What Nokia's Windows move means for Open Source

Many of Nokia's open-source partners aren't happy with its new buddy-buddy friendship with Microsoft, but they plan on making the best of it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When Nokia announced that it was going to use Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 for its smartphones some people saw this is a great move. Other folks, like yours truly, saw Nokia and Microsoft partnering being as dumb as betting that the Pittsburgh Pirates will win the 2011 World Series. But, what do Nokia's open-source partners think of this move? I asked, and as you might guess, they're not happy.

Jim Zemlin, head of The Linux Foundation tried to make the best of it, "The Linux Foundation is disappointed in Nokia's decision today to choose Microsoft as the primary platform for its mobile phones. Tough times give birth to difficult decisions that we don't always agree with, but open source is--at its core--about choice. We believe that open source software is more than a sum of its parts, and the market is currently bearing that out. The Linux Foundation is here to enable collaboration among its members and the Linux community, and we invite participation in MeeGo [an embedded Linux for smartphones and other devices that was supported by Intel and Nokia] and any of our other many projects and programs."

I might add that Nokia is a gold member of the Linux Foundation. Nokia's been a member of the Foundation since 2007. The Linux Foundation itself had been, and I presume will continue to be a big MeeGo supporter.  Nokia's move to Windows Phone 7 could not have made the Foundation nor its members happy.

In particular, although Nokia has said it will continue to support MeeGo, Intel, Nokia's chief MeeGo partner was not pleased. In a statement Intel said:

While we are disappointed with Nokia's decision, Intel is not blinking on MeeGo. We remain committed and welcome Nokia's continued contribution to MeeGo open source.

Our strategy has always been to provide choice when it comes to operating systems, a strategy that includes Windows, Android, and MeeGo. This is not changing.

MeeGo is not just a phone OS, it supports multiple devices. And we're seeing momentum across multiple segments--automotive systems, netbooks, tablets, set-top boxes and our Intel silicon will be in a phone that ships this year.

Still, you have to believe that Intel feels hosed by Nokia's move.

Another open-source group that's wondering what's going to happen next is Nokia's Qt division. Qt is the cross-platform framework behind both MeeGo and the KDE Linux desktop. Now, though, Qt looks like it's irrelevant to Nokia's future.

Aaron Seigo, a leading KDE developer and one of the chief designers of the KDE 4 desktop, wrote on his blog that "While I have little good to say of the announcement that was made, what remains of interest to me is the level of investment in Qt, the strategic positioning of MeeGo going forward and what KDE's role can and will be as both of those things continue to mature."

Seigo continued, "Open governance around Qt is moving forward briskly and from what I gather there are some interesting and useful announcements to come. R&D investment continues. However, we (KDE) won't know the full shape of how this will impact our landscape in the mid- and long-terms until we speak more with people at Nokia as well as within the Qt team itself. That's going to take weeks, not hours or days."

I asked Seigo for more of his thoughts on the matter and he replied, "The most important thing to keep in mind is that Qt is licensed under the LGPL (Lesser General Public License) and has a broad ecosystem around it. Regardless of what happens at Nokia, it won't be the end of the world."

While Qt's licensing situation is complicated, with no fewer than three possible licenses, the bottom line is that it's relatively easy to legally use Qt in software projects.

Seigo added, "That said, it is far, far too early to say anything conclusive about what it means for Qt and therefore by extension to F/OSS [Free and Open-Source Software] communities like KDE and their projects. We're (KDE) putting together an internal task force to work through these topics with Nokia as well as the broader Qt community and it will need a few weeks to arrive as useful conclusions."

"It's a dynamic situation that we're taking seriously and tracking, but we're also being careful not to jump the gun and either miss opportunities that arise as a result or make poor reactive decisions to challenges as yet not fully understood," he concluded.

That sounds like a fair assessment to me. We're going to need to wait and see.

I will add one more thing, from where I sit, Android is actually the least effected open-source project by Nokia's moves. MeeGo, followed by KDE and other Qt users are the ones with something to be concerned about. Google and its Android friends? I think they could care less.

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