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When will Symbian compile?

World's biggest code dump awaits open source compiler

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Symbian won plaudits for releasing the Symbian/S60 codebase last week. It's not to be sniffed at, since it represents the biggest release of software under an "open" license ever undertaken, and the first time a market leader has made such a move. There's just one problem, the company openly acknowledges: it won't compile.

Symbian acknowledged the fact in a blog post last week. Around 30 packages use a now-ancient version of an ARM compiler.

VP of strategy at Symbian John Forsyth agreed it wasn't ideal.

"There is a thorn in my side there and it's one I've highlighted elsewhere is that Symb has a legacy of proprietary commercial tools. That's fine, they work, and people like ARM have a nice business. But it's not compatible with OSS development done properly. We have to move to a free and open source toolchain."

The goal, he said, is to have the FSF's gcc compiler, GCC-E (GNU Compiler Collection for Embedded) out by the end of the month. Symbian sources told us that's optimistic - three months might be more optimistic.

Symbian's Mark Wilcox explained:

"Back when we started Symbian was dependent on not only a commercial compiler but a rather antiquated one (the whole platform worked only with 2.2). So, while the platform has been in transition from RVCT 2.2 to RVCT 4.0, we are really focused on getting a completely free tool chain using GCC-E. In fact, we are currently validating a pre-release version from Code Sourcery that will enable building the Kernel with genuinely free tools, but this also requires the replacement of some proprietary low-level libraries from ARM)."

"There are tens of thousands platform developers today and not much has changed here, except the codebase is now in the OSS part of the repository," said Forsyth.

Wilcox also acknowledged that much work needs to be done on the gcc version. "Around half of the packages currently have compiler errors with GCC-E." Help fixing them is needed: how quickly the target can be met depends on how much volunteers can contribute, says Wilcox.

"Most of the errors are trivial. We've already had one prominent hobbyist and some of the Qt team at Nokia volunteer to get involved - they have "creative Fridays" with 20 per cent of their time to work on any relevant project of their choosing. This really is a case of many hands make light work."

Another issue is getting the new graphics system to work on Symbian^3. Right now, it only boots to a command line. That's frustrating for Symbian shops. The new graphics architecture was announced over two years ago, in response to the original iPhone, but in the intervening period - as Nokia employed some Symbian staff and spun out others into a non-profit foundation - rivals seized the initiative.

Timing

So why was this enormous code dump made when it was? Symbian strenuously denied to us it was timed to meet executive bonuses - ahead of next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The revised plan saw code release later this year, say Symbian. Still, there's no taking anything away from the ambition, here - it's a lot of code. Intellectual property issues (Sony Ericsson, Nokia and many others contributed to the original Epoc) have kept much of the Symbian team tied up for the past 18 months. At least one obstacle to reviving the most popular smartphone OS has been hurdled. ®

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