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Open Mobile

May 25, 2006

Good news today for those of us interested in the mobile web. Nokia opened the source of their S60 browser, which is currently the browser of choice for various Nokia phones.

The big pay-off here is that other companies are free to take this code and build their own browsers using Nokia’s code base. Consider this in context: currently there are dozens and dozens of different mobile browsers, across hundreds of phones. If you thought browser-testing on the desktop was bad, you obviously haven’t been paying attention to mobile.

With a high profile open-source mobile browser like S60, the potential now exists for other companies to base their own browsers on an S60 base, which would mean far greater consistency on the mobile web. That’s something worth getting behind, so here’s hoping the business case is there for these companies to do so. Something clearly needs to change for the mobile web to take off, and this could very well be it.

As an extra treat, S60 is based on Safari’s WebCore. Not that you’d ever be able to expect a completely consistent testing environment between the two — for obvious reasons — but as the technology gets more capable of keeping up with the desktop version, I wonder whether the overlap will enable developers to knock off most major bugs on the desktop in advance, before racking up the air time…


1
Luke says:
May 25, 23h

Wow thats great. Good on Nokia!!

Lets just hope other mobile phone developers aren’t arrogant, and choose to use it.

2
nivid says:
May 26, 00h

That is a good initiative by Nokia, a step backward from mobile browser hacks and workarounds.

3
May 26, 00h

That is quite excellent news…but how much of S60 is tied into symbian?

4
Fredrik Wärnsberg says:
May 26, 01h

From what i’ve understood this is just a marketing trick from Nokia to open the open source community’s eyes for nokia phones. They didn’t release anything that can be used for other developers, since the changes from the safari browser are specific changes needed for the browser to function on a s60 properly (they didnt even release the entire sourcecode, only parts of it).

5
Dave says:
May 26, 02h

When a company they has never contributed to open source software before, releases parts of code that were derived from other open source projects in the first place, you can forgive me for being a little sceptical.

6
May 26, 02h

I’ll stick with Opera Mini I think. Works a charm, much better than any other mobile browser I’ve seen.
It works on any phone with Java, and if you’re on about PDA’s/Smartphones, I believe Opera Mobile may suit your needs better…..

All works just like the main Opera browsers small screen rendering :)

7
May 26, 05h

Dave (of comment #5) When a companay that has never contributed to open source software before releases code, we should welcome them and thank them, even if all they did was release the source to stuff we already have the source for. If they end up getting the cold shoulder, which you seem to be giving, then they’re just going to drop the whole idea and never release source again. If, instead, they find that the response is warmer, then maybe they’ll take the risk and release some good stuff. Like my mom always said: you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

8
George says:
May 26, 07h

This is a step forward indeed and should help everyone get what they want. Thanks for posting this. I don’t know what is happening to Minimo from Mozilla at the moment? Minimo would seem to be a ready made open source mobile browser.

9
Dave says:
May 26, 08h

Hmm, I know what you are trying to say and part of me does find what they did commendable. But 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.

And I guess this guy might be biased but…

“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.”
“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.

10
May 27, 11h

Very cool. Hopefully we will begin seeing consistency with phone browsers in the future.

11
Zach says:
May 27, 11h

Very cool. Hopefully we will begin seeing consistency with phone browsers in the future.

12
Stuart says:
May 28, 13h

Wow, that’s great news, the mobile web has never really taken off (especially WAP) and it might be due to the incompatibility of layout rendering. However, it will be interesting to hear if other mobile operators do take notice of this open software initiative (as mentioned in posts above.)

I use my iPaq PDA and Sony PSP to go online sometimes and it is hard to find websites which display properly (not that I think us designers have to rush to buy all small electronic devices to test browser compatibility), but it would be great if these companies could decide on a standard (with reference to the W3C’s Mobile Web Initiative) so us designers could add that extra capability of our users.

13
May 29, 22h

Having plowed through the Nokia documentation, it seems that none of their browsers support media type in stylesheet declarations. This means that my current home page, which only manages to show the navigation column, can’t be fixed without javascript-based browser sniffing. Didn’t I read something about ‘Stop hacking or be stopped’ somewhere?

Maybe we go back to the bad old days - ‘This site is best viewed in Opera, download Opera for your mobile here.’

14
Mark says:
May 31, 01h

Open sourcing this is great news. The Nokia browser is excellent, allowing on the newer handsets (N80, N91, etc) a very decent browsing experience. I currently use Opera Mini 2.0 which really is great, but the Nokia browser I think just pips it. By making it open source might we not see it on other platforms apart from Symbian?

Although the new Opera browser for the Nintendo DS looks amazing.

Bruce - As far as “media declarations” go, pretty much every Nokia in the last few years that handles XHTML deals with the “Handheld” stylesheet, I don’t see why this should be any different.

15
May 31, 19h

Mark,
You are quite correct. I had been fooled by other devices that seemed to recognise the handheld style sheet but in reality reformatted the page according to their own rules. The result looked good so I figured my handheld style sheet worked. My new Nokia faithfully followed my very poor attempt at a handheld stylesheet and the result was awful.
I confess I wondered if making our site ‘handheld-friendly’ was just an exercise with no real value but it seems that our head of PR loves the fact that he can respond to media questions with info from the site on his Blackberry wherever he is.

16
Mag says:
June 01, 03h

Being an open-sourced browser is quite helpful to debug and customize. However, I’m afraid this would result in too many versions made by amateurs, causing damage to some mobiles.

17
mark rush says:
June 09, 09h

thats great, i just got an XDA mini and operas the best browser for PPC machines, the pocket pc mozilla is around 3000% slower to load (even more) and is cumbersome and pocket ie is just pants.

18
Kary says:
June 16, 10h

I love what the Nokia has to offer but I can not find one that has the walkie talkie feature which is on my other phone a nextel. Still I find it interesting to play with and see the browser functions of Nokias.

19
June 16, 11h

And what about the competition?
Years ago IBM had opened their microcode and that is one of the reasons that most of the home computers in the world are now IBM PC derivatives.

20
August 18, 07h

I think it is a step in the right direction to reach browser consistency in the market. However, other companies have good browsers, too. I’ve just read that Motorola will use the Opera browser in future and I cannot believe that they will change their strategy, switch to Nokias S60 and waste a lot of money, they put in former research.

21
Samochody says:
September 29, 15h

Nokia has Good links with other standardization bodies in the motive space..