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Nokia plays strong Linux hand withTrolltech buy

Shifts towards open source for handsets and tablets

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Analysis Nokia may be strengthening its ties with major internet brands to boost its Ovi web services portal, but for a company of this scale, there must also be an agenda to set its own standards in the evolving mobile internet market on which it has staked its future. The Finnish giant's latest software acquisition, of Norwegian Linux player Trolltech, gives it a strong vehicle to launch its own bid to dominate mobile open source standards, an area where Google and Intel have already made aggressive moves. This sees the handset giant making its strongest commitment yet to Linux in its Series 60 smartphone market, and setting Trolltech's Qt platform against other would-be dominant mobile web systems like Google Android and Intel Mobilin.

Nokia is given to acquiring small, clever companies - especially as it builds up its software and web services capabilities - rather than going for the high profile, difficult merger, and Trolltech is no exception. The smaller company is mainly known for its Linux-based Qt (Qtopia) user interface and mobile software development framework, which has recently become closely associated with the OpenMoko Linux initiative and which is an alternative to the widely used Gnome GTK technology, a key technology for Motorola and Intel, but one in which Nokia may now become less interested.

Trolltech

The handset leader has got itself a bargain – NKr 843m (just $153.3m) for a mobile Linux platform that could give Nokia a viable position against Google Android and give it the chance to regain the initiative in mobile Linux and web interfaces, both vital technologies for companies looking to dominate the mobile internet agenda. The acquisition, which has been recommended by the board, is likely to close in the second quarter, and 66 per cent of the shareholders have already accepted the NKr16 per share offer (these include founder Haavard Nord; Vuonislahti Invest, controlled by fellow founder Eirik Chambe-Eng; Teknoinvest; and several funds managed by Index Ventures). Trolltech is publicly listed on the Oslo stock exchange.

Trolltech brings a well-respected software development framework geared to mobile devices, open source and web services. Tactically, its technologies could strengthen the competitiveness of Nokia's Series 60 and Series 40 development and user interface platforms, especially in the web services and Linux areas. The Finnish giant has been pushing its frameworks in these directions, and has open sourced part of S60, but is aware that these products come from a heritage of closed development environments and the Symbian OS operating system rather than Linux, and so could be presented as being less web-optimized than a system created from scratch for the open internet, like Android. Trolltech will help answer some of those criticisms and boost the capabilities of S60 on open platforms, as well as underpinning development of new services related to the Ovi mobile internet push. "Trolltech's deep understanding of open source software and its strong technology assets will enable both Nokia and others to innovate on our device platforms while reducing time to market. This acquisition will also further increase the competitiveness of S60 and Series 40," said Kai Oistamo, executive VP of devices at Nokia.

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