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Trolltech + Nokia = Bad News

We have just had a discussion with one of our readers. The consensus appears to be that the Nokia-Trolltech acquisition is a bad ride. Allow us to explain why along with the many possibilities and factors worth weighing.

Our readers begins by stating: "I see a trend where the established proprietary oligopolies keep engulfing smaller FOSS companies. It already happened with SuSE Gmbh -> Novell (with the awful consequences of the Novell-Microsoft pact), MySQL -> Sun and now it is Trolltech -> Nokia."

Indeed, we have already seen one perspective where it's argued that Sun's ambiguity on software patents may be harmful to MySQL.

Our reader then ponders: "What was Nokia's position in the previous battles about software patents and EU politics?"

This is a very timely question because of the appalling developments in the United Kingdom. Let us look back for a moment and remind ourselves of Nokia's stance on the more relevant issues. Nokia called Ogg proprietary and also seemed to suggest that DRM is 'open' (or something along those lines). We mentioned this incident very briefly just several weeks ago.

Nokia also seemed to suggest that Ogg had problems which are associated with software patents, despite the fact that Ogg's parent company takes pride in checking such matters very carefully. We included a video about this just 3 days ago (watch the second one among the two). This company openly states and ensures that it can escape existing patents so as to dodge associated liabilities where software patents apply.

“Nokia is a DRM partner of Microsoft, among other initiatives where these two have partnered quite recently.”HTML 5, whose draft was unleashed about a week ago, does not contain Ogg primarily due to protest and rejection by Apple and Nokia. Apple supports DRM (do not believe the publicity stunt from Steve Jobs) and it's closer to Microsoft than you are led to believe (despite hostility in this everlasting love-hate relationship). Nokia is a DRM partner of Microsoft, among other initiatives where these two have partnered quite recently. Nokia also wrote a detailed report whose purpose was very clearly to intercept Ogg. This format a great threat to Adobe's Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight once it can be embedded in Web pages.

Mind you, KDE 4 -- just like Qt4 -- is coming to Windows. But let's not worry about this -- for now. We wish to have you reminded of the old story about Miguel de Icaza, who started working on GNOME just after his job interview at Microsoft [1, 2]. Ever since, GNOME has gained a greater market share than KDE (mostly at KDE's expense). This statement is based on the Desktop Linux survey from 2007.

Novell sort of dropped KDE (as the default desktop environment for businesses) in favour of GNOME some time after it had acquired Ximian and before signing the patent deal with Microsoft. This happened despite the fact that SuSE had had a long-standing tradition surrounding KDE. Even the current project manager of OpenSUSE is in fact a well-known KDE figure. Remember that a top Novell manager described the Ximian acquisition as a "red carpet" in what turned out to be a controversial statement.

We recently saw how Microsoft bought (by proxy) a company that competes against it. It's unlikely to be a coincidence given the compelling amount of evidence we have already amassed. Microsoft probably grabbed XenSource (via Citrix) just to eliminate disruptive competition from VMWare, Xen and Red Hat, which still has KVM and some other alternatives cooking. Red Hat and others won't be left 'naked' with other just-in-cases still out and about.

Again, however, let's not forget Mono and GNOME getting tighter [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, On Beagle's Increasing Mono-ization and Novell's Role] and be slightly worried about this Novell project (Mono is all about Novell) making its way into Ubuntu and other GNOME-based GNU/Linux distributions. With OOXML 'translators' and Moonlight, it seems more than apparent that a trap could be deliberately created which forces many people to use Mono, due to market inertia. Moments ago we posted an item stressing yet again the great dangers of Mono and also the broken promise (with solid proof of this in the written deal signed by Novell).

Our reader inquires: "Are the QT libraries ALREADY protected under he GPLv3 licence as was projected?"

I thought about this as well. My initial reaction, which I pointed out in a couple of places initially and later on elsewhere on the Web is that Nokia is now handling GPLv3-licensed software. Another thought that I had was all about Maemo and GTK. It's bizarre, isn't it? Why reinvent the wheel? You don't mix steak and strawberries although both taste wonderfully, but only if digested separately.

