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Nokia walks tightrope with Metrowerks acquisition

Beefs up Symbian tools

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Nokia moved to secure the ground for its application developers today by announcing a deal with Motorola's Metrowerks tools division, which provides the primary development tools for its Symbian platform. Two dozen Metrowerks staff will join Nokia, which will also license the debugger, compiler and IDE and has promised to provide extensions. Symbian has based its application development on Metrowerks CodeWarriors for several years, although the 32-bit Symbian OS began life on Microsoft Visual C++, which is not, in retrospect, one of Psion Software's better ideas.

Nokia clearly wants to make development process more attractive, or in the words of the canned statement, "benefit the entire Symbian ecosystem, resulting in faster time to market by providing a single source for platform and device development processes."

Metrowerks won its spurs by producing a compiler that saved Apple's PowerPC launch a decade ago, and it has since blossomed into a company that supports around twenty different hardware architectures and in addition dozens of real-time operating systems, in addition to Palm, Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. Motorola acquired it five years ago, and it belongs to Moto's Freescale chip division. Nokia should be able to give the suite more attention and tender loving care.

However, Nokia is likely to find itself accused of taking over the Symbian development process once again. The recent pre-emption process at Symbian showed that interest in the OS was healthy and broad, with several Symbian shareholders upping their stakes to prevent Nokia grabbing Psion's former Symbian stake in its entirety. But not only does Sony Ericsson base its Symbian work on a non-Nokia UI, Nokia's rivals are also keen to see that it isn't tilting the playing field its way. Today's press release studiously avoided placing the word "acquires" in the headline, but more diplomatic skills might be needed, too. Still, you never heard the accusation that Motorola was slanting it towards its own embedded platforms, so may be it will prove to be less of a wedge than its rivals hope. ®

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