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Symbian Becomes Open Source

October 21, 2008

Users of the Symbian cell phone operating system believe the software could rival Apple and Google, if it became freely available.

In June, Nokia, the world’s largest mobile phone producer, announced it would buy out Symbian for $410 million and would make its software royalty-free.

Since then, Nokia has set up the Symbian Foundation, a non-profit group of over 40 companies that are working to make the 10-year-old operating system open source and free starting in 2009.

Symbian is a leader in the smartphone field, but has felt pressure from Blackberry-maker Research in Motion, and Google’s open source Android operating system.

According to research firm Gartner, competitors eroded Symbian’s market share from 66 percent to 57 percent in the second quarter.

“Being the top dog is hard to maintain when you have more and more competition,” said Carolina Milanesi, analyst for Gartner.

“In the long run they will see share decline as Apple, Research in Motion and Microsoft are trying to get into the consumer market.”

Although Symbian has the support of Samsung, Motorola, AT&T, Sony Ericsson, and LG, the operating system has been left in the dust by Apple’s touch technology.

David Wood, Executive Vice President of Research for Symbian, believes making the platform open-source, and free will generate excitement around the operating system.

“There’s been a great deal of interest from long-term partners and new partners,” he said. “The biggest change is ease of access — you don’t need to negotiate a license.”

Milanesi also believes the move to open source will generate many new applications for Symbian.

“Open source is a good thing — it will lead to more services and applications,” she said. “It’s the applications and services on specific networks that will make a difference.”

According to Milanesi, unfamiliarity with Apple’s iPhone operating system did not stop consumers from purchasing the product because it was so simple to use.

“Symbian have to come up with something that’s intuitive,” Milanesi said. “The user interface is more important than the underlying operating system.”

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