Qtopia has just undergone a major new release, adding such features as the Safe Execution Environment (a kind of sandbox for native code), strong support for WiFi, and integration with the WebKit browser engine. It’s a lot to give away for free. Based on Trolltech’s Qt graphics libraries and supporting C++ development as well as a JVM, Qtopia is a graphical environment found in a huge number of devices ranging from the Motorola Razr V8 to automobile navigation systems and medical equipment–and of course, Trolltech’s own Greenphone.
I talked to CTO Benoit Schillings, who cited fairly stock reasons for going open source: development energy comes from a community of developers and users, and ultimately there’s more business in serving a thriving environment of new applications and features than in holding onto secrets.
He mentioned the ubiquitous address book as a mobile feature that has hardly changed in years and is shut off from innovation because it can’t be touched by application developers. When the whole platform is open, new blood flows to these atrophied parts of the system.
The open-source announcement accompanies a deal to run Qtopia on the free OpenMoko mobile platform. Schillings is confident that the community will step up and produce a swarm of new software. As evidence, he cited a developer contest Trolltech recently held, which drew 400 submissions for the Greenphone and OpenMoko. He also predicted that an open platform would promote device integration, such as better synching and shared storage across devices, or allowing one device to be a network interface for another.
Of course, other platforms based on Linux or other free software are emerging in the mobile space, such as Limo. Schillings says Qtopia and OpenMoko are compelling because they’re “not a paper spec.” He also thinks that Qtopia eases the pain of porting software to a target, because the development platform will be much the same as the target.
The Qtopia licensing recalls earlier Trolltech history. When it released its Qt library, the license was very liberal and unrestrictive–enough to be embodied in the free KDE desktop–but didn’t conform to a free software or open source definition. After much haranguing from the community, Trolltech dual-licensed Qt under the GPL.
Schillings ascribes the delay in dual-licensing Qtopia to Trolltech’s desire to make it clear that its proprietary license is on a per-user royalty basis, not a per-developer seat basis like Qt.
In addition to the revenue that Trolltech can earn from third-party vendors who choose the proprietary license, they can make some money with their Green Suite, an out-of-the-box solution that pre-integrates software (including some software from other companies that’s not released under an free license).