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Nokia details plans to take Symbian to 'next level'

Posted: 22 Oct 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Symbian OS? S60 system? Nokia open source plan?

Since Nokia Corp. acquired Symbian and announced plans to offer S60 and Symbian OS for free to the open source community, the method of handset giant's transition has remained largely unclear.

Nokia addressed some issuesbut not allat a briefing held for a small group of journalists prior to the Smartphone Show on Oct. 21.

"To take the business of handsets and software development to the next level," the open source community is critical, said David Rivas, Nokia's vice president, S60 product and technology management.

But taking a valuable business like the Symbian OS to the open-source, free-for-all, community is hardly a risk-free process, Rivas acknowledged.

The Symbian Foundation, a not-for-profit organization set up to manage all the assets related to Symbian, will take a phased-in approach. First, it will make available the source code of S60 and Symbian OS "for free" to all members of the Foundation in 1H 09.

During that time, Foundation memberswho are asked to pay $1,500 membership fee to joincan use the Foundation's intellectual property assets, but will not be allowed to redistribute them.

By 1H 10, the Symbian Foundation will be ready to go open source, he added.

As for launching its assets into the open source community, Rivas stressed, "This is not a social experiment."

He said, "The development priorities will be driven by the Foundation members, and they are driven by business decisions of everyone involved."

Licensing models
Naturally, there are many flavors of open-source licensing models.

For one, those who adopt the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL)-licensed code make no compromises. They operate under guidelines such as "We give you the code for free. If you change it or improve it, you must give your work back to the community."

In contrast, the so-called Apache license practiced by Google's Android platform does not demand that every manufacturer and mobile operatorwho may make innovative improvements to the platformmust give those innovations back to the community.

The Symbian Foundation will be using a software licensing model called the Eclipse Public License (EPL). Rivas called it "a perfect, business-friendly solution" that sits in the middle of the two contrasting open-source licensing models, GNU and Apache. The receiver of EPL-licensed programs can use, modify, copy and distribute the work and modified versions, but in some cases they are obligated to release their own changes.

Cross-platform software strategy
Nokia acquired Trolltech, an open source company, in June 2008. Trolltech changed its name to Qt Software after the company was folded into Nokia.

Although the significance of Qt Software's acquisition to Nokia and to the future Symbian Foundation was never fully explained until now, Nokia announced Monday the porting of Qt to S60 on Symbian OS.

The move will "accelerate Nokia's cross-platform software strategy," said Benoit Schillings, chief technologist at Qt Software. Further, it will bring to Nokia "new developers in the open source community" who have worked with Qt.

Qt, based on a C++ application development framework, is designed to make it easy for developers to create applications once, regardless of whether they were originally developed for mobile devices or desktop PCs, and deploy them on any of the Windows, Mac, Linux, Windows Mobile and embedded Linux platforms.

Now, with the porting of Qt to S60, developers will have a large number of S60-based target devices they can support with their applications, according to Nokia.

Further, Qt "adds new development tools for S60," said Schillings. "We are bringing abstractions to a variety of screens, sensors and input technologies" so that developers can prepare their software for "unknown" technologies, he explained. "By using our framework, they can go write software and evolve as a device evolves."

As S60 and Symbian OS become the Symbian Foundation's assets, QT hopes to bring "harmony, consistency and efficiency" to the cross-platform environment, said Schillings. Nokia is hoping that this will attract more developers to work with the Symbian Foundation.

"QT is the only software company we know that does the cross-platform work so well," said Rivas. "It's hard enough to develop cross-platform software for a variety of handsets alone. But Qt does it not only on handsets, but also on tablets and PCs, whether such a device comes with a keypad or a touch screen, or with a larger size screen."

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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