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Operating Systems Software

Symbian Introduces Open Source Release Plan 92

volume4 brings news that David Wood of the Symbian Foundation has made a post detailing their plans for a release schedule, with new versions due out every six months. We discussed Nokia's acquisition of Symbian for the purpose of open sourcing the popular mobile OS last year. Quoting: "There's a lot of activity underway, throughout the software development teams for all the different packages that make up the Symbian Platform. These packages are finding their way into platform releases. The plan is that there will be two platform releases each year. ... Symbian^2, which is based on S60 5.1, reaches a functionally complete state at the middle of this year, and should be hardened by the end of the year. This means that the first devices based on Symbian^2 could be reaching the market any time around the end of this year — depending on the integration plans, the level of customisation, and the design choices made by manufacturers. Symbian^3 follows on six months later — reaching a functionally complete state at the end of this year, and should be hardened by the middle of 2010."
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Symbian Introduces Open Source Release Plan

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  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @09:35AM (#27191993)

    int CoolNews(HBufC aNews)
    // TODO: Source code won't help you
    // learn how to use these freaking
    // Symbian buffer types...
      return static_cast<TBoolC>(1);

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Mod parent up. Symbian is a truly horrible OS to develop for. Not only that, but there are many different versions (V9, V9.1, S60 3rd Ed, S60 FP1, S60 FP2, 9.4, 9.5 and that's just the recent ones) and they are mostly binary and source incompatible.

      My guess is that Nokia see Android and even the iPhone (which is, at least, much easier to develop for) and fear that in a few years time everyone will have moved away from Symbian. Windows Mobile has it's own problems, but now phones are getting more powerful ev

      • by dwater ( 72834 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @11:17AM (#27192581)

        > Not only that, but there are many different versions (V9, V9.1, S60 3rd Ed, S60 FP1, S60 FP2, 9.4, 9.5 and that's just the recent ones) and they are mostly binary and source incompatible.

        That's balony. I (helped) develop an S60 application, and the differences were significant between S60 2nd and 3rd editions (there was a big OS-break then - akin to OS9/OSX), but otherwise there were very few OS version specific changes needed to the source. The main things I remember were that the 2nd edition phones and the first few of the 3rd edition phones had a WAP browser; and the newer ones have the webkit ones (yes, before the iPhone). The other difference that came to mind was that S60 3rd edition came with an OpenGL driver, while for 2nd edition, we had to package one with our app.

        Actually, our code base was common for both S60 2nd edition and S60 3rd edition...the differences there were for SDK differences (like having to get things signed/etc/etc).

        In the end, we had just two versions for users to install - one for 2nd edition, and one for 3rd edition. From the user's point of view, it didn't matter which of the 2nd edition or 3rd edition phones they had...and a web/wap page could easily tell from the user-agent which one to provide for the user to install.

        Really, not rocket science at all.

        Calling them 'mostly binary and source incompatible' is just rubbish and plainly FUD.

        Also, what's wrong with having different versions? Even something like the iPhone OS has two (soon to be three) versions. It's mostly a symptom of having a successful platform and many different target phones. Perhaps when there are many different iPhones and Android phones, then they will have the same issues.

        Yes, the development platform is not so much fun to use, but that's a different thing to the target OSes being different. I even got the SDK working on Linux [] the other day and plan to do some applications in my spare time, in the hope that I can sell stuff on the soon-to-open Ovi Store []. It seems like the SDKs will even work on OSX for all you Apple guys. Personally, I find it kind of refreshing to actually understand what's going on, instead of have a GUI 'protect' me from it all.

        I think the Ovi Store could well be very significant. The prospect of having access to such a large user base has to turn some heads, surely. It *is* huge, especially if they can enable it on existing phones too. I guess they could do that by using the Download! application somehow - the Download! application is what might be called the 'app store' that's been around for many years (yes, way before iPhone even was a twinkle in any Jobs' eye) on S60 phones - since it's already on probably well over a hundred million phones already.

        We'll see, I guess.

