Can Nokia Become the Great Light Hope?

Wireless handset and infrastructure giant Nokia has announced plans to acquire Trolltech, a purveyor of application frameworks for desktops and mobile devices. Trolltech is perhaps best known for the QT framework, which forms the core of the open-source KDE (K Desktop Environment).

For Nokia, the primary motivation behind the Trolltech pickup appears to be Qtopia, Trolltech’s application platform for Linux-based mobile devices, consumer electronics and embedded devices. Trolltech has racked up a respectable stable of Qtopia-based devices, but the platform hasn’t exactly become a household name.

Now that Nokia is backing Trolltech and Qtopia, we may see this mobile platform begin attracting more of the attention that’s so far been reserved for its elder sibling in the desktop application space, Qt.

Speaking of which, Nokia isn’t a desktop applications company, and this apparent mismatch has many wondering what’s going to happen to Qt, and what’s going to happen to KDE.

Nokia has said, as acquirers always say, that life for Trolltech’s existing products and customers will go on as before. Just how closely Nokia intends to adhere to the status quo remains to be seen.

For now, Nokia seems to be beginning its relationship with KDE in good faith, and has announced its plans to become a patron of KDE.

It seems to me that not only will Qt (and by extension, KDE) continue to fare well under Nokia’s stewardship, but that the Trolltech acquisition may be opening the door to a whole new class of crossover notebook/smart-phone devices.

There’s a world of Web-based applications out there, and I’m on the lookout for lightweight, low-cost, long-battery-life devices that can keep me computing with those applications wherever I go.

I’m not the only one, either. As I’m certain Nokia noted, the current top seller in Amazon’s Computers and PC Hardware category is Nokia’s Linux-powered N800 Internet Tablet PC. No. 2 on the list is the Asus Eee 4G Micro Laptop PC, which is also Linux-powered.

Apple’s iPhone has demonstrated that it’s possible to wring much more functionality out of a small-form-factor device than the previous decade of incrementally improving wireless devices has indicated.

Unfortunately, Apple’s slick-looking but fundamentally conservative MacBook Air seems to demonstrate that the Apple isn’t yet ready to follow up on the iPhone with computing devices that break the typical notebook mold.

However, while Apple has a profitable Macintosh notebook business to protect, Nokia faces no such encumbrance, and, armed with its new Trolltech assets, might find itself in the perfect position to deliver us the sort of next-generation computing devices we need to bid adieu to today’s bloated client paradigm.