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Symbian to be open source in 2 years

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It’s old news that Nokia bought Symbian, the software used to power many mobile phones today. The deal finally closed, and now the Symbian Foundation is officially in charge of Symbian development. There are currently ten participants in the Symbian Foundation, though membership is open to anyone with $1,500 to spare. The Symbian Foundation has big plans for the platform. Read on for a glimpse, and some thoughts on what the future might hold.

At Nokia World 2008, Matti Vänskä reminded us that the Symbian Foundation plans to release Symbian as fully open source in two years. From the Symbian Foundation Whitepaper:

The foundation will then work to an aggressive schedule to open source all the
essential software platform components for building a mobile device. It is
expected that this will be completed within the next two years, with the intent that
the platform code will be licensed under the Eclipse Public License (EPL) 1.0.

Vänskä said “ultimately [open source] is how software is going to be developed.” As a GNU/Linux user, that really caught my attention. Obviously an open source Symbian isn’t going to radically change the mobile operating system market overnight, just like Google’s Android hasn’t changed much yet. But if we look at the gradual success of open and free software in general — Apache httpd, GNU/Linux, Mozilla Firefox, et al. — I think Vänskä’s on to something.

Linux was “that hacker OS” for almost a decade before it started being taken seriously. It moved gradually from the server room to the desktop, and the principles of open and free software moved with it. Now almost everyone who uses a computer at least knows about things like Firefox and Pidgin, and many folks have at least heard of Linux.

The mobile space had a similarly lethargic uptake in open source development, but things appear to be speeding up now. The OpenMoko phones haven’t really caught anyone’s attention, nor have many of the other Linux-powered mobile devices until the G1.  With the recent growth of the Open Handset Alliance,  I have high hopes for the effect Google’s Android will have on mobile software development. It sounds like the Symbian Foundation has similar hopes for open software development.  Anyone think that Symbian and Android may some day be sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g?

Will any of this have an effect on Apple’s iPhone or devices running Windows Mobile?  Microsoft has a long-standing animosity toward open and free software, and Apple’s been doing a yoeman’s job of discouraging it lately, too. Will the one-two punch of open source Symbian and Android be enough to drive the other players to change their ways?

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