Symbian, It's Closed, It's Open, It's Closed

Nokia decides Symbian will no longer be open to the public

In yet another reversal Nokia has now decided that the source code for their Symbian phone OS will no longer be available to public. This represents yet another twist in the ongoing saga as Symbian seems to be dying a slow death.  In a blog post Nokia says that Symbian "is not open source, just open for business".

It was just 2009 that Nokia heralded the creation of the Symbian Foundation and Joining Nokia in the foundation were companies including  Sony EricssonNTT DoCoMoMotorolaTexas InstrumentsVodafoneLG ElectronicsSamsung Electronics,STMicroelectronics and AT&T. Soon after founding though the foundation started to crumble. LG and Motorola left first, but were replaced. But as smarphones like the iPhone and Android based phones began to capture more market share, it became clear that Symbian was a dead end.  

Nokia's own ambiguous strategy of course contributed to loss of support for Symbian.  They got behind MeeGo and then didn't do much there either. Changes in management and focus at Nokia left Symbian without the support of its original benefactor. Then this past November the Symbian Foundation announced that it was closing up and that Nokia would take back control of Symbian. The problem was many of the foundation members had decided they were no longer going to support Symbian anyway. 

The transition back to Nokia was to be completed in April and sure enough Nokia wasted little time. What many thought was disingenuous though was that Nokia still sticks to saying that Nokia is open, if not open source. What they actually said in the short blog article was: 

As we have consistently said, Nokia is making the Symbian platform available under an alternative, open and direct model, to enable us to continue working with the remaining Japanese OEMs and the relatively small community of platform development collaborators we are already working with.

Of course in the intervening months Nokia has struck a deal with Microsoft, where Windows Mobile will be the preferred platform for Nokia phones. This has led some in the open source community to point to the Microsoft bogeyman as the real culprit behind Nokia's decision. I guess the logic is that Microsoft wants Nokia to be solely focused on Windows Mobile and by closing Symbian they remove a potential distraction.

I don't buy that sorry. I think Nokia's management sees that Symbian is in fact a dead end for them. They don't want to see themselves potentially compete against it. By having it truly open source, someone could conceivably develop it into a real competitor.

My issue is the code that was open sourced has to remain open. If someone wanted to take that and fork it, I don't think Nokia could stop them. Maybe the real test of whether or not anyone cares enough about Symbian will be if anyone does fork the last truly open version of it.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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