Nokia Buys Trolltech

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Never a dull moment in the world of open source. First Sun buys MySQL, and now the Finnish telecom giant Nokia is acquiring Trolltech:

Nokia and Trolltech ASA today announced that they have entered into an agreement that Nokia will make a public voluntary tender offer to acquire Trolltech (www.trolltech.com), a company headquartered in Oslo, Norway and publicly listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. Trolltech is a recognized software provider with world-class software development platforms and frameworks. In addition to the key software assets, its talented team will play an important role in accelerating the implementation of Nokia’s software strategy.

And if you're a little hazy on what exactly Trolltech does, here's a summary:

Trolltech provides cross-platform software development frameworks and application platforms. Trolltech’s Qt is used in popular software such as Skype, Google Earth, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Lucasfilm and by more than 5000 customers worldwide. Trolltech’s Qtopia has enabled a new generation of exciting consumer devices such as mobile handsets, video-phones, set-top boxes and media players. Trolltech’s software has shipped in more than 10 million devices.

Trolltech’s products enable companies to easily build and deploy software across a wide range of operating systems and electronic devices. The company serves desktop and embedded application providers, as well as consumer electronics and mobile vendors, who face challenges in delivering user-friendly and differentiated software. Trolltech enables customers to accelerate innovation, shorten time to market and increase revenues. Trolltech’s software improves the user experience by increasing the appeal and quality of customer's applications on desktop and devices. The future proof Qt software allows developers to code less, create more and deploy anywhere.

As I've written elsewhere, Trolltech played an important role in the early days of free software: without it we would have neither KDE (which uses the Qt toolkit) nor GNOME (which was set up explicitly as an alternative to KDE because of some early licensing problems with Qt). So it's good to see that the company's slow but steady move to the heart of free software – symbolised by the adoption of version 3 of the GNU GPL – has paid off.

Against this background, Nokia's acquisition of Trolltech is hugely important. Indeed, I would say that it is even more important than Sun's recent move to buy MySQL. Where the latter is slightly problematic for reasons I've discussed elsewhere on this blog, Nokia's move seems like a pure, unadulerated win for the open source world.

First, it emphasises once more that open source companies create real value, and that those who found them, work in them and invest in them end up suitably rewarded. Secondly, it ensures that more resources are available for the development of Trolltech's products. Since the Qt framework lies at the heart of them, this means that the underlying toolkit for KDE will be one of the main beneficiaries. The latest iteration of the KDE environment was already good, but now it is likely to get better even faster.

The benefits flow the other way, too. Nokia is bringing core open source technology on board - something that is bound to have huge knock-on effects throughout the company. The importance it attaches to this aspect can be judged from the fact that Trolltech and Nokia have jointly issued a letter to the open source world, which recognises the indispensable nature of that community, and aims to reassure it over what this move means:

Nokia and Trolltech have today announced that we have agreed that Nokia will make a public tender offer to acquire Trolltech. Trolltech's management and board of directors support Nokia's offer. We felt it was important to directly inform you about this and to start an open dialog.

We will continue to actively develop Qt and Qtopia. We also want to underline that we will continue to support the open source community by continuing to release these technologies under the GPL.

Trolltech has benefited greatly from the feedback the community has been providing while using Qt to develop free software. We respect the symbiotic relationship Qt has with the community and we wish to continue and enhance this relationship.

...

Nokia is committed to continue Trolltech’s current open source engagements, including honoring the KDE Free Qt agreement, and we will seek to strengthen our support of KDE in the future. As a first step Nokia will apply to become a Patron of KDE.

Above all this is a huge boost for open source on mobile phones. Nokia is arguably the top player in this market; today's announcement means that it is likely to employ even more open source technologies in its handsets and elsewhere. As Nokia moves forward in the mobile phone sector, it will carry free software with it, and thus increase the chances that what is likely to become the main post-PC computing platform will be based around free, not proprietary, software.

Update: Roy Schestowitz has a much more pessimistic take - well worth reading.

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