Don't write off Nokia and Qt yet

Perhaps Nokia isn't going to ditch Qt after all

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When Nokia announced that it would be handing off its Qt commercial licensing and support business to Digia, a lot of pundits--myself included--wondered aloud or in print just how this would help Qt?

My conclusion, admittedly, was not exactly positive.

[ See also: Nokia drops commercial Qt services ]

Even though I understood that this was not going to be some sort of fork, and that Nokia said they were committed to Qt development, I could not understand how or why Nokia would continue to remain involved in Qt development for the long-term. Commercial revenue from Qt would presumably be shared with Digia now (and therefore decreased), and Symbian and MeeGo's (the two Nokia platforms that use the Qt libraries) respective prominence in Nokia is also expected to decrease, as the prominence of Windows Mobile 7 devices rises.

But my conclusions--cynical as they were--may have been hasty, according to Aaron Seigo.

Seigo, a long-time developer in the KDE community, works for Nokia on Qt, and reached out to me last week after I posted my initial take on the Nokia/Digia deal and politely told me I was completely wrong.

"i understand the frustration and disappointment with Nokia and there is a lot of uncertainty within the Qt community with all the shuffling around... but it's painful to see things like the Digia sale misrepresented, which just adds to the challenges we face," Seigo wrote in his typically what's-a-Shift-key? manner.

That's not something I like to hear, because Seigo is one of the people in the community whom I regard highly. But, if I got something wrong, I'd best find out. So I managed to get on the phone with Seigo this morning from his new home office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Before I get into that conversation, I should also note that Sebastian Nyström Nokia's VP, Head of MeeGo, Qt & WebKit, also posted a response to articles like mine and others on Monday. In the response on Qt's blog, Nyström went after the media and blogosphere content surrounding the Qt/Digia announcement, clarifying what he deemed fiction.

A word of advice for Mr. Nyström: you might want to be careful how you phrase some of your clarifications. Because some of them made Nokia sound like it is still spinning. Of particular note was the response directed at articles like mine:

"'This divestment is occurring as a result of the Nokia Windows Phone smartphone strategy' True or False?

False. We began the process of finding a partner to service Qt commercial customers in 2010. It made sense then to find a company with a core interest in commercial license sales to manage this and it still makes sense now."

Nyström's answer is a non-answer, because even though it says Nokia was looking for a new home for service Qt's customer business in 2010, that's meaningless. That makes the assumption that Nokia execs only thought of, considered, discussed, and implemented its partnership with Microsoft completely in the 75 days we have had to date in 2011. Counting weekends. While I suppose that's not impossible, it's very unlikely Nokia came up with the idea to partner with Microsoft and implemented in such a short time.

I could just as easily turn around and point out to Nyström that the Windows Phone 7 deal was also being worked on in 2010. And even it the timelines were in Nyström's favor, how would anyone be able to demonstrate that Nokia wasn't influenced by even the future possibility of a Microsoft deal?

Better, I think, to prove that Microsoft wasn't involved in the decision to hand off the commercial Qt business to Digia, by demonstrating Nokia's continued commitment to Qt. If that commitment is real, then it invalidates the admittedly cynical view of the Qt/Digia deal.

And based on my conversation with Seigo, I think Nokia is much more committed to Qt than most people would expect.

Seigo outlined that Qt is still heavily in use within Nokia, both on the aforementioned Symbian and MeeGo projects, as well as other internal projects that Nokia isn't noising around so much.

And Symbian, for instance, is far from dead. "Nokia is predicting over 150 million Symbian devices still to come," Seigo said, an estimate that he feels may actually be below the mark. "I think they've underestimated the longevity of Symbian."

That's a lot of platforms to develop for Symbian, and Qt plays a big role in that. "Projects continue around MeeGo too," Seigo added. "It's not an abandoned platform."

What will really change the game, though, is the progress Nokia is making in the area of open governance for Qt.

"The open governance model is something we can do to put Qt on a firmer footing with the developer community," Seigo told me. He said to look for announcements from Nokia on this topic in the next month or so.

Nokia is already more committed to open than some might recall. The KDE Free Qt Foundation, co-founded by KDE e.V. (the non-profit foundation for KDE) and TrollTech in 1998, is specifically designed to keep Qt free in the event that a commercial entity like TrollTech decided to make the software proprietary, Seigo reminded me. That arrangement is still in place after Nokia's 2008 acquisition of TrollTech, and Seigo expects it will be continued under the current arrangement with Digia.

That Nokia has made that commitment to honor the Free Qt Foundation is more telling than anything it has said or done. They could have always lawyered up and gotten themselves out of it, but they haven't. Something that's worth noting.

Seigo did not reveal what open governance steps might be taken in the months ahead, but they could go a long way towards convincing developers that Nokia's continued involvement in Qt development will remain strong.

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