Nokia urges Linux developers to learn business

The handset manufacturer's head of software says open-source developers need to play along with current industry themes such as DRM, IPR and SIM locks
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Open-source developers targeting the mobile space need to learn business rules including digital rights management, Nokia's software chief has claimed.

Speaking at the Handsets World conference in Berlin on Tuesday, Dr Ari Jaaksi told delegates that the open-source community needed to be 'educated' in the way the mobile industry currently works, because the industry has not yet moved beyond old business models.

"We want to educate open-source developers," said Jaaksi, who is Nokia's vice president of software and heads up the Finnish handset manufacturer's open-source operations. "There are certain business rules [developers] need to obey, such as DRM, IPR [intellectual property rights], SIM locks and subsidised business models."

Jaaksi admitted that concepts like these "go against the open-source philosophy", but said they were necessary components of the current mobile industry. "Why do we need closed vehicles? We do," he said. "Some of these things harm the industry but they're here [as things stand]. These are touchy, emotional issues, but this dialogue is very much needed. As an industry, we plan to use open-source technologies, but we are not yet ready to play by the rules; but this needs to work the other way round too."

Nokia's primary play in the open-source sphere thus far has been Maemo, the Linux-based operating system that runs on its N800-series tablet devices. These devices are popular among developers in the Maemo developer community but, being something of a testbed, have not yet seen much traction in the mass market.

In his speech, Jaaksi detailed some of the lessons Nokia had learned in its work with the Maemo developer community, primarily the need to avoid 'forking' code: "Don't make your own version," he said. "The original mistake we made was to take the code to our labs, change it and then release it at the last minute. The community had already gone in a different direction than [us], and no-one was pushing it other than [us]. Everybody wants to make their own version and keep it too close to their chest, but that leads to fragmentation."

The manufacturer has one other significant investment in open source, however: the software maker Trolltech, Nokia's purchase of which finally went through in the last few days. Trolltech makes Qt, a graphical toolkit that is used in the KDE Linux desktop environment and in much commercial software, and is an apparently non-participatory member in the LiMo Foundation.

LiMo is an industry consortium that is creating a common middleware layer to help Linux-based software make it onto handsets from a variety of manufacturers. However, neither LiMo nor Maemo use Qt or KDE, opting instead for the GTK+ toolkit and a Gnome-based desktop environment. This has led to a level of industry speculation that Nokia may withdraw Trolltech from LiMo, to use it for other purposes. Nokia stated, when it announced it was to buy Trolltech, that the purchase was to help it move into the applications market.

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk after his presentation, Jaaksi said Nokia was "only now" able to start thinking about what to do with LiMo. He said he felt Nokia had "a huge responsibility from a desktop and user interface point of view to see how we play our cards", and expressed a keenness to see KDE and Gnome brought "closer".

Jaaksi added that he believed Symbian, the proprietary operating system in which Nokia has a major share, would still "in years to come [be] the best platform on which to create smartphones".

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