Symbian kernel Open Source release and Tanenbaum

As most people have noticed by now, The Symbian Foundation has released the source code of their microcernel under an open source license. While any open source release of formerly proprietary software is something I warmly welcome, I doubt that it will take of as an actual open source project.

There's a difference between releasing software under a FOSS license and running a successful FOSS project. The latter involves a sufficiently large community of developers, ways how they can contribute, ...

Especially with special purpose code such as an operating system (kernel) for mobile devices, very few people will show interest as long as there is no actual hardware where they can run the software, without or with custom modifications. Sure, there will be academic interest and people who will look at the source code to find ways to exploit potentially existing security weaknesses, but no community of people who work on it since they will practically use it on their own device.

So what I'd do if I was the Symbian Foundation: I would release an actual mobile phone which is open enough for people to run (modified or unmodified) recompiled parts of the Symbian codebase which are now available as open source. This way it will be much more appealing. However, even at that point, many other parts of the system are (or even will forever be?) closed, limiting the amount of impact. Furthermore, since modified versions cannot be installed on any other regular non-developer phones, the impact of any contribution to the codebase can not be to the benefit of many people. Just compare that with contributing to the mainline Linux kernel, where a contribution will be used on at least almost every server/workstation/laptop after the next distribution (and thus kernel) update.

Another issue that I really was shocked is the following quote by Andrew S. Tanenbaum: 'I would like to congratulate Symbian for not only making the source code of its kernel open source, but also the compiler and simulation environment,' said Andrew S. Tanenbaum'

However, the compiler was not made open source. It is released as proprietary binary code, and is only "free as in beer" for organizations up to 20 employees. So either Tanenbaum did not really look at the hard facts of what was being released, or he was misquoted in a really bad way! That should not have made it into the final release, as it's now a damaging statement for both the Symbian Foundation and Mr. Tanenbaum.

By the way, according to a comment thread, they're working on making it able to compile under gcc, and they're actually accepting patches, which is of course great.

Despite my negative comments: I wish them as much luck and success as possible with their new open source Symbian kernel. I personally just am not seeing it turning into a vibrant, community-maintained project - and I hope the founders of the Symbian Foundation did not start the project based on that assumption and will in the end perceive it as a negative experience when evaluating the open source move some years down the road.

One final note: The fact that they chose the EPL as license is really strange, as it prevents exchange of code with the major existing FOSS kernel projects (Linux, *BSD). Not that I think there is much to be exchanged, given the microkernel approach...