Open Source Nokia a Threat to Microsoft, Google?

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However, Microsoft dismissed the threat from Nokia's move. Instead, spokespeople said Microsoft views Nokia's buyout of Symbian as a confirmation of its own strategy.

Microsoft has "already taken an open platform approach to helping handset makers, mobile operators and developers innovate on top of Windows Mobile platform," Scott Rockfeld, group product manager at Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. "Today’s announcement just validates that software and services are what drive mobile phone innovation, the approach we’ve been taking for over six years.”

"In the short term, it doesn’t change much, as Nokia already owned a majority of Symbian,” he said. “In the long term, they open themselves up to the same challenges that other open source operating systems have encountered, including fragmentation.”

In addition to a potential swipe at Windows Mobile, Nokia's open source strategy also strikes industry watchers as a hedge against the Google-led Open Handset Alliance, which is expected to release the open source mobile OS, Android, later in the year.

Gold, for instance, views the Symbian Foundation as a direct challenge to Linux-based Android and its “open source 'roots.'"

But Nokia waved away the notion that by open sourcing Symbian, it sought to undermine Google and the traction that it's already gained in the open source community.

"This is not a reaction to Android," Williams said, suggesting instead that Nokia doesn't view the as-yet-unreleased OS as a rival, despite its backing by such big names as LG Electronics, Motorola, Samsung Electronics, T-Mobile, Intel and Qualcomm.

Williams noted that Nokia has shipped 200 million products, while Google's Android has yet to appear in the marketplace -- and may even be delayed until late in the year, according to recent reports in the Wall Street Journal.

"We're present. We have the devices. We have a complete tech stack," Williams said.

Nokia won't be alone in supporting an open source Symbian, either. While it leads the Symbian Foundation, through which the mobile OS software will be released, Nokia also has pulled other brand-name carriers and handset manufacturers on board, including Sony Ericsson, Motorola (NYSE:MOT), LG, Samsung and Texas Instruments.

Several carriers have also pledged their support to the Symbian Foundation, Nokia said -- including NTT DOCOMO, AT&T (NYSE: T) and Vodafone (NYSE: VOD), which operates Verizon Wireless in a joint venture with Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ).

Such a collaborative effort, which Nokia said aims to release a new Symbian platform by next year, will ignite what Levy called "a huge battle for the hearts and minds of mobile users."

Noting that companies like Motorola and Samsung are also part of the Android development program, Gold said it's unclear whether they will remain committed to Google's project.

Google, meanwhile, said it welcomed the Symbian news.

"Openness fosters innovation, benefiting consumers,” the company said in a statement sent to InternetNews.com. “We're very pleased to see other major players in the mobile industry moving in this direction."

Google spokespeople declined to comment further.

Despite Nokia's ambitious plans, other analysts aren't convinced that it will ever fully succeed in setting up Symbian as a de-facto standard in the mobile space, with Kagan noting that the wireless phone industry has always supported a number of OSes concurrently.

"At this point, we don't know who will lead, or even if it matters," he said. "Like always, there will be a variety of competing technologies. The customer won't really care how they can do what they want, as long as they can do what they want.”

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