        • by ElGuapoGolf ( 600734 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @11:29AM (#27192657) Homepage
          The Download application has been around for years, and it's been redefining the word suck for years. If you enjoy waiting 10 minutes to see the same 10 applications displayed every day, the Download! application is for you. To even mention it in the same breath as Apple's App Store is delusional. And as a Symbian coder, I'll agree with the parents above... the platform sucks to code for. It's a totally non-standard (no exceptions, what?) platform that makes you account for design decisions/tradeoffs which were made over 10 years ago and should be a non-issue today. When they did the big binary break and added Symbian Signed they could have addressed a lot of this, but they chose not to. And don't get me started on Symbian Signed. Pay to have your app tested, pay to have it signed. Pay more to have your app tested if you start going deeper into the phone. Pay to have your app re-tested if you fail the test for somewhat arbitrary reasons (just check on Forum nokia to see some test rejection horror stories). Pay Nokia for the privilege of helping to grow their platform. Is it any wonder that while the total smartphone marketplace has been growing, Symbian marketshare has shrunk for 2 years running?
          • by dwater ( 72834 )

            Did you misread my post - or not read it at all? It sounds like the latter.

            I didn't make any comment on the quality of Download![1] No, all I said was that it is something they could use to make the Ovi Store accessible to the existing installed base.

            Doesn't the prospect of getting your app in front of hundreds of millions of users even interest you? It does me. ...and, again, you're talking about Symbian C++ and the 'standard' to which you refer didn't exist when it came into being. Also, you can use other

            • You know what you sound like, a fan-boi, all systems, no matter how lousey have them.

              All is good, C++ sans exceptions + longjump and a manual destroy stack is OK?

              You can write in Python, Ruby ... give me a break, the only thing Symbian has going for it is Nokia, and they will turn in a New York minuit.
              • by dwater ( 72834 )

                You're putting words into my mouth, again, and conveniently ignoring what I did say. I'd like to know what part of what I said that ws factually incorrect.

                No, it's you who sound irrational, biased and closed-minded. Choice is bad....rrriiiighhhtt. You can use Open C, Open C++ (not only Symbian C++), and Java - that covers all the languages available for both iPhone OS and Android.

                I've only use Symbian C++ though[1] so I can't comment on the other ones apart from to observe that they're available.

                If I'm fact

          • by dwater ( 72834 )

            > . the platform sucks to code for. It's a totally non-standard (no exceptions, what?) platform

            Oh, and I forgot to mention that Android uses a non-standard version of Java too[1], and at least the standard exists for Java already, so there's less excuse than Symbian C++ has.

            [1] I'm not sure how to compare non-standardness, and I don't have much experience of Java, or even Android/Google Java or whatever it's called, so it's difficult for me to comment apart from non-standard is non-standard.

          • Symbain C++ peculiarities is not a critical issue, they can be adapted to. But Symbian Signed is a real bummer, especially for small/indie developer. Pay for each attempt to sign binary + pay yearly for publisher ID. And self-signed application, not only limited in functionality, but will not be allowed to Nokia Ovi application store.
            • Why not mention the other option? Have a guy/gal along with bunch of PR and lawyer people to review your application, decide it is not a threat to vendor and decide whether it will create (financial) armageddon for their cell network partners or not.

              Dare to say ''Jailbreak''? Come on! What is the percentage? What is the guarantee that people happily cracked their phone OS will pay for yours?

              Self signed apps have limitations, they are apps equivalent to desktop apps which can happily run from ''home dir'' (i

            • by dwater ( 72834 )

              Can't argue with that. However, I think we'll have to see what happens with the Ovi's not open yet.

              IMO, they're going to have to have a cheap solution for the 'poor' developers. They used to have it such that a company would test and sign freeware apps at no cost, but I heard that effort fell-by-the-wayside in recent years. Maybe something like that could be made to work again...

        • Calling them 'mostly binary and source incompatible' is just rubbish and plainly FUD.

          No, they were binary incompatible, there is not even a "mostly" about it.

          • by dwater ( 72834 )

            Funny how I can install the same binaries on many S60 3rd edition phones....or am I misunderstanding what 'binary incompatible' means?

            I know S60 2nd and 3rd needed different binaries, but the S60 3rd editions could all use the same binaries.

          • by dwater ( 72834 )

            See here [] for evidence of binary compatibility across S60 3rd edition releases. Specifically, post number 9 [] confirms what I say.

            Heck, on AllAboutSymbian [] they claim you can even install S60 3rd edition binaries on devices running S60 5th edition (only the Nokia 5800 at the moment, IINM) - here's one such quote, which is in a discussion [] about freeware for the Nokia 5800 :

            Use this install file, the version for S60 3rd Edition FP1 phones, until such time as Nokia get round to doing a formal S60 5th Edition rele

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Mod parent up. Symbian is a truly horrible OS to develop for.

