What does Nokia's Trolltech buy mean for Symbian?

Symbian, Sony Ericsson and Motorola claim they are confident Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech will leave them unscathed, despite analyst suggestions to the contrary.

Symbian, Sony Ericsson and Motorola claim they are confident Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech will leave them unscathed, despite analyst suggestions to the contrary.

Nokia announced it was buying Trolltech on Monday, with a view to making it easier for developers to design applications that work across all mobile and desktop operating systems.

Norwegian firm Trolltech makes Qt, a graphical user interface (GUI) toolkit. Qt is used on the Linux desktop environment, KDE, as well as a multitude of applications such as Skype and Google Earth. Qt's mobile offshoot, Qtopia, has also been used on many handsets made by Motorola.

However, Nokia is also the major shareholder in Symbian, whose operating system it uses for its Series 60 and Series 40 mobile platforms. Another part-owner of Symbian is Sony Ericsson, which is also half-owner -- along with Motorola -- of the Symbian-based UIQ platform. Nokia also owns the Carbide set of development tools, which are used for UIQ.

Following the acquisition, Ovum analyst Adam Leach wrote on his firm's Web site that the acquisition reflected well on Nokia and Trolltech, but was "bad news" for Symbian and "even worse news" for Motorola.

"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," wrote Leach. "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 increases the likelihood that in the long term Symbian will have to compete against Linux-based platforms within its existing customer base."

"The Trolltech acquisition leaves Motorola in an awkward position," Leach continued. "It recently announced that it would continue to use Qt as a basis for all its Linux devices. This leaves Motorola beholden to Nokia for a key part of its technology strategy -- a situation it was eager to avoid." Leach also noted that the Trolltech deal meant Nokia had effectively joined the Linux Mobile (LiMo) Foundation -- of which Trolltech and Motorola are both members -- "through the back door".

Symbian's reaction to the news of Trolltech's purchase has been sanguine. "[The acquisition] is a positive development for Symbian as it allows Nokia to port Qt onto Symbian OS-based S60," a spokesperson said. "We agree [with Nokia] that this acquisition will further increase the competitiveness of S60." Symbian's spokesperson added that the acquisition will not affect Symbian's relationship with Nokia.

Sony Ericsson's head of content development, Ulf Wretling, said: "There is no change in [Nokia's support for Carbide]". He added: "We feel that Nokia is very keen to keep the entire Symbian community in good faith and support its prosperity. [We expect Nokia to keep] giving us fair treatment in development for UIQ even if it's not directly supported by Nokia. It would not be in their interests to harm us in any way."

However, Motorola has claimed Leach was incorrect in his analysis. "We have been saying publicly for a year and a half that we intend to remove Qt [from our devices]," said Christy Wyatt, Motorola's vice president of ecosystem and market development, on Wednesday.

"The LiMo Foundation has specified GTK [as its GUI toolkit] and we have been saying it is our intention to become compliant with that specification," Wyatt said. "We use a couple of libraries from an older version of Qt [but] I don't think we necessarily consider it to be a strategic part of the platform now."

Referring to Trolltech's dual-licensing model, Wyatt said that, in contrast, Motorola and the LiMo Foundation were "going down the open path" and it would be "interesting to see whether [Nokia's de facto entry into the LiMo Foundation] is an opportunity for [Nokia] to work more with open platforms themselves".

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