Nokia bringing Linux and Qt to S40?

Rumours are saying that Nokia’s “Meltemi” project is about melting Linux and Series40 and adding some Qt magic in the process of doing it.

As you probably know, Series 40 is currently based on Nokia’s proprietary operating system. To my knowledge it is completely inhouse developed. So far this has worked, because the requirements for the OS have been quite modest. The only allowed platform for third party software has been JavaME. From the OS point of view Java makes things simple, because Java provides its own sandbox and runtime environment for the apps.

When Qt is added to the mix, things start to get complicated. With Qt people want to develop native software. It is possible to use Qt bindings with languages like Python or Java, but especially is resource limited devices this is not something you want to do. The problem with native 3rd party software is that suddenly you have native stuff running in your environment, written by people you can’t completely trust. Now this is nothing new, modern operating systems are good at keeping the software within its limits, protecting processes from each other, keeping programs from crashing the operating system and so on. Since all this is widely available in open source format (read: Linux kernel) it does not really make sense to rewrite your own wheel.

When Nokia scrapped Meego people widely thought they were also abandoning Linux. It looks like this was not the case. Almost immediately after that bad news, there was some leaked internal memos saying that part of the Meego developers could find a new project in project “Meltemi”.

If this Series40+Qt+Linux is true, it could be potentially huge thing. The combination is likely to power the Nokia’s “Next Billion” strategy. Nokia might be little bit challenged when it comes to high end smartphones, but nobody has questioned its capability of producing quality low cost phones for emerging markets. Android is the obvious competitor in lower price points, but the licensing problems can become a severa problem. It is not easy to produce competitive 100€ phone if you need to shell out 10-20€ per phone as patent license fees to your competitors. It will be also very difficult for others to match the capabilities of Qt platform. It is one thing to put together a new “mobile Linux OS”, like Samsung and Intel are doing. It is completely other thing to provide good environment for 3rd party software developers and right now there does not seem to be some many such environments available for Linux, except Qt. The trend is now to speak about HTML5 and Javascript. I believe this is mostly because the vendors have no choice. Qt is controlled by Nokia, Java by Oracle.