        True, but if you don't like its core c++ api, you can develop applications for it in Python [] or (soon) Qt [] both of which have a much nicer api.

        And there's the PIPS API [] allowing you to port POSIX C apps and libraries to Symbian (most recent S60 apps use it).

        Starting with 5th edition, you can also use Flash Lite. And, of course, there's still Java, too.

        Not only that, but there are many different versions (V9, V9.1, S60 3rd Ed, S60 FP1, S60 FP2, 9.4, 9.5 and that's just the recent ones) and they are mostly binary and source incompatible.

        You're making confusion between Symbian and S60.
        As a developer, you only care about the S60 version. Since 2004, we've seen only two major S60 releases, 3rd edit

        • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

          by edivad ( 1186799 )
          Guys, Symbian API is NOT C++. Is a pseudo C++ written by people that were learning C++ along the way. Can you spell TRAPD() and CleanupStack? And how about their imports by ordinals, whose number change magically and break ABI among minor OS releases? How about the bare "Install Failed!" coming from an SIS install attempt, with no friggin' clue on the real problem? How about their development chain? A clusterfsck of PE binaries, glued together with batch files, glued together with Perl scripts. How about er
  • Why not convert the phone stack to python equivalents, and when everything is ready, change the kernel.

  • Android (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rufus t firefly ( 35399 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:03AM (#27192125) Homepage

    Sounds like a response to Android, but a little late.

    Other than install base for phones, what advantage does an opensourced Symbian have over Android?

    There were rumors of Android and Symbian merging for a while, but it seems as though Symbian has taken to cheap heckling [].

    • Re:Android (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 ( 562437 ) <deleted&slashdot,org> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @10:47AM (#27192379)

      Simple. We talked about, how people like what they are used to, in earlier news.

      Well, I must say, judging the user-interface alone, I liked Symbian. Here in Germany, Nokia phones (with Symbian on them) pretty much dominated the market for a decade. Only recently have the SonyEricsson models taken over.

      I know, that the programming interface of Symbian is a horrible horrible joke, that lets the Microsoft Internet Explorer pale in comparison.
      So open-sourcing might make it possible to re-implement the horrible part, while leaving the user-interface intact, and hopefully also allowing backwards-compatibility.

      We all wanted to program cool stuff for the Symbian platform... until we read about the API quirks. ;)
      So maybe now we can.

      But do we still want? ...With Android and others out there? We will only know, when we see it happen.

      • So open-sourcing might make it possible to re-implement the horrible part, while leaving the user-interface intact, and hopefully also allowing backwards-compatibility.

        This is what Nokia is doing with Qt for S60.

    • Re:Android (Score:5, Funny)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Saturday March 14, 2009 @11:25AM (#27192627) Journal
      Totally! Any platform that barely has 70% of the market clearly has no future. Any changes makes are just reactionary measures to deal with a competitor that has almost scraped a massive 1% of the market.
    • by asj ( 1500567 )

      As much as I like Linux, and in time it may shoehorn nicely into portable devices it's hard to beat an OS designed for the task.

      The advantages for Symbian are:

      1. It was designed for portable/mobile devices

      2. Made for resource limited hardware

      3. Robustness

      4. Single CPU operation

      5. History/maturity

      Now you can argue most of these points are derive from point #1. But what's the typical complaint about the G1? Battery life so short the device isn't use to many people. This is a major problem in a portable dev

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ultrabot ( 200914 )

        Symbian does very well in running on small device. It gives the program features to keep their application using small amounts of systems resources and tries to keep them robust.

        Too bad these "features" actually make Symbian heavier than other operating systems. CleanupStack leads to bigger binaries than auto_ptr, you need write of code to do anything related to UI, you need heavyweight client / server architecture for many simple things (lots of context switchs), active objects are much heavier weight (and more error prone) than normal callbacks, ...

        The fact is that Symbian's relative success has been mostly due to financial, rather than technical reasons.

        And it's not like there h

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by AceJohnny ( 253840 )

      disc: I work for a company that supports Symbian. In fact, Nokia is our main customer, which is a secret to no one.

      The main advantage of Symbian is that it is a known quantity on the market. Major manufacturers know it and its internals. Nokia (of course), but also Sony Ericsson, LG, Motorola have experience making Symbian phones.

