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Symbian to release source code

The company hopes access to most of its handheld operating system will lead to more software development around it. Plus: Siemens agrees to make a 5 percent investment.

Symbian on Tuesday said it will open most of the source code for its mobile operating system to third-party developers, in its latest effort to encourage the creation of more software for the platform.

The company also announced that German electronics giant Siemens has agreed to buy 5 percent of the company for more than $17.7 million.

The software company, which is co-owned by Psion as well as Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola and others, already provides most of its code to its licensees and will offer the same access to software developers through a new plan called the "Symbian Platinum Program." A number of third parties have already committed to joining the program, including Intel, AppForge, Texas Instruments and U.K. chip designer ARM Holdings.

Source code is original programming instructions that make up software. Symbian's is important for developers who want to closely integrate their applications with the operating system for improved performance. Performance is particularly important for mobile phones, which have limited processing power for multimedia functions like video, audio and games.

Platinum Program members will get commercial services including technical support and joint marketing opportunities as well as source code, test code, internal documentation, kernel and device programming interfaces, and ROM building tools. Symbian will give access to "all relevant source code," which is about 95 percent of the code.

Siemens licensed the OS last year, but its investment was pitched as giving greater momentum to Symbian's platform. "Symbian is setting the standard for the delivery of the mobile operating system and beyond," Symbian Chief Executive David Levin said.

Siemens has been in talks with Symbian for some time. "This investment shows that after careful consideration we consider Symbian an excellent platform for mobile devices," said Maurice van Riek, Siemens' senior vice president for third generation (3G) and convergence.

The investment doesn't mean that Siemens will only support Symbian in the future, however. "We have to be sensitive to the way the market is going and what our customers are demanding," van Riek said.

Siemens has not yet announced a Symbian product, but van Riek said the company will look to differentiate its eventual offerings through applications, a customized user interface and industrial design.

A key feature for Siemens will be built-in cameras, which are expected to prove popular for sending images via wireless e-mail or Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), an emerging standard that builds on the success of the text-based Short Messaging Service (SMS).

"We will be doing camera-based products in the future and not just open OS products," van Riek said. "My own personal belief is that MMS is the next step in messaging, and the real value of it is making your own pictures and sharing them."

Matthew Broersma reported from London.