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Nokia OS director on Symbian buy

Jun 24, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 4 views

[Updated Jun. 25] — Following today's news that Nokia will release Symbian as open source, LinuxDevices spoke with Ari Jaaksi, Nokia's director of open source. We asked Dr. Jaaksi how the move affects the company's Linux strategy, participation in, and its strategy regarding Trolltech tools.

Jaaksi is responsible for open source efforts at Nokia, including the project that creates software for Nokia's Linux-based Internet tablets. So far, these include the original 770, the N800, the N810, and a forthcoming WiMAX-enabled N810 model.

770, N800, N810, and N810-WiMAX
(Click any device for details)

Jaaksi emphasized that Nokia's commitment to open source Symbian will not impact its commitment to Maemo, nor to Linux as an OS for Internet tablets. He stressed, “By no means does this activity indicate that we are abandoning our Maemo and Linux activity. Maemo and Linux will be a separate activity, but we have plans to go faster with that track, too.”

Jaaksi may have been referring to Nokia's commitment to supply Sprint with WiMAX-enabled versions of its N810 Internet tablet. Sprint plans to launch its Xohm WiMAX service in Baltimore this September, with commercial service in Chicago and Washington, DC to follow in the fourth quarter, according to reports.

Jaaksi did hint, however, that Nokia's Linux and Symbian efforts won't stay separate indefinitely. “Our goal is to have the same UI on both Linux and Symbian, and the Qt platform lets us move forward toward that, with its cross platform technology.”

Trolltech's Qt tools have long aimed to let developers target multiple OSes from a single C++ codebase. Just prior to being acquired, Trolltech ported Qt to Windows CE and Windows Mobile, suggesting that in the future, Nokia could offer the same UI on all three major smartphone platforms. It could also be in a position to help mobile application developers deal with cross-platform development issues, much as Trolltech's tools offerings have historically helped desktop software vendors like Opera, Google Earth, and Skype target Linux, Windows, and Mac OSes from the same codebase.

Nokia's continuing Linux development, will not, however, spread to the smartphone market, Jaaksi said, at least not in the short-term. “We are expanding our Linux development, but we currently do not have any product announcement on Linux smartphones,” he said.

We asked Dr. Jaaksi whether the Symbian Foundation's intention to apportion board seats according to units shipped could give Nokia too much control. He suggested that rather than control, the Foundation would be designed to create a climate of contribution. “Nokia has more manpower to push the technology forward, so we will contribute a lot, but the Foundation will be organized so that if as a member you want to get something done, then you can go ahead and build it,” he said.

Dr. Jaaksi elaborated, “With the Eclipse public license, the person who contributes the code still owns the code. If you build something into the software, you can easily use that in your product, and if you plan to bring out some new cool hardware, you can go ahead and build it [to run] the software. So it's a starting point on top of which you can build your own or add your own favorite protocol.”

He added, “Our intention is now to gather the code that will be available under Eclipse Public License, and attract different parties to contribute to it. We want to have an environment where we all contribute to the same code space.”

Additional excerpts from our brief chat with Dr. Jaaksi are transcribed below.

Q1 — A lot of industry groups have “fair and nondiscriminatory” cross license agreements, so if you use the technology and add to it you must agree to let other members of the group also use that. Will the Symbian Foundation have a similar agreement?

A1. — I'm not sure if we've finally decided what will happen, and who will maintain the copyrights. But if you build something into the software, of course you can immediately use that in your product. You are the first one who can use that. So it's an even playing field, a starting point, and you can start to do your own product differentiation through hardware or through protocols. Really, the intention is to keep it contribution-based.

If someone contributes something, nothing prohibits someone to use their platform and build on top of it. Now, as we plan to unify these different UI technologies, there are already slightly different flavors where people can pick and choose. We need to leave room for innovation.”

Q2 — The EPL is probably not compatible with the GPL, so it will not be possible to mix software from, say, Symbian and Linux. Is that right?

A2 — Yes, I agree. However, with Qt, the software is available under different licenses, including open source and commercial. We now own all the copyrights, so we have the possibility of using Qt in both platforms.

Q3 — Initial Foundation members have pledged to work toward a unification of the Symbian UI layer. What are the challenges and benefits of doing so?

A3 — Instead of having all these UI flavors competing, we decided it was better to come up with a common roadmap. It is a technical challenge to merge different code bases. You have to come up with compromises. The UiQ is very advanced, offering features like touch optimization, so the UI may be more like that going forward. Our immediate goal is to get the UIs closer to each other. They won't be the same on day one, but now we can start. For the first time we can look at the code. It's a huge benefit to be able to work on the code level. We want to get up higher on the stack and to get to the UI layer. That is the plan for the Foundation.”

Q4 — What's the opportunity for Nokia in the phone and device software tools market? Will Nokia aggressively target software vendors building mobile phone applications?

A4 — Trolltech is a good tools company and now we can offer their marvelous tools and assets. Now, if we can offer the tools to device makers in the phone market, but also in the other industries. We can help people write multi-platform software that would also [then] run on our devices.

We plan to develop these tools not just for Nokia, but for others. If you're going to build tools, they need to be more widely used, as opposed to being only for internal development. [Putting] yourself into a proprietary corner is no longer the way to go.

Q5 — From that, it sounds as if we might see Trolltech's tools moving toward integration with Eclipse, or possibly even being set up under the governance of an independent governing body or Foundation of their own. Can we expect any such announcements?

A5 — It's too early to say. It's an idea we have discussed. We are always looking for ways to increase the number of people using the tools. But it's too early to say.

To learn more about Nokia's view of the role of open source in consumer product development, be sure to read Dr. Jaaksi's paper, Building consumer products with open source. Also of possible relevance is a 2005 interview with Jaaksi about Nokia's 770 tablet development philosophy, highlighting Nokia's ground-breaking use of desktop Linux software in mobile devices.

Also, be sure to read our earlier coverage of Nokia's Symbian buy. And, a guest opinion on the deal by VisionMobile Analyst Andreas Constantinou can be found here.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

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