      Symbian is huge []. 228 Million cumulative phones by June 2008, on 250 different models. iPhone: 2 models (EDGE and UMTS). Android: 1 model: G1. (I couldn't find precise sales numbers

      • (exercise: count the Android phones on the market since it was announced in Nov 2007. Count the announced Android phones. Do the same for Symbian over the same time frame)

        I admit, I can't be assed to do the homework, so I wonder if you'd be so kind and share the numbers with us :D

      • It is certainly not a too-late response to Android, but rather rather trying to cut off its market before it gains too much of a foothold.

        I wasn't very clear about it -- I was implying that it was jumping on the opensource bandwagon, much as Mac OS X tried to ride the increasing interest in opensource technologies without the pesky problems of having to actually contribute much back, hence their choice of a BSD licensed operating system on which to base their code.

        I've seen a bunch of other people talking

        • by dwater ( 72834 )

          > I was implying that it was jumping on the opensource bandwagon,

          Sure. Well, almost...actually, Android releasing a free$ OS meant that Symbian were at a distinct disadvantage since they were not free. I imagine that the license fees paid by Nokia for Symbian made it worth their while to make the purchase and then 'give it away' - ie open it up.

          This is a good thing.

          It was one of the primary reasons I saw that Google would do such a thing - now they can work on the platform much more easily; but that's ju

    • by Ilgaz ( 86384 )

      It is almost tragicomic that people who lives in Googleland can't figure the true size of Symbian or even Windows Mobile.

      They are NOT struggling to compete with Android, they are setting their OS to open and free. You know, the OS which is installed to 100M+ devices.

      We are speaking about World leader smart phone OS having a road map declared.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 14, 2009 @11:14AM (#27192565)

    I have a Symbian-based phone made by Nokia. What apparently happens with these is that eventually a new version of Symbian comes out, new phones ship with it, but the people with older phones are stuck with the old Symbian version. New applications will only be written for the latest Symbian version, and thus the older phones become pretty much useless over time - no matter how much potential they have hardware-wise. From what I've understood this is pretty much what happened for example with the move from S60 2nd edition to S60 3rd edition.

    My phone is S60 3rd FP1 (Symbian 9.2), and there already exists S60 3rd FP2 (Symbian 9.3) and S60 5th edition (Symbian 9.4). So I guess my phone will become useless soon.

    Will this Open Sourcing in any way help me with getting a longer lifetime for my phone? Or do I need to keep buying new phones just to get the latest Symbian version?

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      There is a reason for not having an upgrade path for your S60 phone (well, most of the time). The symbian baseport is not a cumulative solution as the linux kernel (kernel contains several architectues, drivers, etc, even for some legacy hw), the thing is that you make custom symbian baseports for product lines (several products are spawned from the same line) which use different hw in lot's of levels (screen, usb , camera, memory, dsp, modem , ...). Maintaining baseports is expensive and so is porting them
    • by dwater ( 72834 )

      > Will this Open Sourcing in any way help me with getting a longer lifetime for my phone? Or do I need to keep buying new phones just to get the latest Symbian version?

      I'm guessing - "not much". If it's open source, then you can probably do the work yourself (eventually, when it becomes properly open source), though I guess that depends on licenses and things.

      Did you expect someone else to do all the hard and expensive work?

  • Wouldn't that be the perfect os for the next version of the XO? They already have lots of apps for the arm platform. And Nokia could be a big sponsor for the XO.

  • Symbian development (Score:5, Interesting)

    by david.given ( 6740 ) < minus author> on Saturday March 14, 2009 @12:45PM (#27193253) Homepage Journal

    If anyone here's interested in coding for an embedded operating system, I'd strongly recommend running the hell away from Symbian. It's awful.

    Let us gloss over the lousy documentation (in which it's impossible to find anything, and where there are no links between chapters --- so, e.g., you can't follow a superclass chain up through the S60 chapter into the Symbian core chapter). Let us also gloss over the lousy build system (a horrible maze of crappy perl scripts, which, apart from being so hideously slow that our project takes the best part of ten minutes to build even if no source files have changed, doesn't allow you to have two source files in the same project with the same name. Even if they're in different directories). Let us also pass quickly over the debugger, trying not to make eye contact, that's unreliable, will only let you debug one task at a time, and which tends to crash if you do the wrong thing.

    No, let's talk about the language.

    You program for Symbian in C++. Good, you might think. No. This is C++ with all the good bits taken out and replaced by badly designed bits.

