Symbian: Is It Really Open Source? Can It Beat Google?
Google's Android project should release, sometime in the near future, an operating system for cellular telephones. An open-source platform means that developers can do as they please with the operating system of the telephone, which in turns means that many of the obstacles that stand in the way of creative cell phone applications will melt away. Android provides real benefits to both users and developers, Google offered $10,000,000 in prize money for creative applications running under Android, companies are building cell phones to use Android — in short, Android poses a real and very direct challenge to traditional cell phones.
To fight back, cell phone manufacturer Nokia recently unveiled a very bold initiative: they're making the operating system in their telephones, Symbian, into open source as well. They've bought up the company that makes Symbian, created a Symbian foundation, and asked other companies to join the alliance. Other companies joined and are donating important software that also makes sense for hand-held telephones (and other devices).
I was a bit suspicious at first when I read the press releases because the Symbian Foundation is "open to any organization," which is usually another way to say that joining the organization incurs large fees. However, according to their web page any "organization" can join for $1,500, which frankly is not a lot of money to be part of the inside track. And the Symbian Foundation promises to release their code under a recognized open source license within the next two years. They have made explicit promises.
This Symbian maneuver shows that the companies involved are truly brilliant. Instead of whining about a changing business model — the way the RIAA and MPAA do about new distribution models for music and movies — the founding members of the Symbian Foundation realized that only this radical change could preserve their core business. This initiative challenges Google's Android. Android has the advantages of good will and earlier release dates; Symbian has the advantages of a huge installed customer base and the world's most popular handsets.
Oh, and don't be surprised when developers start releasing "Android on Symbian" and "Symbian on Android" modules to let applications developed on one system work on another system. And don't be surprised if Symbian's open source operating system imposes restrictions on what works on the Symbian platform — open source doesn't mean that you can necessarily make the telphone do exactly that you want it to do.
This battle ought to prove quite interesting, and amazingly beneficial to consumers.
Topics: · business · open+source · telecommunications
Link to this story · Leave comment or trackback