Symbian Seeks To Win Developer Mindshare

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Following the news today that Symbian has gone open source, eWEEK Europe questions its strategy group leader John Forsyth about the way forward for the mobile operating system

The Symbian Foundation has today made the source code of its mobile operating system freely available to developers, four months ahead of schedule.

This means that the world’s most popular mobile operating system is now fully open source, and developers can access the source code absolutely free of charge.

However has the move come too late, and how will Symbian attempt to halt the Android juggernaut?

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eWEEK Europe speaks to one of the key men behind the move, John Forsyth, who is a member of the leadership team for Symbian Foundation, and is responsible for the technology and delivery, as well as the future evolution of the Symbian platform.

How long has this move to open source been in the works?

“It was on the cards pretty much since the beginning of last year (January 2009), although Nokia first mooted it when it set up the Foundation the previous year. We set a two year time frame to make Symbian open source, and when we set that deadline, a chap with Eclipse just laughed and said good luck. To be perfectly honest, the first 6 months (since January 2009), was spent getting the basics done and we only started work in the summer (July 2009). In the last few months people have worked like crazy, many times 24 hours a day.”

Is Symbian really independent of Nokia now?

“We are absolutely independent in every formal sense you can point to. That said, Nokia has contributed a lot, but they are one contributor among many, as we have attracted a lot of other contributors. Most of our decisions are transparent, as every decision for the platform takes place in meetings that are in the public domain. In those meetings, everyone has a vote, and Nokia only has one vote. They do not have any more voting power than say Samsung or Vodafone for example.”

“What we found over the last few months, is lot of contributions from other interested parties. They believe open source is the right direction, and they are looking for an open source hub, and they are attracted to Symbian by its transparency and because it is so public. It has surprised us with all the contributions of code, that wouldn’t have been there before.”

“Look at what is happening today, the transfer to open source will unleash a lot more contributions and participation. It is much simpler and much more open now, and we believe the move will unlock a reservoir of energy and contributions.”

Android seems to have captured developer mind share at the moment. How will you rectify that?

“I think we have a lot of developer mind share as well. The rate of growth is doubling month by month. I will concede that from all the media coverage, Android has had a lot of hype, but that is because Google always gets coverage as it is the new kid on the block. The smartphone market growing rapidly, and all analysts say Symbian will get the lions share of that growth. The mind share is there, and some of the things we are doing now is clearly focused on growing that mind share and growing the audience. We are reaching audiences and building bridges to whole new communities that we have not had contact with before.”

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