    Let's take exceptions. There are no C++ exceptions. What there are instead are Leave codes; a macro-and-longjmp framework that replaces exceptions which allows you to throw an integer value and then catch it further up the call stack. Unfortunately because this is implemented without compiler assistance it doesn't unwind the stack frame, so destructors of locals aren't called! All is not lost, though: there's a complicated and easy-to-get-wrong manual cleanup stack on which you can push stuff that you want the system to free for you in such situations. God help you if you forget to push something, or pop something at the wrong point...

    Let's take strings. There's no standard string class, of course. What there are are an even dozen different classes for storing strings in different ways: on the heap, on the stack, constant strings owned by someone else, etc. There are some superclasses that will allow you to pass references to these things around without having to worry about the implementation.

    Except... it doesn't actually work. The various different string superclasses are incompatible. You can cast a TDes (mutable abstract string) to a TDesC (immutable abstract string). You can't cast a TPtr (mutable pointer to mutable string data) to a TPtrC (mutable pointer to immutable string data). Some of their system functions require you to pass in a reference to a concrete string type, so god help you if want to use a different implementation. You can't use certain implementations in certain contexts. The result is that for some operations you have to allocate a fixed-size buffer on the stack, call a system function to populate it, then copy the buffer into another buffer on the heap, because the buffer-on-heap object is immutable! Despite being resizeable and assignable!

    Things get even worse when you want to store multiple strings. There's a labyrinthine maze of string array classes: arrays of fixed sized strings, arrays of descriptors, arrays of pointers to strings, arrays of pointer strings (which are different)... add this to Symbian's bizarre convention where a data storage class allocates memory in its constructor but does not free it in its destructor (which means the user must manually Close() method on all member variables) and simply figuring out who's responsible for freeing a particular object becomes non-trivial. I once spent three days trying to find out how to store an array of strings without leaking them. I kid you not.

    (To be fair, they have been trying to fix this with OpenC++, a new programming environment based on, like, standards. It doesn't actually work. The interface to Symbian C++ code is patchy and poorly specced which means it's only really useful for running chunks of third-party code in a sandbox --- you still need to write your actual application in Symbian C++.)

    Now lets move on to the OS proper. Like the languag

    • This is what you get with sub-standard senior priests in the Cathederal, and lets not forget there are __LOTS__ of examples in the Unix/Linux world too, over the years we have seen horrendous unmaintainable junk created in Sun, X86Free and GCC. An added benefit of FOSS is peer review of APIs and Implementations before they get set in stone.

      Most people havn't a clue how bad Symbian is, they just gave up at the sight, for contrast uxix/linux are mostly OK, mature and reasonably minimalist, and for any common
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The good old symbian myths:

      - No c++ exceptions, below the rebuttal: []

      - Descriptors: yes, they are weird, but they do make sense: []

      - Standards: Open C, pips (posix compliancy), S60Python. Is hard to build an OS on a language which was not standard when it was being designed.

      - there are more runtimes than symbian c++ (if that is too hard for you): []

      • Mod parent up. The AC manage to point the responses to the major myths regarding Symbian.

        Also, the carbide IDE is now free.

        So we have a platform that is open (Symbian), will soon use Qt (that Nokia now is releasing as LGPL), has openC (that allows one to program in regular C if needed), has openC++ and boost integrated (allowing, among other things, one to program in regular C++ and use one of the most powerful open libraries available), and has a free Eclipse-based IDE.

        I do develop for it and I like the pl

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Tellarin ( 444097 )

          Sorry for replying to my own post, but I forgot to mention something.

          Nokia also has Maemo, that is a linux based platform. It is only natural that the two somehow "integrate". So maybe this could also be an advantage.

        • by edivad ( 1186799 )
          No, I have the recipe for Nokia. Throw Symbian in the trashcan, since it's $hit from the kernel source, architecture, and external API. Lay off all of the internal, Symbian-backing, dinosaurs. Use Linux as kernel, and QT as UI interface. Then, only then, Nokia might succeed in gaining some share in the mobile development world. Yes, I know, there's still the fact that Nokia just hasn't the kool-factor that Apple and Google have.
      • by dwater ( 72834 )

        Mod parent up please. It's fairly well balance and reasoned, with references to back it up.
        Should be at least 3/informative, IMO.

  • Howard Stern will be so happy. Wait, what?

  • I had hoped that Symbian would just go away quietly: it's awful to program, and its user interface is even worse. Open sourcing it is just prolonging the agony.

The best defense against logic is ignorance.