Next version of BlackBerry OS to be open source

Published: Thursday, February 9, 2012

Along with new database technologies and a widespread move to the cloud, the proliferation of mobile technology in the enterprise is one of the hottest business IT trends.

The ability to integrate mobile devices, whether they are company-issued or employee-owned, into existing infrastructures is a powerful one, offering new levels of flexibility, according to experts.

For some time, the sole big name in the business mobility world was BlackBerry. The Research In Motion brand enjoyed near-total domination of the enterprise market for years, thanks to powerful integration and security capabilities powered by proprietary software.

However, recent months have been far less kind to the Canadian company, and a dramatic shift in the direction of bring-your-own-device has meant that iPhones and Android products are quickly supplanting BlackBerrys even in the corporate world.

That's driving changes at RIM, however, as the Inquirer recently reported that the next version of the flagship BlackBerry operating system will be open source software.

Vice president of developer relations Alec Saunders told the news source that the move was prompted by discussions he had had with independent devs.

"One of the biggest complaints I heard when I joined the company was from developers who said you know I can't use open source on BlackBerry OS and that means it takes longer to write code for [BlackBerry] and makes it more expensive," he said in an interview.

Saunders also said that there would be a wide range of previously proprietary code made available for the open source software community to work with. In addition to open source, multimedia and general purpose libraries, the SDK for BlackBerry OS 10 will provide scripting languages, physics engines and even gaming frameworks to developers, the Inquirer reported.

RIM hasn't provided a definite release date for the new OS, according to the news source, but it was recently announced that the company planned to provide devices based on it later this year.

Whenever the SDK is provided to the development community, its impact will likely be substantial, and part of the reason for that is found in an unobtrusively named, pre-existing open source framework called Qt, the publication stated.

Qt was described by the Inquirer as a "cross-platform application and user interface" system, implying that it could be the key to making new apps play well with the operating system and each other. The initial development work on Qt was performed by Nokia as part of its Symbian smartphone OS.

The standard open source goals of fostering innovation and creating standards are part of RIM's reason for opening the platform up, vice-president of application platform and tools Chris Smith said in an interview.

"So BlackBerry 10 here is committed, as ever, to open standards and meeting developers on their turf, on their terms, and driving content into our ecosystem. In fact, our entire web platform, so the Webworks framework which takes HTML5 outside the browser in a secure environment and our Ripple web IDE is all being done as open source development out there in the open," he told the Inquirer.

Whether RIM's move will be enough to rescue it from its current dire straits remains to be seen, however. The company's market share has plummeted thanks to sky-high adoption rates for both Android and iOS devices in the enterprise, and a well-publicized failure of its proprietary networking systems late last year underlined a growing perception that RIM is being quickly supplanted by its competitors.