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Jonathan Erickson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Symbian Foundation: An Open Source Treasure Chest Just Around the Corner

October 20, 2008

In what may very well be the biggest transition from proprietary to open source software, the Symbian Foundation  (officially launched in June; see  www.ddj.com/mobile/208800511 )  continues to move forward -- subject to regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions, of course.

At this point, you might be asking "Symbian what?" In a nutshell, the Symbian Foundation is a non-profit organization  formed to to support the Symbian OS operating system as an open source project. To enable this, Foundation member Nokia acquired the outstanding  shares of Symbian Limited that Nokia does not already own, and contributed the Symbian and S60 software to the Foundation. Over the long term, members will contribute technology to the Foundation, in addition to funding. Assuming again that all goes well, the source code to the SymbianOS will be available to members in 2009 and made fully and completely public as open source in the first quarter of 2010.

So in what ways might this transition of Symbian OS to open source possibly be the biggest such move? For starters, the sheer size of the OS -- we're talking 7 million or so  lines of code (LOC). But LOC alone isn't the whole story. Sun Microsystems, for instance,  transitioned more than 5 million lines of source code from proprietary to open source when it open sourced its Solaris operating system (now called "OpenSolaris") a year ago. No, more than just LOC, open sourcing Symbian OS brings with it tens of thousands of applications running on more than 225 million individual devices (and 250 different device models).

 The latest news is that the Symbian Foundation is starting to pile up more members too. At the 2008 Symbian Smartphone Show, the Foundation announced that more than 50 companies are onboard to create software royalty free for members from the Foundation’s first day of operations in 2009, with the open source platform available 2010.

But, of course,  the devil is in the details, and part of those details involve licensing issues that still need to be ironed out. Eclipse Public License? GPL? But again, that's just part of the details. Stay tuned.


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