He continues: "How will this affect patent-wise the KDE desktop environment (specially the newer KDE4 which uses the newer QT libraries supposed to be licensed under the GPLv3) and all the Linux distros that use it? Will the free software movement become a victim of its own success and of established giants' corporate greed?"

Perhaps we ought to worry that it may be falling into the wrong hands. Acquisitions alone are not sinister by nature. I used to trust Nokia a great deal because of those Internet tablets, but several recent deals that they signed with Microsoft, followed by the Ogg fiasco, the Symbian moves which work in Symbian's favour (Linux applications ported to Symbian more trivially), the good financial results which boast proprietary software... you get the picture, right?

Our reader took a look at some early feedback and considered various other perspectives. "If you have a look to the comments the OSNews report, there seems to be a grim perspective over the buyout of Trolltech by Nokia," he says. See for yourself.

He quotes but one commenter (slightly modified):

First remember that recent bit from Ars Technica (Nokia wants W3C to remove Ogg from upcoming HTML5 standard).

Plus the fact that Nokia is strongly supporting software patentability. http://eupat.ffii.org/gasnu/nokia/index.en.html

Plus the fact that Nokia recently shut down the Bochum factory after having received abnormally high state subsidies: http://www.dw-world.de/dw/function/0,2145,12215_cid_3091297,00.html

That was the starters.

Now consider that Nokia has very little to bring to Trolltech...


And yes, it's publicly traded in Oslo. unlike MySQL, it sort of went beyond MySQL, which talked about the possibility of an IPO before getting snatched.

Trolltech is already doing well financially and manages to pay enough engineers to develop Qt very fast. It is not at all like Trolltech has an urgent need for an acquirer. You could say more money never hurts, but actually it can, first because each company needs to grow at its own pace and not faster than that, and second because that money comes at the price of independence.


Indeed. The question to ask is, who is Trolltech (Qt*) now dependent on? It is a benevolent dictator?

The other huge issue is that Nokia is already deeply involved with GTK and GNOME (and Maemo is based on that). So I am not sure what they are doing. I think they should announce clearly their intentions to the community. Are they ditching Maemo in favor of Qtopia, or are they trying to shut down Qtopia? The first is already bad as it reduces diversity; the second would of course be even much worse. Either way, it's bad news. Unfortunately I can't think of a better third option, but perhaps I'm missing something?


I could not quite figure out what Nokia gains, but articles will come soon and they will shed more light on this. According to the press release that I saw, they have an ambition to have a uniform environment that is portable in the sense that it can go over the Web, reach mobile phones and so forth. It does not have Microsoft fingerprints, so to speak, and Microsoft has its own competing environment. It is still hard to see the logic behind this, but there is always the possibility that Nokia just had a lot of extra cash to burn and it wanted to expand somehow. I can't help wondering how the KDE developers feel, but we shall find out pretty soon. The comment at OSNews concludes:

I don't know what the Trolltech management is doing but I think it's a terrible mistake. (For what it's worth I have been a fan of Trolltech and contribute a bit to KDE).


I don't want to throw about silly ideas, but with dual licensing you have got to wonder about prospects of forking the whole shebang entirely. It doesn't seem quite so possible. Bear in mind that Trolltech already does business with some companies which I are competing against Nokia, so one has to wonder if Nokia pulls an Ellison (a case of buying off a rival's vital foundation or pieces of the stack).

You will find more encouraging information in the article from Heise Online. It at least points out Nokia's new role in the Linux Foundation. [correction: a reader sent an E-mail to point out that "Nokia have been a member of the OSDL for some time."]

Nokia in turn became a member of the Linux Foundation - an organisation promoting the use of Linux and Open source founded by Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) and the Free Standards Group - last April. The source code of Nokia's mobile browser engine, for example, was already published under BSD license in mid 2006.


More details are yet to come, that's for sure.

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