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Is Nokia readying a Linux smartphone?

Aug 11, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

Nokia is moving forward with rumored plans to use Maemo Linux on some of its smartphones, and will eventually phase out Symbian on smartphones altogether, says an industry report. Meanwhile, Nokia announced a new name — Qt Development Frameworks — for its Qt Software division, known for its cross-platform Qt development framework.

According to a story by Thomas Wendel in Financial Times Deutschland (FTD), Symbian's outdated code lies at the heart of Nokia's intended transition to Linux. "Symbian is much too cumbersome to keep up with modern operating systems," an unnamed source close to Nokia was quoted as saying. "We have to react."

Nokia finally faced up to Symbian's limits when developing its new touch-enabled N97 smartphone, says the story. Extensive adjustments were said to be required in the N97 project to tweak Symbian for touchscreen use and other advanced functions. Symbian is based on the Epoc operating system, developed by pocket computer maker Psion back in the '90s, and has now bloated to upwards of 20 million lines of code, according to the story.

Signs point to Linux

Last year, Nokia announced it was acquiring Symbian and turning it into an open source OS under a new Symbian Foundation formed by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Ericcson, Panasonic, Siemens, AT&T, LG, Samsung, STMicroelectrics, TI, and Vodafone. While this move was seen as giving a shot-in-the-arm to the fading, but still dominant Symbian OS, even then there were signs that Nokia might be considering Linux as a long-term option.

Around the same time, for example, the company acquired Norwegian software firm Trolltech, renaming it Qt Software, before today renaming it again to Qt Development Frameworks (see farther below). The division sells a cross-platform Qt development framework that Nokia has said it hopes to apply to Symbian phones, yet Qt is also especially strong in the embedded Linux field.

Around the same time, Reuters quoted a Nokia source as saying a Linux phone was being considered by the company. Reuters followed up with a report in December, this time with a named source. Nokia VP Ukko Lappalainen was quoted as saying, "In the longer perspective, Linux will become a serious alternative for our high-end phones."

oFono to the rescue

Nokia's Linux plans took further shape in June, when Nokia and Intel announced a long-term partnership to develop "a new class of Intel Architecture-based mobile computing device and chipset architectures." More immediately, however, Intel acquired a Nokia HSPA/3G modem IP license as part of the deal, and the two companies vowed to increase collaboration between their pet, open source Linux MID (mobile Internet device) projects: the Intel-backed Moblin and Nokia's Maemo mobile platforms.

Even before the announcement, a joint, open source development project was underway between the projects called oFono, which aims to bring cellular telephony capability to the platforms. The oFono stack is based on open source Linux and a high-level D-Bus interconnection API, and targets the development of GSM/UMTS applications.

While oFono and related technology should eventually lead to cellular voice-enabled Moblin MIDs and Maemo-based Nokia Internet Tablets, it could also help the platforms jump to the smartphone arena. Since earlier this year, various rumors have emerged of new Nokia devices that bridge the gap between smartphones and Internet Tablets.

Waiting for the N900

The first of these devices appears to be the official Maemo 5 upgrade of the N810 Internet Tablet (pictured), which is being called "Rover" on the way to a final designation as the N900, according to a number of reports.

The new tablet is expected to be formally unveiled in Amsterdam at the Maemo Summit in October, according to a story by Markus Goebel in TechCrunch Europe, which reported on the FTD story. Noted Goebel in referring to the latest Nokia Linux rumors and Nokia's recent acquisition of Symbian, "It wouldn't be the first time that Nokia makes an acquisition just to throw it away. In the last four years Nokia spent billions to buy companies like Intellisync,, Loudeye, Twango, Enpocket, Oz Communications, Gate5, Starfish Software, Navteq, Avvenu, Plazes and Cellity."

Qt changes name, domain

Qt Software, which was called Trolltech before being acquired by Nokia last year, is now Qt Development Frameworks, and the web address has switched to, says Nokia.

The latest Qt name change continues Trolltech's long history of confusing name changes for its various Qt-related products. For example, the popular "Qtopia" Linux application stack for mobile Linux devices, was changed to "Qt for Embedded Linux," and then "Qt Extended," before finally being discontinued this year, as the functionality is folded into the larger Qt framework.

Yet developers are better equipped than most in sorting out such confusion, and Qt has seen steady progress in attracting them to its cross-platform development framework. This is especially so since Qt has added an LGPL licensing option to the new Qt. 4.5.

In the official explanation of the name change below, it is interesting that Nokia mentions future Maemo involvement as part of the decision. Qt's involvement in Maemo was widely expected, but there have been no formal announcements, as far as we know.

Stated Daniel Kihlberg, director of global sales, marketing, and services for Nokia, Qt Development Frameworks, "We want to increase the use of Qt by mobile developers and to achieve this we've strengthened our name's link to the Nokia brand. The progress of our new Qt for S60 product and our future involvement in Maemo are examples of how Qt will reach out to mobile developers in addition to desktop and web developers."


More information on Qt may be found at its new domain, here.

The Financial Times Deutschland story on Nokia's Linux plans may be found here, and the TechCrunch Europe story should be here.

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