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Nokia announced a joint development agreement with archrival Sony yesterday to produce wireless middleware, and also said that it will license the source code for its key handset applications to all comers.

Both announcements cover similar ground, and are pretty significant. The Sony agreement covers future software, while the licensing announcement makes two flavours of phone apps available right away.

The idea, Nokia's VP of mobile software Niklas Savander said, was to give all phone OEMs common software for browsing through XHTML and CSS, point-to-point messaging, downloading content applications through Java, authentication services and media digital rights management.

The OEM packages also embrace the back end of client/server software, too, and include agreement on technical infrastructure specifically "compatibility on implementing IPv6".

But phone OEMs can get their hands on the handset software right now in two packages: one for existing Symbian licensees (the 'Series 60 Platform') and one for phone OEMs who want to use more modest proprietary operating systems.

Nokia has corralled an impressive roster of the biggest wireless carriers (including AT&T Wireless, Cingular, DoCoMo and Vodafone) and handset rivals (including Motorola, Erics-Sony, and Siemens) into what it hopes will be a source sharing community. But how many of these eventually sign up for the software, or simply provide their blessings remains to be seen. Nokia said that Samsung has already signed up for the Nokia Mobile Browser and Smart Messaging parts of the bundle.

The move puts Nokia into competition with its licensees, but executives didn't seem to be too concerned about this at a press conference in the small hours today. Nokia says the common concern is to grow the pie. And with a sluggish take-up of 2.5G packet data to date, and widespread doubts about the viability of 3G, it's probably a necessary gesture.

Nokia also borrowed a few clothes from the open source model, without quite saying that it was open sourcing the software, which of course it isn't. Licensees will be able to contribute code back to the 'community' - the other nineteen licensees - but there's no obligation to do so.

Nokia also stressed that it isn't trying to supplant Symbian or Microsoft as base platform providers: Pertti Korhonen described it as "a tremendous boost for the Symbian OS".

"This is not replacing or in competition with Symbian," he told us, "but the platform leaves many software layers as a sort of Wild West. It's extending unification of the software to the next level."

Allied to Motorola's decision to license key 2.5G and 3G air interfaces to OEMs, Nokia's announcements yesterday see the key players buckling down for the inevitable commoditisation of the phone business. They'll compete on industrial design, and software service access, rather than proprietary software standards, which is undoubtedly A Good Thing.

Nokia said it will continue to get revenue from terminals and back end software infrastructure. "We already are a software company," Korhonen told The Register.

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