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01.28.08

Trolltech + Nokia = Bad News

Posted in Apple, Deals, DRM, GNOME, GNU/Linux, KDE, Microsoft, Novell, Oracle at 10:21 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

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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14 Comments

  1. SubSonica said,

    January 28, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Gravatar

    Nokia’s stance about software patents should instantly sound the alarm siren inside any Free Software developer/user/advocate’s head. Apart from that, the ugly incident of HTML5 and Ogg just shows Nokia’s true colors. Wish I am wrong, but you can see on the dot.kde.org piece of news that a lot of people has similar concerns…
    http://dot.kde.org/1201517986/
    Apart from that, in case of hostile maneouvers to subvert or undermine KDE/QT development and the underlying freedoms of the projects’ licences develop on the part of Nokia, hope the guys in charge of KDE can do better than Miguel did with the Microvell agreement…

  2. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 28, 2008 at 11:20 am

    Gravatar

    Quite a lot of comments there, including some angry ones. This one stands out: “At the slightest sign of QT becoming a piece of shit like Symbian, we should fork QT and the hell with Nokia et all.”

    Like you, I really do hope that I’m wrong (see my comments in Groklaw and elsewhere), so I’ll continue to watch the analyses.

  3. SubSonica said,

    January 28, 2008 at 11:42 am

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    I think there is a comment in the dot.kde article that sums the fundamental different between not-for-profit and small or medium-firm based FOSS development initiatives lead by hacker-geniuses and technology enthusiasts and the big corporate moguls that make it so difficult to trust the latter:

    “Companies the size of Nokia get run by accountants and lawyers.”

  4. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 28, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Gravatar

    Winter at Groklaw has just asked me if they can fork and escape. I don’t think they should, I don’t know if it’s possible and frankly I’m still trying to find strong evidence suggesting that I’m wrong. This isn’t freaking me out (the same goes for the Sun/MySQL deal), but whatever that means, it will have a tremendous impact not only on desktop Linux, but also on mobile Linux, which is more important than the desktop when it comes to growth.

    Heck, didn’t Nokia sort of demote Linux on phones (tablets aside)? I’m going by memory here. Phones are the crown jewels of Nokia. The Finnish roots don’t mean all that much. Linus lives like a celebrity in CA anyway, but he loves KDE and I imagine he likes Nokia. His opinion on this would be invaluable.

  5. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 28, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Gravatar

    Update: More good insights and various links here at Radu’s blog.

    It might take a while to digest all of this. The open letter seems like some kind of ‘damage mitigation/control’, but maybe that’s just paranoia. We shall see…

  6. SubSonica said,

    January 28, 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Gravatar

    I don´t think Linus can do too much about this particular issue beyond voicing his concern -provided that is the case-, also you have to take into account its mild attitude towards the software patents problem and towards the GPLv3. The problem is that big established tech corporations are increasingly resorting to software patentability as the only way to stop FOSS development (as a “disruptive” development model they cannot control) opening markets they used to have throatchoke control over in the form of oligo/monopoly. Another option is to buy/kill potential competitors while they are still young… I can see both strategies at play here.

    Have a good read at this comment on the same site by Datschge:

    That was a major WTF news to me. Ages ago I read the
    majority of Trolltech shares were owned by current and
    former employees, so I’m surprised at the reported
    easiness Nokia was able to get the majority of
    Trolltech’s shares. Nokia has a long history of heavy
    pro software patent lobbying. The Foundation for a
    Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) lists several
    worrying points related to Nokia at
    http://www.swpat.ffii.org/gasnu/kamni/index.en.html

    -Software Patents in Finnland: Between 1998 and 2003
    the Finnish Patent Office (FiPO/FiPRH) did not follow
    the European Patent Office’s (EPO) decisions to grant
    literal claims to information objects such as
    “computer program product, characterised by …”. In
    2003 the FiPO suddenly rushed to grant such claims,
    although both the European Commission and the European
    Parliament had proposed not to allow them and the
    existing laws clearly forbid them. (…) Nokia owns
    about 70-80% of the finnish software patents at the
    EPO and is said to wield overwhelming influence on
    Finnland’s politics. Nokia’s patent department has
    been intensively lobbying for software patentability
    in Helsinki, Brussels and Strasburg.

    -Nokia und Software-Patente: Tim Frain, head of
    Nokia’s patent department, is a “permanent resident”
    of the European parliament and has used every
    opportunity to ask politicians in Brussels and in
    Finland to support the European Commission’s software
    patentability directive. He is present at conferences
    everywhere. He argues that small companies badly need
    software patents because otherwise their ideas might
    be stolen by large companies.

    -International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Software
    Patents: ICC’s “Intellectual Property Committee”,
    consisting of 240 corporate “IP professionals” from
    around the world, headed by Urho Ilmonen,
    Vice-President Legal of Nokia Mobile Phones Ltd, has
    vigorously defended the interests of the patent
    community in Europe. Their letters and statements are
    characterised by “strong belief” in the beneficiality
    of patents and disregard for the opinions not only of
    most ICC member companies but also of national member
    organisations such as the German Chamber of Commerce,
    which has pronounced itself against software patents
    and against the directive proposal.

    Trolltech putting all version of Qt under GPL v3 is a
    good sign, but I sure hope they are aware of Nokia’s
    activity in the patent area and put in their merger
    contract that such activity no longer happens at Nokia
    (likely wishful thinking, especially considering
    Trolltech doesn’t bother to mention the issue of
    software patent once in their numerous merger related
    articles/letters/FAQs linked).

