Nokia to open source its mobile browser code

In a bid to encourage the mobile phone industry to standardize on a single Web browser, Nokia on Wednesday released the source code for the mobile phone Web browser it developed last year.

Nokia designed the browser for its S60 line of phones using the same open source frameworks used by Apple Computer for its Safari browser, and adding enhancements designed to improve mobile browsing. Any mobile phone maker or operator can now access the engine that runs the Nokia-developed browser and customize it for their own needs.

"We want to reduce the fragmentation currently in place in mobile browsing," said Lee Epting, vice president of Forum Nokia, Nokia's software development support program.

She doesn't expect the fact that this browser comes from Nokia to discourage Nokia competitors from using it. "It would be one thing if it was under proprietary licensing terms," she said. But Nokia is releasing the code as a BSD License, which she describes as a liberal license that enables anyone to use the code to develop a commercial offering. Developers can find the code through the WebKit Open Source Project at www.webkit.org.

Opera Software's chief technology officer, however, doesn't expect Nokia's move to have much of an impact. "It has limited value for the open source community," said Hakon Lie, CTO for Opera. The amount of code that Nokia released is relatively small compared to the amount it kept proprietary and the innovations Nokia has made are unlikely to be useful to developers of mobile phone platforms other than S60, he said.

"What I'm seeing is they're flirting with open source and trying to get the open source community interested in their platform, but it's more of a marketing thing rather than a real technical contribution," he said.

Features of the browser include the capability to work well in low memory situations, a mouse pointer for a similar navigation experience as on the desktop, and support for dynamic HTML (Hypertext Mark-up Language) and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). Developers will be able to create their own user interface for the browser, a key way for them to differentiate their products, Epting said.

Support for Web technologies is a positive trend, Lie said."If the Nokia browser is able to run Web applications I'd say that's good for the Web and from that perspective good for all vendors including Opera," he said. Historically, Web site developers have had to use special code in order to adequately display their sites on mobile devices.

Nokia began offering the browser, which is based on WebCore and JavaScriptCore components of Apple's Safari browser, to S60 licensees, including Siemens, late last year. The browser will ship with all S60 devices in the future, including Nokia's Eseries phones geared toward enterprise users and Nseries phones.

When Nokia first announced its open source browser project last year, the company said that creating a browser based on existing open source components was the least-expensive route to offering a full-function browser on its phones. Because of the volume of phones that Nokia ships, licensing a browser from a third party would become cost-prohibitive, Nokia said at the time.

Nokia does license a browser from Opera Software for some phones and isn't making any announcements about changes to that agreement in the near term, Epting said.

In 2004, Nokia made a financial investment in Minimo, the Mozilla Foundation's mobile browser project.

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