'Ecosystem expired'?

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Following on from Ewan's thoughts yesterday on the freedom in the Symbian/S60 developer world, I have to say that I take a slightly different view. Over and over, I'm finding that applications I download (from developer sites, from AAS, from Handango, etc) can't easily be installed, each coming up with 'Expired certificate'. Read on for a Steve rant....

Now look, I understand the reasons for certificates on SIS files - the idea is to a) validate who produced the application and b) specify a time period over which the install is valid. While the second parameter may seem a bit odd, any active developer will be producing new versions and builds over the course of a year and so even a '1 year' certificate should easily be enough, with a newer certificate superceding it long before the old one runs out.

What's been happening in the Symbian world is that, for one reason or another (defecting developers looking for shiny new platforms [cough - Android, iPhone]? all decent application ideas now already produced? - discuss), more and more applications are being left to rot, as it were. You can just about excuse a SIS file on a software store (e.g. Handango's) being out of date - after all, maybe the developer simply never got round to uploading the newer versions to all the appropriate stores - but there's no excuse at all for letting the certificate in the master SIS file, on the developer's own web site, expire.

In theory, compatible...Expired!

And, of course, it adds yet another barrier to a new S60 user being able to install third party applications. As if the 'Find on desktop web/Download/Install with PC Suite/Ignore warnings from S60 Installer' route wasn't long enough already, users are now faced with having to know how to 'hack' their phone's date temporarily back a year, just to install an application that the developer web site assures them is 100% compatible.

Now, all this doesn't apply to the biggest boys in the Symbian world. Nokia themselves (of course), Google, Epocware, Quickoffice, Dataviz, and so on. Each of these can afford full Symbian Signed status for their applications, along with 3 or 10 year certificates. And their applications are, as a result, less prone to 'expired' syndrome. But for the rank and file in the developer world, self-signing certificates for their apps, they've got to stay relatively active and building install files... and it seems many are not.

With the slickness of the Apple iPhone AppStore as a rather good yardstick, the current situation doesn't look good. Now, go back a couple of years, with S60 3rd Edition new and shiny and every application freshly certified and there wasn't a problem. And look forwards a couple of years and all Symbian applications will have much longer certificates [Rafe shouts '10 years' from the back office] and, again, there won't be a problem. 

But in the meantime, we've got a lull. A hiatus. An embarrassing gap.

In which only the biggest and most obvious S60 applications download and install seamlessly. While an ever-increasing number of smaller developer applications, rather than generating sales now that they're mature and bug free, are instead causing installation problems while the developers and (arguably) Symbian are asleep at the wheel. 

In an AppStore-mad world [2008], this is perhaps the wrong time for the Symbian third party software world to be having a mid life crisis.

Steve Litchfield, All About Symbian, 17 Sep 2008

PS. Another justified rant at the stunted mess that's Nokia's AppStore-competing, on-device Download! system is probably appropriate here, but it turns out that I did this a couple of months ago...