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EU taxpayer to fund Symbian

€22m pledged to embed Epoc in the cloud

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The European Commission has thrown Symbian a lifeline, with €22m of fresh investment for new embedded work, including €11m of taxpayers' money. You've heard of a "Song For Europe". Well, Symbian has been anointed (quite literally) "The Embedded Operating System for Europe", or "Symbeose".

Funding will be matched with similar contributions from the private sector, and 24 organisations are involved. It's channelled through the EC's controversial JTI (Joint Technology Initiatives) program.

The cash will be used to research cloud computing and multiprocessing. Or, as a blog post at the Symbian Foundation puts it:

"Core system capabilities within mobile platforms in general need to be better understood in terms of improving platform efficiency and the performance of cloud-based services. Gaining this understanding and using it to enhance the Symbian platform is one of the fundamental objectives of the SYMBEOSE project."

Symbian development began at Psion in 1994, and the OS was initially called Epoc. It made its debut in real products in 1997. The following year Psion spun it out to an independent joint venture supported by the (then) three largest handset manufacturers Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Motorola, and Psion.

Nokia acquired the venture in 2008, took the code open source, and spun out the administration to a nonprofit called the Symbian Foundation. Symbian remains the most popular operating system for smartphones, but has lost much industry support: major licensees including Samsung and Sony Ericsson have snubbed the system recently in favour of Google's Android.

The Foundation has always been in a tricky position. Nokia currently has 4,000 developers working on Symbian, but the Foundation has no development staff of its own.

The blog post from the Foundation adds that "the proposed advances to the Symbian platform will focus on radically improving the basis for new device creation on Symbian".

The JTI was created to "achieve greater coherence of R&D" across Europe, harmonise procedures, increase public and private investment and enchance education and training in two key areas: embedded systems and semiconductors, according to the first Evaluation of the program published in July.

So the JTI funds two programs - Artemis for embedded, and Eniac for silicon. The Artemis project goal is "to maintain a strong technological capability in both supply and application of embedded systems by overcoming fragmentation in the Embedded Systems supply base for components and tools".

It's no small change, either. The Artemis plan envisages €2.6bn of money (€745m from member states, €410m from the Commission, and the rest from matching private sector funds) and Eniac absorbing €2.8bn. But it hasn't quite worked out. Member states haven't fulfilled their pledges, and as a result private sector contributions are also short. As the evaluation study from July noted:

"State funding levels are not rising annually at the anticipated rate, the present projection is that neither JTI will achieve even half of their planned total funding."

Of the two programs, the UK is funding only Artemis. ®

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