Symbian to go open source

Nokia have said that once they own the controlling stake (or all) of Symbian, they’ll make it open source within two years under the Eclipse license (see the white paper for more details, PDF).

To my naive and shallow mind, this just leaves games consoles as the major consumer device which doesn’t have an open source operating system on at least one of the major competitors in the market.

N95 on v20 firmware

I think this is an excellent move by Nokia and I look forward to the reaction from the other companies in the mobile device market. It has always seemed insane to me that almost all of the handsets run different operating systems, built from the ground up by the same company that produces the device itself (there are some exceptions around Windows Mobile and UIQ). This seems to be compounded by the fact that almost all the phones on sale compete not on the features of the operating system but on the physical features of the device such as a better camera, GPS, USB connection, build quality, keypad layout and so on. As far as I can tell, the operating systems on all the phones are at a rough parity, and the only thing keeping people locked in to a single vendor is the migration tool that each vendor supplies for moving your data from your old device to your new device. Vendors may like to call this “loyalty”, but I’d really like to see what could happen to the market if customers were no longer locked in by an arbitrary upgrade process and the OS features were equal amongst all phones but they suddenly had to compete by innovation in both hardware and user interface to those features.

I can’t wait for mobile user interfaces to improve, at the moment the devices are massively powerful but we’re constantly hampered by how difficult they are to use (yes, I’m including the iPhone); I don’t think there’s another type of regular HCI that is quite so difficult as that of using a mobile phone.

There’s also now a pretty big question about what they’re going to do with the GNOME-based Maemo platform and UIQ. Maemo will presumably get retired off in favour of the Symbian Touch OS, and with 200 employees of UIQ being laid off, I think we can safely say that that will die too.

I can hardly wait to see a better user interface on mobile phones, and I really hope that this is the kick up the bum the industry needs to see that we get it!