Monday, July 7, 2008

Symbian's new ecosystem

Today Symbian officially announced its new ecosystem program, the Symbian Partner Network. The new program is available now and the old one goes away next month. Existing partners were briefed under NDA last April but the announcement was delayed until June (and then July) to allow time for the transition.

David Wood (author of DW2-0) was quoted this morning as explaining the new program to IDG. The main differences are that the program cost $1,500/year instead of $5,000, and that the service is increasingly automated (to improve scalability and reduce costs).

Obviously things have changed with the Nokia buyout, and it's not clear what role the program will play before or after the transition to Symbian Foundation (which will have its own similar or different program).

Still, the program may live longer than the predicted 6-9 months. Due to third party licensed code, Sun required much longer than anticipate to release OpenSolaris as open source, and among the 30 million lines of Symbian OS code similar problems are certainly lurking. So even with a Symbian Foundation, the disclosure of OS code may be covered under NDA for a little while longer.

There is also the question of whether Nokia really is in any hurry to release the code. Both Google’s open vaporware alliance and LiMo are today walled gardens rather than open source projects. And I don't know how much pressure there is for openness: LiMo has just swallowed its main European competition, LiPS, which agreed last month to be folded into LiMo.

Nokia also has thus far not understood open source software, at least at the level where decisions are made. There definitely are people at Symbian who do understand, and others in a position of influence who are trying to get it.

If/when Symbian eventually does go fully open source, it will be a very different world than today for the Symbian partner network. The current network is managed through contractual restrictions on access to source code — which are more generous than most proprietary software, but obviously less flexible than an open code repository like Apache or Eclipse.

Also, combining S60 with Symbian OS under one roof (and killing the other UIs) will bring together the entire Symbian stack, to compete directly with the integrated Windows and Linux stacks. Thus the platform (and the partner relationships) will look more like any other OS platform strategy (except of course for the open source part).

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