Symbian, the largest smartphone OS, was bought by Nokia and converted into Symbian Foundation last year. Nokia Open sourced most of Symbian Foundation and made it a nonprofit organization whose sole goal is the advancement of the Symbian platform in its many flavors: Most popular S60 for Nokia and UIQ for Sony Ericsson, Motorola, etc..
The next step was to Open Source the Kernel – Ahead of schedule, the Symbian Foundation has released the source code to Symbian’s EKA2 microkernel which is real-time, multitasking, and SMP. The code base is now available under the Eclipse Public License (EPL). This is a key milestone in the foundation’s plan to open up the entire platform.
The Foundation claims that the opening up of the kernel source code is 9 months ahead of schedule. Sixteen out of the 134 platform packages have now had their source code opened up; this process started in April 2009 under guidance of the Symbian Foundation.
The current kit includes an ARM compiler toolchain, an open source emulator based on QEMU, and support for running the OS on the OMAP-powered BeagleBoard. Instructions for building a Symbian environment with a text-based shell are available on the foundation’s wiki.
Symbian Foundation developer Daniel Rubio discussed the kernel source code release in a blog entry earlier this week. He emphasized that the kit includes much more than just the kernel source and says that the foundation wants to make it easy for developers to adopt the Symbian kernel in a wide range of different contexts.
“It is time for anyone that has not been exposed to EKA2 before to come out and play at very little or no cost and test the capabilities of the state-of-the-art real time, multitasking, SMP-ready kernel that has, is, and will be shipping in millions of smartphones. This is a major breakthrough for the Foundation that shows our commitment to open source and the wider community while enabling the Symbian ecosystem to make business as usual. We have tried to lower the adoption barrier to a bare minimum, fostering [hardware] innovation and empowering developers to port the platform to all kind of devices.”
“The release of the microkernel demonstrates three vital, guiding principles of the foundation: first, the commitment of many community members to the development of the platform – in this case, Accenture, ARM, Nokia and Texas Instruments Incorporated all made contributions; second, progress in fulfilling our commitment to a complete open source release of Symbian; and third, a tangible example of providing the most advanced mobile platform in the world,” said Lee Williams, Executive Director of the Symbian Foundation, in the press release.
The kit includes the following items:
- Open source kernel
- High performance ARM compiler toolchain (RVCT4.0)
- Open source simulation (based on QEMU)
- Open source base support package ( low cost Beagle Board)
- Hardware execution env.
This clearly means, not only is the smartphone market a very competitive one, with several different offerings competing with one another, but it is also almost completely open source.
Well, the kernels, that is. Android and webOS are based on Linux, Symbian’s is open too now. The iPhone is of course built on top of Darwin, which is open source too. RIM is lagging behind – the BlackBerryOS is still the only one which is fully proprietary and closed.
Symbian owns about 50% of the smartphone space, and now it’s got a fully open source kernel. Do you feel the power already?
Symbian has come a long way in a short period of time, but the foundation still has plenty of work to do if it wants to retain Symbian’s historical dominance. Major Symbian backers like Nokia are boosting their commitments to Linux and delivering Linux-based products that outshine their best Symbian-based offerings.
Meanwhile, individual mobile application developers are increasingly gravitating towards Apple’s iPhone platform. The Symbian Foundation’s efforts to overhaul its operating system are very promising, but it will be tough to overcome the perception that Symbian’s relevance is in decline. Kernel source code availability is a key milestone in the foundation’s open source roadmap, but Symbian still faces a tough battle against Android and the iPhone.