Nokia commits to Symbian's open-source future

Nokia has announced that the source code for the latest version of its Symbian platform is now available under an open source licence to development partners, committing to a 'continuous evolution' of the software despite its planned move to Windows Phone as its primary smartphone operating system.

Symbian, once the jewel in Nokia's crown, has spectacularly failed to keep up with the rapid pace of the smartphone industry - as Nokia head Stephen Elop has himself admitted. The company has seen its once mighty market share eroded by competitors like Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and latterly Microsoft's Windows Phone - and while Symbian is still a viable OS in developing nations, its glory days in the west are long behind it.

It's something Nokia is only too aware of - which is why the company announced back in February that it would be making the move to Microsoft's Windows Phone, turning its back on the Symbian and MeeGo platforms it worked so hard to develop in-house.

It's a move that has worried developers, despite attempts at reassurance from both companies - but Nokia's open source arm believes that Symbian can still be salvaged.

Petra Söderling, head of open source at Nokia's Symbian division, has announced that the transition period between Symbian source code being provided by the now more-or-less defunct Symbian Foundation and the new model of coming directly from Nokia is complete - and promises that the platform still has some life left in it.

"While Nokia and Microsoft are working on a definitive agreement between the two companies and we have begun working on product collaboration, Nokia plans to ship at least 150 million Symbian smartphones and to continue deliver innovation and software updates to the platform," Söderling claimed in the announcement. "To achieve all of this, we need the collaboration with our platform development partners and continue to value an open way of working.

"We have been working hard to turn most Symbian Foundation era materials into the new framework – for example, checking ownerships and use of rights for masses of documents – and are proud to announce that almost all of the source code is now uploaded to collab.symbian.nokia.com. The few remaining source files, tools and documents will be uploaded over the next few weeks."

Söderling admits that the platform is still far from open, despite the moves Nokia has made. "The platform code that we share here is open source code for OEMs and others who develop the platform with Nokia," Söderling confessed in response to a comment from an external Symbian developer. "The commercial product which is sold to customers is not 'fully open' [...] due to various consumer protection legislation, warranty and security reasons."

As part of the company's new direction for Symbian, Nokia is doing away with version numbers. While the last release was known as Symbian^3, there will be no Symbian^4. Instead, Söderling claims that the company is committed to a continuous evolution of the platform that will deliver incremental improvements to partners, customers, and end-users.

While some might see Nokia's ditching of version numbers as a tacit admission that it doesn't think Symbian will be around long enough to make it to a next generation, many developers are still hopeful that there is life in what was once considered a world-leading mobile platform.

For curious developers, the Symbian source code is available from Nokia's Symbian website - although you will need to go through a registration process before you'll be allowed access.