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Nokia plays strong Linux hand withTrolltech buy

Shifts towards open source for handsets and tablets

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Setting standards

Strategically, Trolltech also puts a powerful weapon in Nokia's hands to take the driving seat in defining future open mobile standards, and so gaining all-important influence at the expense of the companies, such as Google and Intel, that want to come in from the PC internet world and use the web to challenge Nokia's dominance of the mobile world. "Trolltech and Nokia share the goal of accelerating the adoption of Trolltech's Qt-based technology in the commercial market and in the open source community," commented the start-up's CEO and co-founder Haavard Nord.

"The company's innovative culture and resources will give our employees new and exciting possibilities and fulfill our vision of 'Qt Everywhere'," said Eirik Chambe-Eng, the other co-founder, who rejoices in the job title of 'Chief Troll'.

This is more than the usual public relations puff that surrounds an acquisition. 'Qt Everywhere' will be a deadly serious goal at Nokia, if it wants to ensure a place at the top table when the mobile internet standards are being defined, and limit the impact of Google's Android software platform on the smartphone market.

Linux or Symbian?

In the past two or three years, Nokia has moved away from its closed platform roots and embraced Linux as well as Symbian OS, and is basing its mobile web services strategy – which CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo has made the centrepiece of his growth plan – around cross-platform software environments that run over multiple operating systems and devices (including non-Nokia, and of course including PCs, as the giant increasingly needs to support services that run on the desktop as well as the handset, bringing it head-to-head with Google and Microsoft). Some of these crossplatform elements are obvious and standard – Java, Open C and Flash for instance – but others are Nokia-driven technologies that it seeks to establish as de facto standards, with Series 60 the flagship.

One of the Finn's dilemmas is how far to shift towards Linux – whether to make proprietary SymbianOS so superior for mobile devices that it can hold its own against the open source tide, or to back away and join the Linux movement itself, focusing on higher level products for differentiation. The latter is what really matters anyway, and although Nokia will certainly not defocus hastily on Symbian, a platform it can control, while it remains so successful in high end handsets, it is almost sure to port its key software products, such as the Series 60 user interface and development environment, to Linux, which is the OS on its important Internet Tablet range, its answer to Intel's Ultra-Mobile PC. A Linux version of the S60 family would provide a direct equivalent of the top-to-bottom stack envisaged by Google for Android, but with years of R&D effort, a major developer community, and an installed base already behind it. The acquisition of Trolltech suggests this is the way Nokia will go during 2008, enabling it to accelerate its cross-platform strategy.

"The technology landscape evolves and, for Nokia, software plays a major role in our growth strategy for devices, PCs and the integration with the internet. We continue to focus on areas where we can differentiate and add more value. Common cross-platform layers on top of our software platforms attract innovation and enable web 2.0 technologies in the mobile space," said Oistamo.

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