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Nokia talks Qt strategy, tactics

Oct 29, 2008 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 4 views

REDWOOD CITY, CALIF. — Nokia hopes to increase the number of developers working on its Qt GUI toolkit tenfold. In opening remarks at its annual Developer Days conference today, Qt Software Chief Sebastian Nystrom (pictured) invited attendees to look for online job postings, commenting, “We're hiring.”

target=”new” href=”/ldfiles/misc/qt_sw_dd08_sebastian_nystrom.jpg”>(Click for larger view of Nyström)

The event was staged earlier this month in Munich, Germany, and again this week in Redwood City. The fifth-annual event was the first since Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech, and it reportedly broke previous attendance records. About 250 appear to be here, with twice as many having gone to the event in Germany, a Nokia representative said. A show of hands suggested about a quarter were device developers, with the rest working on software for desktops. A small minority came for a newly added “business” track.

Highlights of the plenary sessions included:

  • Nyström introducing himself and outlining Nokia's vision for Qt
  • Chief Technologist Benoit Schillings discussing device science trends
  • VP of Engineering Lars Knoll recapping the recent technical preview of Qt 4.5, and unveiling the roadmap for 4.6

Additionally, the event included presentations from industry analysts and observers, followed by technical sessions in the afternoon, with more to follow tomorrow.

Whither the Trolls?

Nokia acquired Trolltech in June, rebranded its products in Sep., and previewed an S60 port earlier this month. More ports will be following, Nyström said — presumably to Android (Qt already has a “Jambi” Java port), the iPhone, LiMO, and any other device environments likely to prove significant as Internet service delivery platforms. More about that shortly.

Trolltech is best known for Qt (“cute”), the dominant open source C++ GUI toolkit (GTK being the dominant C GUI toolkit). Commercial and proprietary software developers are expected to license Qt commercially, and Trolltech sells graphical toolkits aimed at enabling source code re-use between target OSes, easing the burden for ISVs that have to deliver on multiple platforms. Traditionally, Linux, Windows, Mac OS, and Java virtual machines were the primary targets. More recently, Trolltech completed a Windows CE/Mobile port. (Also recently completed — a 64-bit port to the native API in Mac OS X 10.5 and later.)

Additionally, Trolltech has for many years offered Qt Extended (formerly Qt for Embedded Linux, formerly Qtopia), an application stack for mobile Linux devices. Back in 1999, Sharp chose Qtopia for its Zaurus PDAs, and a vibrant software ecosystem developed around the platform for a time. More recently, Trolltech delivered feature phone and VoIP phone versions of the stack, with the latter achieving notable success — for example in a recently announced LG-Nortel business phone and Tandberg videophone.

In kicking off the conference, Nyström emphasized Nokia's interest in horizontally broadening Qt support across as many platforms as possible. Asked whether the company would also target new verticals, such as automotive infotainment, Nyström did not rule out the possibility. However, in a private interview with LinuxDevices, he admitted, “For Nokia, the real value of Trolltech is in Qt.”

Nokia's motivation for acquiring Trolltech

Speaking candidly with, Nyström said Nokia's interest was piqued by the Rhapsody music player, which Real Networks first made available in Mar. of 2007 for the Nokia-sponsored Maemo software platform used in Nokia's Linux-based N800 and N810 Internet tablets. Noting that the app delivers an online service, while integrating HTML user interface elements, he pointed out that Qt's recent webkit integration could help relatively novice developers quickly create client device software for a range network services. Citing GPS navigation systems as one obvious example, he observed that developers can “start with the HTML, or the scripting.”

Another obvious example might be the Qt-based interface within the Roku Netflix appliance, which can be used to browse movie poster art and details, select media streams for download and playback, and even to submit form data (movie ratings). Essentially, it works pretty much like a web page, yet has the feel of a traditional PC application, and works with a remote control instead of a mouse.

In his opening remarks, Nyström emphasized the convergence of desktop and device software, observing, “Users want the same software on their devices as on their desktops, and expect the same user experience.”

Gartner's most recent report on the smartphone market suggests that in Q2 of this year, smartphones held an 11 percent share of mobile phone sales, despite tough economic times. The nascent smartphone and mobile device markets have yet to see significant consolidation, with Symbian/S60, Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Mac OS X, Palm OS, and recently Android/Java all in the race. Meanwhile, private carrier networks are increasingly well-connected to the public Internet, and 4G data services like WiMAX and HSDPA are coming online, increasing the potential to deliver network services to mobile devices. Carriers and Internet service providers like Netflix, Real Networks, and Nokia's own Navteq division wish to deliver their offerings on a variety of platforms, possibly creating a market for toolkits such as Qt that can promote source code reuse across different platforms.

Benoit Schillings
(Click to enlarge)

Longer term, though, there are plenty of wildcards with regards to Nokia's plans for Qt. Schilling commented, somewhat cryptically, that as a company comprised mainly of engineers, Trolltech has always worked “inductively,” exploring technology independently from market forces, which after all often simply follow technological innovation. For its part, Nokia employs some 14,000 engineers tasked with nothing more pragmatic than “R&D.” Nyström wondered aloud, in his remarks, whether Nokia might not have the world's largest pure R&D organization. Obviously, there's synergy in the pioneering use of C++ by both Symbian and Trolltech. What other symbioses emerge may be anyone's guess.

And whither Qt?

Lars Knoll
(Click to enlarge)

The conference came on the heels of a technology preview release of Qt 4.5 that became available last week. Set for general availability in Jan. 2009, the next Qt edition promises significant performance optimizations, primarily in the area of graphics, according to VP of Engineering Lars Knoll, who outlined recent Qt developments and roadmap points-of-interest. Trolltech promoted Knoll to VP of engineering last December.

Other touted Qt 4.5 features described by Knoll include:

Interestingly, Knoll credited the open source community around Qt for all of the above integrations. Knoll also showed off the open source, Qt- and webkit-based Arora browser playing back a YouTube video.

As for planned features for 4.6, expected in about a year, Knoll described interesting user interface and animation improvements, along with new APIs for Bluetooth and USB. Lots more details about Qt 4.5 can be found here.

In related news, Qt Software also released a preview edition of Qt Creator (formerly codenamed “Project Greenhouse”). The cross-platform IDE includes an advanced C++ code editor, graphical debugger and layout/forms builder, cross-platform build tools, and context-sensitive help. It can be downloaded here.

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