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01.29.08

A Reader Explains the Nokia/Trolltech Effect on KDE

Posted in Antitrust, Deals, GNU/Linux, KDE at 1:39 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Moments ago we found the following interesting bit from the BBC:

The EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes talks to Peter Day about her power and influence on takeovers and cartels … and the benefits to consumers.

In the above, mind the part about takeovers and recall yesterday's discussion which involved one of our readers. Another reader wrote in to share his excellent insights on this topic. He permitted us to share parts of the correspondence:


[BN:] I know you like KDE and I really don’t like that new marriage…

[...]

[Reader:] We’re still trying to work out what the Nokia acquisition means…

Yes we like KDE, but have never had any dealings with Trolltech…

They’ve always been a source of problems for KDE. Right back in the old days, it was the licencing terms around QT that caused the formation of GNOME and the GNOME-KDE wars. From my (entirely personal) perspective, this got sorted out by the GPLing of QT for Free Software projects.

Trolltech have always occupied that strange ambiguous place. I have never understood how a Free Software/Open Source company can view itself as a product company, and Trolltech illustrate the case very well. I’ve never viewed the guys there as evil however, just disinterested.

Nokia are quite a different bucket of worms. As you point out, the Nokia attitude to software patents sucks, and they have been responsible for a reasonable amount of evil. My gut feel is that the Trolltech acquisition is *bad news*.

I’m afraid that’s all I can give you at the moment, and it’s all in the area of subjective viewpoint and speculation – as I said, we are trying to figure it all out ourselves right now…

The only concrete thing I can give you which is worth looking into is the licencing issue. At the moment QT is effectively GPL… [someone] tells me that the talk by Trolltech caused a few people to scratch there heads and ask “what was *that* all about?”… It seems that Trolltech repeated several times that if they went bust, or were *acquired*, then QT would be moved to a *BSD* licence… We suspect that the speaker had knowledge of the upcoming deal, hence the reiteration that the licencing of QT was about to change.

What does it all mean? I don’t know yet. I have a bad feeling that it may well reopen the KDE-GNOME wars, and it doesn’t look too great to me if QT disappears down a BSD hole and into the death-grip of a serial proprietrist with a hard-on for software patents :(

At best we are looking at a GPL’d ‘OpenQT’ for based on the last available GPL code, and life continues as usual.

It’s a damn shame it’s happened though. And as you point out on BN, we are seeing the oligopolists picking off some of the vulnerable Free Software infants :(

In one sense, the vulnerability comes as soon as a Free Software company accepts VC cash. In Trolltechs case, they had taken it one step further on when they floated on the Norwegian stock exchange. From there, it was almost impossible for them to accept an offer like Nokia’s – they were answerable to their investors.

Finally, at it’s widest view, it raises the interesting question of whether a Free Software company can stay true to the principles of Free Software once it has taken VC money and/or external investors…

[...]

[BN:] As I repeatedly say, just ignoring a problem (e.g. Mono, Novell) won’t make it go away. Awareness is our pal.

[Reader:] …please be clear that musings are all they are at the moment. I don’t have any kind of insider knowledge here, we are trying to figure the deal out as we speak, and I am merely *speculating*…

[...]

Some more of our current thinking…

Glyn has an entirely positive take on the deal:
http://www.computerworlduk.com/toolbox/open-source/blogs/inde…

If Glyn is *correct*, and Nokia intend for the GPL to stay, then we are in a ‘net neutral’ position for the Free Software world. We then only have Nokia management incompetence and stupidity to fear…

Where we are seeing a strange ambiguity about this is in the semi-private statements from Trolltech to the KDE ‘insiders’ at the KDE4 launch a little while back (referred to in my last email). It is here in its entirety:
http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=28669672489934…

“You will see that he goes out of his way to point out that QT would end up BSD’d after an acquisition…”The really revealing stuff is 15 mins 30 seconds in to the presentation. Bear in mind that this is Trolletech’s CEO, and he flew off immediately after the speech (most likely back to the negotiations with Nokia – a €100m+ deal would be right at the top of his ‘todo’ list). You will see that he goes out of his way to point out that QT would end up BSD’d after an acquisition…

Our best be as to what the deal is all about is QTopia. Nokia will be aware of the platform’s potential and will probably have seen the Open Moko.
As a corporate, they would be paying a licence fee to Trolltech for its use. Some bean counter would have added up the figures and declared “it would be cheaper to buy them”, and so it came to pass…

In this scenario, the Free Software piece would be incidental, if not irrelevant, to Nokia. It is entirely possible they would be content to allow it to continue as a GPL project. As I say above, we then ‘only’ have the problem of incompetent Nokia management being applied to it – if they only care about the QTopia piece, they will not likely care much about the KDE relationship, or any of the other responsibilities Trolltech have taken on as part of their participation in the Free Software world…

I guess only time will tell…


We shall certainly write more about this development as things begin to come clearer.

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6 Comments

  1. Anonymous said,

    January 29, 2008 at 2:34 am

    Gravatar

    > It seems that Trolltech repeated several times that if they went bust, or were *acquired*, then QT would be moved to a *BSD* licence…

    That’s a complete false statement and it’s no surprise that this site reposts such rubbish. Why don’t you read the KDE Free Qt Foundation docs? It’s up in the Web:

    “In particular, should Trolltech ever discontinue making regular releases of the Qt Free Edition for any reason – including a buyout or merger of Trolltech or the liquidation of Trolltech – the Qt Free Edition will be released under the BSD license ”

    Quite a difference meaning.

  2. David Mohring (NZheretic) said,

    January 29, 2008 at 3:04 am

    Gravatar

    http://lwn.net/Articles/94945/

    KDE.News reports that Trolltech and the KDE Free Qt Foundation have signed an updated agreement. “The revised Agreement continues to honour the original purposes of the Foundation. In particular, should Trolltech ever discontinue making regular releases of the Qt Free Edition for any reason – including a buyout or merger of Trolltech or the liquidation of Trolltech – the Qt Free Edition will be released under the BSD license and optionally under one or more other Open Source Licenses designated by the Board of the Foundation.”

  3. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 29, 2008 at 3:29 am

    Gravatar

    That a relief. The reader who worried about that will hopefully see this important update/correction.

  4. David Mohring (NZheretic) said,

    January 29, 2008 at 4:16 am

    Gravatar

    http://www.kde.org/whatiskde/kdefreeqt_announcement_20040723.php
    http://www.kde.org/whatiskde/kdefreeqtfoundation.php#updated_agreement

  5. Victor Soliz said,

    January 29, 2008 at 10:35 am

    Gravatar

    I think that’s not a great thing if QT goes to a BSD license like that deal says, losing the GPL on this will not be a great thing and shall allow some propietary garbage to come out of such an important thing as QT, I just hope Nokia don’t go into trying to break Trolltech’s deal and force the Free QT foundation to use a less protective license , cause it sounds like exactly what Microsoft would like to happen.

  6. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 29, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Gravatar

    Microsoft loves BSD. Ask people who know about licences and they’ll tell you this. With BSD, it would be easier for Microsoft to crush some more competitors.

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