The Symbian Foundation have confirmed that they will no longer host any of the content currently available on the Symbian.org website. This includes Product Development Kits (PDK's) and databases for forums, wikis and bug reports. After December 17th, the Symbian Foundation will only have a 12-strong team of staff focusing on the remaining operational tasks until the end of Q1 2011. This retained team will not have the time (or possibly expertise) to maintain the Symbian.org websites.
Anyone who needs a copy of content from any of the Symbian Foundation websites can request a DVD or USB drive containing all of this data. It is unlikely such formats will be ready to ship before the end of January 2011, and that shipping and media costs may be charged. Furthermore, all databases will be provided in their original formats, so the correct software (Bugzilla, MediaWiki, etc.) are required to read them.
The Symbian Foundation say that they are working with Nokia to provide a long term means to keep documentation about the platform online. There are currently no firm details of how this will happen.
The closure of the Symbian Foundation website in its current form was to be expected as a natural part of Symbian's development and governance transferring solely back to Nokia. In the future it would make sense to have a reference website pertaining to licensing information for other corporations wishing to use Symbian.
There are concerns from some in the Symbian community that this heralds the end of Symbian's life in open source. Indeed, within the terms of the Eclipse Public Licence (EPL, under which Symbian was released), it is conceivable that Nokia could maintain the open version of Symbian for licensing, but then continue developing their own closed version for phones. However, this would be contrary to Nokia's statements from earlier this month, which promised an 'open model'.
A good indication of the direction Nokia is intending to make can be found in the minutes of the Symbian Foundation's final all councils meeting. Nokia's Petra Soderling presented some information of Nokia's future intentions:
- The Symbian platform remains business critical to Nokia and their estimate of selling >50 million S^3-based devices still holds
- Nokia plan to develop the Symbian platform further
- Nokia are looking at an alternate open and direct model for making the platform available to the community in future. The aim is that the model "will be no less open, free and flexible" than today's model
- Nokia do not intend to include a council-style governance system in their new model
- No decision has been made as yet regarding whether EPL will be retained or an alternate license adopted. Petra indicated that terms will not be more restrictive than EPL.
- Nokia intend to transition signing services (Symbian Signed) in some manner as they will still require it, details TBD
- Nokia will communicate more detail regarding the new Symbian project by the end of Q1 2011 at the latest, via the standard Nokia corporate communication channels (press release, Nokia Conversations blog, etc - details TBD)
This suggests that Nokia is planning an open model in terms of code release, but using a more restrictive governance model. It is unfortunate that Nokia is unable to provide additional details publicly because it creates a degree of uncertainty.
Based on public statements and our conversations with Nokia spokespeople, continued access to the code does seem to be assured. However, three key areas are how future (external) contributions will be received (Nokia has indicated they wish this to continue), how rapidly code will move from closed development repositories to public open source repositories and how much of the software stack will be open sourced.
The current situation is that the core OS and a set of applications are open sourced. However, this is not the version that comes with Nokia's Symbian phones. Nokia adds, or changes, a number of applications and makes some UX customisations; the most significant of these are the collective Ovi enablers and applications. All of Nokia's additions are currently closed source (in the past, in some cases, they have been passed back into the platform after a few years).
It is possible, therefore, that we see a two part model, where the core platform is worked in the 'open', but where some higher level parts of the platform (UI and service layers) are, at least in part, closed (i.e. in the same way the Ovi service layer has always been closed). This is effectively the same as the current situation and is similar to the strategy that Nokia is pursuing with MeeGo.
It is also worth noting that Nokia has, for a significant period of time, maintained its own branch of the Symbian code (effectively a productised version). Indeed, the Symbian^3 code, released by the Symbian Foundation in the PDKs, was effectively a cleaned up version of code drops from the Nokia version of the Symbian code line (i.e. the one that was, and continues to be, under active development). In that light, there will inevitably be some changes to the way the code is opened. Nokia will want to find a solution that minimises disruption to its own software timetables.
Overall, there is much yet to be settled, but it does seem clear that Nokia retains a very strong interest in maintaining an open Symbian platform. We will keep you up to date as developments continue.
David Gilson and Rafe Blandford for All About Symbian, 29th November 2010