Nokia switches to open-source browser in phones

Nokia is extending its relationship with the open-source software community, promising to develop and ship an open-source browser for cell phones by mid-2006.

Nokia is turning to open-source software developers to provide a new Web browser for smart phones based on its Series 60 mobile phone software platform, the company announced Monday.

Series 60 is a user interface layer that runs on the Symbian smart phone operating system from Symbian. Nokia licenses its software to a number of companies, including LG Electronics, Lenovo Mobile, Panasonic Mobile Communications, Samsung Electronics, Sendo International and Siemens, so the new browser could pop up all over the market.

The browser, to be included in future releases of the Series 60 software, uses two components already employed by Apple Computer in its Safari Web browser for its Mac OS X operating system.

The components are based on KHTML and KJS, two elements of the open source Konqueror Web browser. Konqueror runs on the K Desktop Environment, open-source software that provides a graphical user interface for the Linux operating system.

Apple and Nokia are allowed to commercialize products based on the project's source code, but must make the source code for the version they sell, including any changes or improvements, available to their customers. Apple has in the past been criticized for not contributing its changes back to the community in a usable form. It recently altered the way it makes its changes available, providing an easily-accessible online database of the code, although the open source software licence imposed no obligation to do so.

This is not Nokia's first flirtation with the open-source software community. Last month it announced that Linux kernel developers could make use of Nokia-patented technologies under certain conditions, and said it would block the use of Nokia patents by companies that opposed use of their own patents in the Linux kernel.

While open-source software developers appear to be the winners in Nokia's latest move, one company that could be affected is Opera Software ASA. Opera supplies the browser used by default in Symbian smart phones today, making Nokia one of its largest customers, according to Opera Communications Director Tor Odland -- but he is not worried by Nokia's move.

"We just announced a couple of months ago a renewed contract with Nokia," he said. "This isn't them changing direction completely. They already have their own browser too."

Odland expects the companies' relationship to continue: Nokia is simply applying a strategy of dual-sourcing critical components, just as it does with hardware, he said.

Nokia sees the Web browser as important because around 50 percent of the data traffic generated by users of Nokia smart phones is generated by Web browsing activities, it said.

The company intends to apply its experience in mobility to helping the open-source community to develop and enhance these software components, Nokia said.

That will take time, though, according to Opera's Odland: "It's going to be way down the road before they can put something on the market."

Nokia expects to ship an open-source browser with support for all the features of the current Opera product ready for licensees of the Series 60 software platform during the first half of 2006, it said.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service

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