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Nokia Targets Open Source Qt 4.6 at Symbian

Cross-platform Mobility

  • December 2, 2009
  • By Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner

Nokia is ramping up development of its Qt open source user interface and application framework with a new release this week.

Among the big new additions to Qt 4.6 is support for the widespread Symbian mobile phone operating system. Nokia is one of the biggest supporters of Symbian, with the vast majority of its devices using the OS. In 2008, it purchased Symbian and has since set on its own open source path.

As a result, bumping Qt to version 4.6 -- its second update this year -- signals an acceleration of Nokia's developer efforts.

"Qt 4.6 marks an exciting time for developers, regardless of their target form factor or platform," Sebastian Nystrom, Nokia's vice president for application services and frameworks, said in a statement. "Developers can easily create visually appealing and web-connected applications for desktops or devices, including targeting the hundreds of millions of Symbian and Maemo-based devices."

The move to further support Symbian comes at a critical time for both Nokia and Symbian as each faces increasing pressure from developers building apps for Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), whose iPhone continues to gain traction among developers and end users. It's also facing competition from rivals like the Google-backed open source mobile OS, Android.

For Nokia, Qt is a key way to keep its hand in the development game. The C++ application development framework for GUIs enables developers to write applications for deployment across multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux/UNIX, Mac OS X -- and now Symbian -- along with preview support for Nokia's Maemo mobile operating system. Qt also is well-known as the framework behind the open source KDE Linux desktop.

Additionally, despite remaining Symbian's chief backer, Nokia has also lately shown conflicting signs of souring on the OS, which continues losing share to newer players like Apple. Earlier this year, it moved to sell off its Symbian Professional Services unit to Accenture. Consequently, pressing ahead on the cross-platform Qt could help Nokia also ensure it maintains an important role in developer tools for more than just its own operating system.

Nokia acquired the Qt technology as part of its acquisition of software vendor Trolltech for $150 million in 2008.

Getting touchy, and a new IDE

Beyond the new mobile platform support, Qt 4.6 provides developers with a new animation framework for delivering advanced graphics capabilities. There are also new multitouch capabilities that enable developers to build application that respond to user finger actions, like "flicking" a touchscreen.

The concept of multitouch navigation has been popularized by Apple's iPhone and its underlying WebKit Web rendering engine. WebKit and Qt are very closely related and share a common heritage. WebKit has been supported in Qt since version 4.4. And WebKit was originally derived from KHTML, which is the rendering engine behind the Konquerer Web browser on KDE -- itself powered by Qt.

Performance work under the hood is also a key part of the Qt 4.6 release. Nokia's Qt development team rewrote a key graphics rendering component in order to provide additional graphics acceleration for user interfaces, it said.

As a complement to the Qt 4.6 release, Nokia is also releasing a new version of its Qt Creator IDE for building Qt cross-platform applications. The initial Qt Creator release came out alongside the Qt 4.5 release in March.

Qt Creator 1.3 includes support for Symbian development as well as improved support for smaller screen sizes overall.

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