Nokia buys all of Symbian and promises open source version

Nokia has decided to buy the rest of cell phone software provider Symbian in a deal that will see the operating system and S60 software made open source over the next few years and which will pull in components from the UIQ and MOAP user-interface environments.

Although Nokia will take on Symbian’s development team, the software will be provided royalty-free through a group to be called the Symbian Foundation that should be formed in the first half of 2009.

“The Symbian Foundation will revolutionise the industry,” claimed Kai Öistämö, executive vice president of Nokia (pictured). “Today is about setting free the mobile software. It is bringing to life a shared vision by industry leaders like AT&T, LG, Motorola, NTT-Docomo, Samsung, Sony-Ericsson and TI among others. It will combine S60, UIQ and MOAP assets to create something new: the most open and complete mobile software platform.”

Although other open-source mobile phone environments are already under development, such as the Linux-based platform from the Limo Foundation and Google’s Android, Öistämö said Symbian has the benefit of market penetration, with 200 million handsets having been shipped that support existing versions of the software. The open-source environment put together by the Symbian Foundation will entail changes but Öistämö claimed that applications software written today will run on phones that are designed to run the open-source version.

Producing a fully open-source version of Symbian will take some time as some parts of the operating system depend on code from third parties. The process to release a fully open-source version is expected to take up to two years. The companies behind UIQ and MOAP will also have to go through that process. Lee Williams, senior vice president of S60 software at Nokia, said he thought the phone-maker is further along that process than the other contributors.

Alain Mutricy, Motorola, said the decision to contribute UIQ to the Symbian Foundation has already been taken but that it would take time to determine what UIQ’s future business model should be if some or all of its code is converted to open source. Williams speculated that the future user interface provided by the foundation would be predominantly based on S60 with components from UIQ and MOAP.

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