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Nokia open up about Symbian

Morning readers, Whatley here, just got this over MSN from a friend of mine at Nokia;

“Hey Whatley, we are buying Symbian and will donate it + S60 to an open source foundation!”

To which my response was a resounding – “Eh?”

You can read the official Nokia press releases here and here

Now, I’m not a developer. I’m ready to admit my knowledge in this area isn’t great. Ewan’s in the Maldives, the rest of the SMSTN Team are (still) sleeping so it’s down to me to make something of this.

Looking around online there is little opinion up yet – however, unsurprisingly, All About Symbian has the news too and Steve Litchfield says that “This is officially HUGE“.

I dropped the news into Twitter just over an hour ago (at the time of publishing) and got few responses back.

One of my followers and all round smart chap, Jof Arnold, emailed over his thoughts, which he’s kindly given me permission to publish here – I for one am interested to find out what this actually means for the industry as a whole and, more importantly, what’s your opinion on this latest Nokia acquistion?


Over to Jof:

“In practice… well, that all depends on Nokia and I couldn’t possibly comment on their track history of OSS projects – cos I have no idea.

In theory? Potentially an awful lot. Compare to the iPhone and you’ll see why. Remember all those people trying to jail-break the iPhone? Those projects were successful because fundamentally the operating system pissed off many people; cut and paste; closed apps; no file explorer. Now, had apple open-sourced it fully you’d have a situation where the masses would be contributing huge amounts of their time into making the iPhone just how they wanted it… all under apple’s approval of course.

But, apple won’t do that… and developers are annoyed. Which is why any system that allows developed to tinker with the core operating system is going to be attractive to them. All of a sudden, developers haved a connundrum;

  • develop for a locked-down system that is only on 10m handsets yet has a cool app-distribution and revenue-sharing system…. (apple)
  • develop for an open system that has 200m handsets (nokia)
  • develop for some google vapour-ware (android)

Impossible to say what will happen, but developers have always had a soft-spot for Symbian. This is potentially game-changing, but Nokia/Symbian’s got their work cut out; despite all this, Apple is a marketing monster and is hard to resist.”

Jof Arnold


Thanks for those thoughts Jof. There’s a live webcast scheduled in for 11am today.

We’ll have more news, as it breaks.



  1. Hehe, thanks for the links, James. I look forward to seeing what will happen. Here's some other thoughts too:

    One area I definitely don't know about is how they'll distribute the operating system… With ubuntu, it's pretty easy, but this? Are people going to be flashing their phones every week when a new update comes out? Active community projects need a lot of regular updates. Also what is EPL1.0? How tightly tied-down is it? Also, isn't it a bit worrying that only dyed-in-the-wool mobile operators and manufacturers are part of the announcement? Where's the hot new talent? But we're talking years in the future, so who knows anything at this stage… they should have done this a couple of years ago probably… feels like they are in defense mode due to android/apple.

    So many questions, and so little time to research a carefully planned answer 😉 Exciting times!

  2. This is a very good strategic move for Nokia, as it puts then in direct opposition to Google, and they have experience and existing licensees with the manufacturers and carriers. The problem they will have, which is what happened to Sun when they Open Sourced Solaris was the sheer amount of work needed to cleanup all the code before making it public, as well as maintaining the codebase internally with a new way of working.

    I doubt we will see any code for quite a while, but once it is released, I am expecting a good community to form very quickly.

    Someone in M&A had their Weetabix this week I think!

  3. This may be what Symbian always needed. It wrong foots Google's Android and they may end up delivering at the same time.

    The real challenge is one that is not affected by open sourcing: do they have a development platform with a transparent sales channel for developers to sell to real life purchasers who have an expectation of good quality software that will be paid for with cash. They have an enterprise ready OS and they own a mighty fine hardware range but the cash flow from consumers is not good. Like a lot of developers I think that Symbian is the bees knees. However, I want to develop for a very small number of platforms (i.e., well defined sets of OS, screen, input, connectivity, ubiquitous backend service providers) for customers who can find me.

    Google is very good at promoting communities but struggles with quality away from their main offerings and it is strongly associated with 'free'. Nokia's Symbian may will turn out to be a geeky paradise with so many options that the whole development platform is completely fragmented (anyone remember developing for Linux between 1992 and, say, 2000) which is where Symbian went when it abandoned its three fixed platforms: Crystal, Quartz and Perl.

    The question I have, is this their plan to conquer the US enterprise market? I don't think this is about the consumer market. Current major Symbian developers are (in my experience) enterprise quality software houses. If this is the underlying plan, it could see off Android as a main stream platform and leave Apple permanently in the consumer space that it knows sooooo well.

  4. I may be a bit fick but could someone please explain to me why this is a good thing and why it will make anyone more money?

  5. Can Symbian go off independently as open source and survive on it own?  I may be naive but why can’t Symbian be like Linux?  It has large global user base.  It is all about marketing and organized development infrastructure–Symbian has a lot of things going for it, including large installed base–ie., the captive customers are there–just make applications they would be interested in buying–simple–it is not about the hardware, but the software–Apps drive consumer interest, and popularity.  Great hardware with no good Apps is meaningless.  Nokia did/does not seem to understand this–if they put there efforts into Symbian, who else could have competed with them, since they had such a massive and lead advantage–but they squandered it.  Now with Windows Phone, it is a question, but their survial depends on it because they bet the farm and abandoned Symbian. 


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