  7. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 28, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    Gravatar

    I’ve just heard from someone who funds KDE. Maybe I’ll be permitted to post this in public. it seems to confirm my fears,

  8. Yuhong Bao said,

    January 28, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    Gravatar

    That kind of thing is exactly what the KDE Free Qt Foundation is supposed to deal with. In case the free software version of Qt ends development because of something like this, Qt would be released under a BSD-style license.

  9. Vexorian said,

    January 28, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    Gravatar

    At least the current QT is GPLv3 and they can’t regress a license change so there’s always the option to fork it, the problem is that MS’ buddy can claim that they own patents and that kind of BS, but the GPLv3 is supposed to help against this…

  10. Vexorian said,

    January 28, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Gravatar

    If anything goes wrong I guess this will be proof of MS pushing us Linux users, first boycotting gnome and now KDE, thank freedom that we still have choices beneath them. But I really doubt they can’t recover from the GPLv3 here.

  11. Yuhong Bao said,

    January 28, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Gravatar

    In fairness, Steve Jobs may dislike DRM, but this does not mean that Apple does not support DRM.

  12. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 28, 2008 at 8:50 pm

    Gravatar

    Apple, like Microsoft, benefits greatly from DRM. It’s another form of platform/service lock-in. Mind the following:


    Microsoft: We Like DRM

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | Steve Jobs wants the music business to drop restrictions for digital
    | tunes. But Microsoft, which began competing head to head with Apple
    | in the digital music business last fall, is happy with the way things
    | are, says media exec Robbie Bach.
    `—-

    http://www.forbes.com/2007/02/08/zune-drm-itunes-tech-media-cx_df_0208bach.html?partner=yahootix

    Microsoft Tells Apple To Stop Complaining About DRM

    http://www.podcastingnews.com/2007/04/13/microsoft-apple-drm/

    Golden Rant : Microsoft DRM’s gone too far

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | Microsoft appears to have hit the wrong button on its critical
    | Windows XP download service late last month, pretty well forcing
    | every XP user to upgrade to Windows Media Player (WiMP) 11 if
    | they (like me and many others) have the automatic download/install
    | option enabled for critical updates.
    `—-

    http://securityblog.itproportal.com/?p=712

    The Longest Suicide Note in History

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | Gutmann: The genie’s out of the bottle before the operating system has even
    | been released! But that doesn’t mean Vista users in particular – and
    | the computer community at large – won’t end up paying for Microsoft’s
    | DRM folly. At the risk of repeating myself repeating myself, yet
    | another reason to move to Linux.
    `—-

    http://blogs.pcworld.co.nz/pcworld/tux-love/2007/01/the_longest_suicide_note_in_hi.html

    Avoid the Vista badge, it means DRM inside

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | The root of this crappy DRM infection is Microsoft. It is the driving
    | force here. This has nothing to do with protecting content, as we
    | keep pointing out, there has never been a single thing that has had
    | a DRM infection applied that didn’t end up cracked on the net in
    | hours. DRM is about walled gardens and control.
    |
    | He who controls the DRM infection controls the market. DRM is
    | about preventing you from doing anything with the devices
    | without paying the gatekeeper a fee. This is what MS wants,
    | nothing less than a slice of everything watched, listened to
    | or discussed from now on. DRM prevents others from playing
    | there, thanks to the DMCA and other anti-consumer laws.
    |
    | Make no mistake, MS is pushing the DRM malware as hard as
    | it can so it can rake in money hand over fist with no
    | competition. It is really good at lock-in, in fact, the firm
    | based its entire business model on harming the user so they
    | have to comply and spend more.
    `—-

    http://www.theinquirer.net/default.aspx?article=38926

    DRM in Windows Vista

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | Windows Vista includes an array of “features” that you don’t want.
    | These features will make your computer less reliable and less secure.
    | They’ll make your computer less stable and run slower. They will
    | cause technical support problems. They may even require you to
    | upgrade some of your peripheral hardware and existing software.
    | And these features won’t do anything useful. In fact, they’re
    | working against you. They’re digital rights management (DRM)
    | features built into Vista at the behest of the entertainment
    | industry.
    |
    | And you don’t get to refuse them.
    `—-

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2007/02/drm_in_windows.html

    Macrovision update plugs zero-day DRM exploit

    ,—-[ Quote
    | The flaw, though Symantec wasn’t specific on this, involves a privilege
    | elevation bug in Macrovision secdrv.sys driver that comes bundled with
    | Windows XP and 2003 (though not Windows Vista).
    `—-

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/11/06/macrovision_drm_update/

    DRM – a big win for Microsoft

    ,—-[ Quote ]
    | Recently I came to conclusion that Microsoft is the company, which profits
    | most from the Digital Rights Management.
    | I don’t know the numbers, but I guess that DRM is little or no success for
    | the recording industry. To say it stopped pirating films and music would be a
    | joke.
    | Microsoft people must have known that the protection would be broken very
    | soon. So why they are implementing it after all?
    `—-

    http://technocrat.net/d/2008/1/2/32809

  13. Béranger said,

    January 29, 2008 at 3:41 am

    Gravatar

    OK, I made it more visible now, my simple compass: “Each and every time a buyout or a merger is consumed, there is less freedom in the world, and more corporatism.”

  14. Roy Schestowitz said,

    January 29, 2008 at 4:07 am

    Gravatar

    That has been my perception for quite some time. The suits call it “consolidation” and Bill Gates calls it “gentler capitalism” (apparently, it’s “gentle” as in “I’ll give this crook my wallet very gently because he has a pistol”). Mind our writings about the dumping technqiues Gates et al use against Free software. This harms the BSDs also.

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