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Will Nokia Eschew Symbian? Karishma Sundaram | , 4:09 p.m. Aug. 12, 2009 2009-08-12

Consumers that have used Nokia swear by their phones, and refuse point blank to use any device by another manufacturer. The major reason for this rather odd behaviour is the familiarity they have with the operating systems and interfaces that Nokia uses. Granted a few elements have changed here and there, with major aesthetic overhauls too, but the essential bare-bones architecture of the menu hasn’t changed since time immemorial. 

These same people are going to be very disconcerted to hear that Nokia may just give up Symbian. Symbian is the popular operating system that runs on Nokia and Sony Ericsson phones. The phone manufacturers have maintained the integrity of design, since it was made possible by this operating system. 

However, while change is inevitable and progress is usually welcome, the move is a strange and rather unprecedented one. Over the past few years, Nokia has been steadily acquiring more and more of the Symbian stock, edging out all other partners. The acquisition culminated in Nokia owning Symbian Software Limited completely just four months ago. So the question that begs to be asked is that why exactly did Nokia shell out $373 million to acquire something they aren’t going to use at all? Strange does not begin to describe it. 

There have long been rumours that Symbian was going to be turned into an open source operating system. Open source operating systems allow individual users to tinker around with the code on their mobiles, thus engendering the spirit of sharing. The Symbian blog post announcing the news of the acquisition hinted toward the Symbian Foundation working towards making the operating system open source. 

The latest buzz about Nokia is that they will be replacing Symbian with Maemo. Maemo is a selectively open source operating system that Nokia currently uses for their Internet tablets. Again the question begs to be asked – why not just follow through with the strategy of converting Symbian into an open source operating system? 

Apparently the answer to these conundrums is that Nokia is finding Symbian too unwieldy. They are probably right, although just because something is ‘cumbersome’ does not necessarily mean it needs to be scrapped completely. It can be pared and repaired to become more efficient. 

The only official comment Nokia has made about this issue is that it ‘does not comment on industry speculation’. The industry speculation was in fact leaked through Nokia sources that remained undisclosed. 

For the average user, the ramifications of an operating system change are tremendous, although perhaps only in the long run. Phones that run the old operating system will become obsolete faster than the usual time. Applications that run on older versions will have to be reprogrammed to suit the new platforms, and updates will just not cut it. 

A few people will wonder whether Maemo will match up to the intense usability of Symbian, although it will not have the comforting feeling of familiarity.

Will Nokia toss out the old and bring in the new, or will they make good their sizeable investment and keep Symbian fires burning? We’ll have to wait and see.

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