Nokia acquires Trolltech

By Adam Leach/Ovum

Nokia will acquire Norwegian software company Trolltech, the provider of cross-platform application frameworks and development tools.

Its Qt technology is used widely by application vendors such as Adobe and Google to deliver applications across PC platforms. It is also used widely in the open source community and is the basis for the KDE desktop environment for Linux. Within mobile Qt is used by Motorola as a basis of its Linux mobile phone platform.

According to Nokia, it will acquire all of Trolltech's software assets and personnel and Qt/Qtopia will become a pivotal part of Nokia's software strategy.

From the perspective of Nokia's push into internet services via its Ovi initiative the acquisition of Trolltech makes perfect sense. Nokia has asserted from the start that Ovi will enable services cross a number of platforms including web, PC and mobile-based platforms. Trolltech have proven technology in cross-platform development and there is a good synergy here for Nokia.

The deal will affect a number of constituents inside and outside of Nokia, let's take a look at its potential impact.

Maemo: Maemo is Nokia's Linux-based platform for its web tablet devices. So far the Maemo platform has used GTK+ as its technology base for applications and the acquisition of Trolltech could lead to a migration to the Qtopia platform. This will have little impact inside Nokia and to the wider community. The Maemo platform and its products (N800 family of devices) ship in very small volumes compared to Nokia's other devices and its developer community is also relatively small.

S60: S60 is Nokia's flagship mobile software platform, based on Symbian OS, it is the basis of its high-tier mobile phones (e.g. N-series) as well as an increasing number of mid-tier offerings. Nokia has supported a multi-runtime strategy for S60 for some time. Developers can currently write applications in Flash, Java and C (using Open C). Adding the Qt framework to S60 will be consistent with that strategy and like Open C, supporting Qt allows developers who have open source applications targeted at Linux to run on S60-based devices. This will increase the number of applications and services that can run on the devices.

Symbian: S60 and its application suite have to-date been 100% dependent on the underlying frameworks provided by Symbian. The support of Qt by S60 will be the first environment that will allow developers to write full applications (including UI) without using the native Symbian based application framework. With this in place Nokia has the option to migrate its S60 application to Qt and benefit from increased portability and less dependency on Symbian OS. This will have little short-term impact for Symbian but increases the likelihood that long term it will have to compete against erosion from within existing customers from Linux-based platforms.

Series 40: Series 40 is Nokia's mass market phone platform and to date has not supported native application development, adoption of Qt will drastically increase the addressable market for Qt-based applications and for the first time give a credible alternative to writing Java applications. It also raises the competitiveness of Series 40 against its internal rival S60, so could lead to a slower replacement of Series 40 by S60, this will negatively impact new business opportunities for Symbian.

 

Motorola: The Trolltech acquisition leads Motorola in an awkward position. It recently announced that it would continue to use Qt as a basis for all its Linux devices. This makes Motorola beholden to Nokia for a key part of its technology strategy - a situation it was eager to avoid. 

LiMo and Google's OHA: Trolltech has recently announced its membership of the LiMo Foundation (the mobile Linux standardization group founded by Vodafone, Motorola, NTT DoCoMo, Samsung, NEC and Panasonic). Until Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech it looked unlikely that Nokia were going to participate in the group, now Nokia has effectively joined through the back door. Although this may not have been anticipated by LiMo, Nokia's membership will certainly help them establish a global standard for mobile Linux, especially now in light of increasing competition from Google's OHA (Open Handset Alliance) that has the aim of establishing its software platform, Android, as the global standard for Linux.

Adam Leach, senior analyst at Ovum

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