of Open Source rarely has any Free or Open Source "killed" another Free or Open Source project, as the BSDs have proven repeatedly, so long as the minority project can attract developers it can be revived.
  • RE: Nokia buys Symbian to form open-source Android killer

    Oh well as long as it can whoop m$ butt I dont really care where it comes from
  • Why?

    Has it suddenly become better because a new company owns it? If it is truly open sourced, then Linux can implement it's API set seamlessly, and or, Symbina can implement Androids API seamlessly.

    What we will see is a NEW market where Linux with Symbian extensions does all that Symbian with Linux extensions does in a BROADER market, and basically offering a bigger competitor to Apple's Iphone, etc.

    See, if it is Open Source, then it is Open Source, and I can create a new OS called SymDroid. :D If it isn't open source (I don't know what the eclipse license means), then it will keep competing as it has done. Anyone wanting to use Symbian already did/does, so what difference will this really make?

    I see this as WORST case neutral for Android (it will still get a LOT of development, regardless of this), likely very positive for Android (can implement Symbian API) and win for Symbian because it can now enjoy community development.

  • Android killer!?

    I think its more a question of Android being a Symbian killer...

    I enjoy reading all these comments about open source - there seems be an unwritten rule somewhere that states every piece of open source software is good...
  • Heheheheheh...

    Nokia really got that one right. Mind you its becoming a habit - I remember the early ones being dubbed the peoples phone, for good reason. Miniscule power requirements, pocket proof, inexpensive and so common no-one wanted to nick them.

    Then, joy of joys, Nokia started using Symbian - I've been using it in its many guises for years. Did you know that Symbian is in fact evolved from Epoch, the OS on the Psion pocket computer? I could believe my luck when I found an in-development port of Python for it, a few years ago now. I love Python, it runs on nearly everything I've got and makes access to the filing systems and any fiddling about I do identical on any OS. Kind of like Java but with *huge* cojones... ;)

    And now, in a magnificent gesture, Nokia have bought it, bundled it with their entire front end, along with their competitors front ends (how they swung that I'd love to know!) and given the whole lot back to the people who supported it for all these years. For free?

    These are happy days - while I dont see it as much of a threat to MS, or indeed any desktop platform, it is going to take computing out of offices, lounges and bedrooms, and into the real world. That will change the nature as well as the application of programming. Lets face it the mouse/keyboard paradigm has been with us for a long time now...
  • RE: Nokia buys Symbian to form open-source Android killer

    Android is written from the bottom up to stop any spam, malware, bad apps, and so on from running. I hope now that an OS of any kind is written to stop bad things it can go on the desktop also. I'm sure that isn't Google's plan but who knows.

    Linux Format June 2008 has a nice article on it.
  • Ambivalent

    I'm ambivalent about this. It reminds me of the way Palm reacted to the Pocket PC. Palm had a platform that was superior to WinCE for low-power devices, but it wasn't a potential "notebook replacement" the way the Pocket PC was. Instead of playing their strengths, they spent them by trying to scale their event-driven OS up to do things it was poorly designed to, while promising a new OS real soon... and failing on that promise.

    When someone makes a disruptive move against you, the worst thing you can do is to ignore them, but the second worst thing you can do is let them pick the playing field when you DO respond to them. That's what Palm did in response to Microsoft, and that's what Nokia's doing now.

    So while I think this is probably going to be a good thing, if the license they're using is cleanly open, but I'm concerned about the context they're doing it in.