Don't expect Symbian to lead an open source revolution

After all, Apple and RIM have succeeded without open source

Now that Symbian has fully opened its source code to the public, will it lead to an avalanche of mobile operating systems opening up their codes as well?

After all, Symbian and Google's Android mobile operating system offer application developers and device manufacturers free operating systems for their products. Will this put pressure on other operating systems to open up their source codes to stay relevant?

The answer is, "Not likely." As ABI Research analyst Kevin Burden has noted, two of the most widely used mobile systems in the world - Apple and Research in Motion's BlackBerry - are wholly managed from within by their owners. In other words, Apple and RIM have found tremendous success with their operating systems despite the fact that they're the only device manufacturers that use them.

"The device manufacturers who have made the biggest strides in the market are the ones who own the whole solution, from the hardware to the platform to the application stores," he says. "I don't think we'll see Apple or Palm try to reverse that anytime soon."

And although Symbian is already the most widely used mobile operating system in the world, its decision to open up its source code is more likely an attempt to push back a challenge from Android than to undercut the proprietary mobile operating systems such as iPhone and BlackBerry. Android is projected to become the second-most used mobile operating system behind Symbian by the end of 2012.

IDC analyst John Delaney says that Symbian's decision to open up its source code is only one part of its effort to forge better relationships with developers that have been heavily courted by Apple and Google in recent years. And in any case, he says that Symbian's bigger draw for developers is the sheer number of users it has and not the fact that it now has an open source code.

"What developers want at the end of the day is to make money," he notes. "And that is directly related to the number of users a platform has."

So looking toward the future, it seems we can expect a mix of open source platforms and proprietary platforms, especially since both Apple and RIM have shown they can be successful without relying on third parties to develop and sell devices with their operating systems. Indeed, as Burden notes, RIM still has room to grow with its BlackBerry platform as it will start really targeting the Asian market over the next few years.

"RIM has got a lot more space to grow because they're only now getting into many parts of Asia," he says. "I don't think we've gotten to point yet where proprietary platform providers are talking about changing their strategies."

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Brad Reed

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