Two weeks ago, Petra Söderling, Head of Open Source for Symbian Smartphones at Nokia, announced the Symbian code was back online in a blog post entitled "We are Open!" So far so good. But then the legal website Groklaw looked at the licence and declared it non-open.
Pamela Jones of Groklaw says that Symbian was fully open sourced back in February 2010. Accessing Google cache, she has pulled out a quote from that month from the Symbian Foundation (a year being a lifetime in the OS world):
“As of now, the Symbian platform is completely open source ... Open sourcing a market-leading product in a dynamic, growing business sector is unprecedented. Over 330 million Symbian devices have been shipped worldwide … with more than 200 million expected to ship annually from 2011 onwards … Now the platform is free for anyone to use and to contribute to … It is a big day for all those people who have worked on preparing the Symbian source code over the past ten months.”
Then in November 2010, the Symbian Foundation broke the news about its changed relationship now that Nokia had become its sole custodian:
“Following a strategy review, the board of the Symbian Foundation has today decided to transition the role of the non-profit organisation. The foundation will become a legal entity responsible for licensing software and other intellectual property, such as the Symbian trademark. Nokia has committed to make the future development of the Symbian platform available to the ecosystem via an alternative direct and open model.”
So there you go, an “open model”, which leads nicely into last month’s “We are Open” announcement from Nokia. But close scrutiny from Jones indicated that the licence as stands today is far from being open (very detailed analysis can be read on her website).
Following the backlash generated by the Groklaw analysis, Nokia sought to clarify the situation by saying that it has switched to a closed licence for the Symbian source code. Here’s how Nokia’s Söderling, broke the news online:
“We have received questions about the use of words ‘open’, ‘open source’, and about having a registration process before allowing access to the code. As we have consistently said, Nokia is making the Symbian platform available under an alternative, open and direct model, to enable us to continue working with the remaining Japanese OEMs and the relatively small community of platform development collaborators we are already working with… We are releasing source code to these collaborators, but are not maintaining Symbian as an open source development project.”
Needless to say, Symbian devotees were not amused. Here’s a selection of comments posted on Nokia's site from a variety of different developers:
“Not open source anymore? Why did you turn away from the users? … The ‘Head of Open Source’ announces a now closed source Symbian? Shame on Nokia … I no longer care. I was excited about Symbian going open source. It had a name of a good pedigree and such. What a deception. What an utter letdown … Nokia, you suck. And that’s all there is to it. No more Nokia for me … Just Open for Business? Lol, good luck ….”
Nokia hasn’t completely ditched open source. Qt, which it acquired via Trolltech, operates with three licensing tiers, of which the GNU Public Licence v3 is open source. Meanwhile, the H-Online developer site points out relevant archives for those still wishing to gain access to the code:
“For those who are looking for the Symbian source under an open source licence, there is an archive on sourceforge at symbiandump.sf.net containing the code and resources from the Symbian Foundation before it closed its doors.
Other Symbian Foundation incubation projects have also been archived on Google Code.”
David Gilson at All About Symbian gives more background on the ever-changing Symbian world:
“Prior to Nokia’s deal with Microsoft, we saw the closure of the Symbian Foundation and with it, the end of Symbian’s time under the Eclipse Public Licence (EPL). When Sony Ericsson and Samsung pulled out of the Symbian world, there was little point in keeping the platform open, or at least as open as it was. Therefore the Symbian Foundation was eventually wound down and the open source experiment was over.”
And now we get to the biggest mystery of them all. Gilson believes that Nokia has a vested interest in maintaining a collaborative environment around Symbian, “given that the European Union invested 22 million Euros into the Symbeose initiative – a European consortium consisting of 23 research organisations, SMEs and major technology companies.” In theory, he says, this will see the Symbian kernel expanded beyond mobiles and be used in a wide range of embedded devices.
Actually, the 22 million Euro figure is slightly misleading. In November 2010 the EC, under its Artemis Joint Technology Initiative, granted 11 million Euros to Symbeose and that amount has been matched by equal funding provided by the organisations in the consortium.
Unfortunately, with the collapse of the Symbian Foundation (the lead company in the consortium) details about Symbeose are somewhat difficult to come by. We’ve tried numerous emails and phone calls, but so far to no avail. Try finding out just exactly who those 23 companies are – we got as far as Nokia, ST Ericsson and Telefonica… If anyone has information, please add it to the comments below.
Symbeose – or 'Symbian – the Embedded Operating System for Europe', to give it its full name – aims to facilitate public-private partnership for research and development activities in embedded systems. According to Rafe Blandford, who runs the All About Symbian site, the overall aim of Symbeose was “to preserve Symbian's position as a world leader in mobile OS development and explore future paths for related technology development.” Well that worked out nicely…
The Symbian Foundation itself reportedly received between 1 million to 2 million Euros in EC funding. So what exactly is Nokia doing with this money that it presumably inherited when it took over the Foundation?
We asked Nokia’s press department to answer two questions relating to Symbeose. First, as all trace of Symbeose appears to have vanished from the web (except for announcements about the EC funding back in November), we asked what has happened to Symbeose? Second, what happened to the 2 million Euros of the total EC funding that was awarded to the Foundation?
We were very specific, but Nokia declined to answer.
Instead, they gave us a standard statement about Symbian – with no mention of Symbeose and completely ignoring our questions. In fact, the statement is so generic and insulting to our request that we will not waste your time by reprinting it.
We asked again for answers but were told none would be forthcoming.
Nokia appears to be at pains to stress that Symbian has a future. That’s fine; long may that plan continue. On Tuesday Nokia published details about two new smartphones, the E6 and X7 (see our earlier news story), which run a version of Symbian called ‘Anna’. Jo Harlow, head of Nokia's Smart Devices business, said:
"With these new products and more Symbian devices and user enhancements coming in the near future, we are confident we can keep existing Nokia smartphone customers engaged, as well as attract new first-time and competitor smartphone users."
But what about Symbeose – the Embedded Operating System for Europe? What about the move to put Symbian at the heart of embedded devices? What about the 11 million Euros of tax payers’ money… where is it?
Can anyone help? Nokia can’t.
Broken Symbeose links that go nowhere fast:
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