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Nokia plays strong Linux hand withTrolltech buy

Shifts towards open source for handsets and tablets

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Other open source initiatives

Amid the host of open source initiatives in the fragmented mobile world, Trolltech has been most closely associated with Open-Moko, porting the Qtopia application platform and user interface to the group's Neo1973 device. This gave mobile Linux developers an additional reference platform for mobile Qtopia applications besides the Trolltech Greenphone, and the new developments could bring Nokia in behind OpenMoko and greatly enhance its impact – although, more importantly for Qtopia, Nokia will of course provide far more significant reference platforms.

Nokia's own open source strategy is looking quite complicated and some rationalization will be in order soon – indeed, this is necessary across the whole industry to deliver a coherent set of technology choices for mobile open source, each with sufficient volume and developer support to attract the major vendors. In particular, Nokia has funded and supported Maemo.org, an open source operating system that is used in the Internet Tablets.

There are fundamental differences between Maemo's and Trolltech's approaches, so choices may need to be made, unless Nokia plans to keep the Internet Tablet platform entirely separate, and use Trolltech primarily to enhance Linux on the S60 smartphones. The main difference is that Maemo uses the GTK toolkit from the influential Gnome open source movement, while Trolltech uses its own Qt, now likely to be pushed as a de facto standard by Nokia. However, to complicate the picture further, OpenMoko, which will have its hopes of Nokia support raised, also uses GTK. Maemo developers are already expressing concerns that their platform, and GTK, will be sidelined within Nokia, with the giant looking to bring the tablets, as well as the smartphones, into line with Qt and Nokia Linux widgets, rather than the externally managed, and therefore less controllable, GTK.

Other key mobile Linux initiatives, apart from Android, include Intel's Moblin, based around Red Flag Midinux and Mozilla; the LiMo Foundation and Gnome Mobile and Embedded Initiative, both heavily influenced by Motorola; and the commercially most successful mobile Linux distribution to date, MontaVista, which is likely to be taken up by one of the majors as a strategic weapon.

The battle lines are being drawn rapidly, and whatever the technical pros and cons, we should see a fight to dominate the standards picture between Nokia with Qt and Linux-based S60; Google with Android; and Intel with the Moblin set of technologies. Response from Microsoft is almost inevitable, and Motorola, despite its current distractions, also needs to create a credible mobile internet software strategy, although it may seek to work within broad initiatives like LiMo rather than to set standards itself. Nokia has shown its hand strongly and reaction from its fellow challengers may be swift. They may have to spend a lot more than $153m to trump this hand.

Copyright © 2008, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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