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Nokia shifting to Linux as it joins with Apple to challenge Windows 2

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Analysis Nokia’s ambitious bid to make the mobile phone as important a client device for business and leisure as the notebook PC took another important turn last week with news that it has created a browser in collaboration with Apple, which will be managed under the open source process.

This starts to address awkward web browsing, a key weakness of the phone’s bid to be the ‘new notebook’, and it raises interesting questions about how much further Nokia and Apple could go in cooperating on the anti- Microsoft ecosystem, and how far Nokia is committing its future to Linux.

Nokia aims significantly to broaden the influence of its Series 60 software architecture to bring it closer to the role taken by the Windows/Visual .Net environment on PCs. Like Microsoft, this will entail making a decision on whether to keep its software platforms closely tied to its OS, or whether to move on to other systems too.

Nokia has worked with Apple to create a mobile browser for the Finnish company’s Series 60, the user interface layer that is critical to its plans to set standards for enterprise mobile devices and to create a developer ecosystem that can rival that of Microsoft Visual .Net.

In its bid to establish Series 60 devices as dominant in the next generation of client platforms, Nokia is increasingly looking to the open source community, into which it will place the new browser. Coupled with the recent launch of Nokia’s Linux/Wi-Fi tablet product, this suggests a shift away from backing Symbian OS as the only operating system for smart phones, and towards promoting Series 60 and Java on multiple platforms, notably Linux.

This will help to accelerate the creation of a developer community for Series 60, and will please Nokia’s key enterprise partner IBM. A strong web experience is vital to make the handset appeal as a business data tool and has so far been a weakness that Apple’s Safari technology could help to address. It is likely that other Apple expertise, in areas such as Wi-Fi and user interfaces, will be tapped by Nokia, and it is also possible that Nokia will create an iPhone and help take Apple devices back into the enterprise.

To expand Series 60, it is making several key moves that would have been alien to it a couple of years ago – licensing the platform to other phone makers, working increasingly within the open source process, and adopting technologies from companies in the consumer space to strengthen its own R&D. All this will enhance the value and appeal of Series 60 to the developer community that is critical for gaining broad uptake for any mobile platform.

The Apple deal

The Apple deal fits well within this strategy to create a rich, open platform that can compete with Windows and the Visual Studio tools in the enterprise and consumer markets, and keep Microsoft at bay on mobile devices. Browsing is an important issue that needs to be addressed more effectively than it has been to date on mobile devices, particularly as handsets incorporate open IP access via Wi-Fi and as operators start, grudgingly, to open their walled gardens.

But other software areas where Apple has a good track record, and which could be included in the Nokia deal in future, include user interface design, MP3 and QuickTime video. Nokia stressed that it would continue to work with Apple beyond this browser cooperation, and of course sparked widespread speculation that the iTunes music download platform would find its way into the partnership.

The mobile suppliers are racing to sign up music allies as this becomes an increasingly important part of the operators’ business plans – Ericsson signed a partnership with iTunes’ main rival, Napster, last week, while its joint venture Sony Ericsson has released a music phone under Sony’s venerable Walkman brand. Motorola was the first phone maker to promise a handset incorporating iTunes, though this has not yet materialized, and a similar plan from Nokia is now widely expected.

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