'One of the biggest contributions to an open community ever made,' was how Nokia's CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, positioned the company's decision to buy out the other investors for €264 million and make the Symbian operating system open source. While this all sounds like a grand and worthy gesture, Nokia's strategy is to increase the pressure on Microsoft, Apple and Google over who will win the battle for dominance of the smartphone operating system market.
The company plans to launch the non-profit Symbian Foundation, combining several different operating systems including Symbian OS, UIQ, MOAP and S60 and making the whole system open source, so that developers can use the technology for free. This model is not new having been adopted by the computer industry for many years. Perhaps of greater interest is the involvement of AT&T, DoCoMo and Vodafone in the new Symbian Foundation, along with the predictable names of Samsung, Sony Ericsson, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments--with Qualcomm being noticeably absent.
Geoff Blaber of industry watcher CCS Insight commented that Nokia's move was a shrewd response to growing threats from other providers of mobile phone software. "We estimate Nokia paid out more than US$250M in Symbian licence fees last year, so it makes commercial sense to buy Symbian for about US$410M, rather than keep paying what is effectively a subsidy to the other shareholders."
But this announcement does raise questions:
- With Nokia now controlling Symbian, how open can the system really be?
- Can Symbian keep pace with or overtake the iPhone's user interface?
- Will Nokia now ignore Linux, or does it have a plan to use this alternative open platform for its high-end multimedia devices?
- Will the Symbian Foundation (cumbersome committee?) be able to react in a timely manner to whatever the competition might offer?
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