Will Nokia’s Qt come to Windows Phone?

When Nokia acquired Trolltech back in 2008, it made perfect sense as a way of supporting development on Symbian, its smartphone operating system, and nudging the Qt project, which provides a cross-platform framework for native applications, more towards mobile rather than just desktop application support. It also made sense as Nokia worked on Maemo and then Meego, its Linux for mobile project.

Then came February 2011 and CEO Stephen Elop’s announcement that Nokia would partner with Microsoft and make Windows Phone its primary smartphone operating system. Windows Phone 7 does not support native code development, other than by operators, manufacturers, and of course Microsoft itself. What future for Qt at Nokia now?

Here at Blackberry Devcon Europe, Nokia’s Lars Knoll, Qt Chief Maintainer, has been introducing Qt to Blackberry developers. Qt forms a critical part of RIM’s Blackberry 10 (BBX) platform, based on the PlayBook tablet OS and set to come to Blackberry phones later this year. The Cascades UI framework, for hardware-accelerated 2D and 3D rendering on BBX, uses Qt core and an adaption of QML (Qt Modeling Language). You can use Qt with or without Cascades on BBX.

Lars Knol, Nokia

Given that Nokia makes mobile devices which are in competition with RIM’s devices, it may seem odd that Nokia is supporting Qt on Blackberry. I asked Knoll about the status of Qt within Nokia following the move to Windows Phone.

There’s not too much I can say right now. The only thing I can repeat is that we’re still investing in Qt. We’re actually hiring more people to work on Qt. Qt is an essential part of the strategy for the next billion. That’s all I can say right now, but stay tuned, in time you’ll hear more.

He added later that Nokia is in business to make money; in other words, there are strong business reasons for Nokia to continue with Qt. The “next billion” reference refers to Nokia’s stated intention to bring apps to the next billion.

One possibility is that Qt will in fact support a future version of Windows Phone. It is already clear that Windows Phone 8 will use the same kernel as Windows 8 and we can expect a unified development platform build on the Windows Runtime (WinRT), which does support native code development.

It is not too much of a stretch then to expect a future Qt framework that will target Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets. Nokia’s Elop has also hinted that it is interested in Windows tablets as well as phones in future.

What will it take to make RIM’s Playbook sell?

I am at RIM’s Blackberry DevCon in Amsterdam (where it is so cold that the canals have frozen). Attendees have been given a free Blackberry Playbook, the neat 7” tablet running an operating system based on QNX, acquired by RIM in 2010.


The Playbook was launched in spring 2011, and sales have disappointed. Exact numbers are hard to find; the Guardian estimated that RIM ordered 2.5m devices, while Crackberry.com says 5m. How many sold? In the three reported quarters, RIM said 500,000, 200,000 and 150,000 were shipped. Prices have been falling, naturally, but it seems that there are plenty left.

Nevertheless, this is an attractive device. The operating system is smooth and the size is convenient. Why has it failed?

One factor is that the device is designed as a companion to a Blackberry smartphone. Email does not work unless you have a Blackberry, or can get by with a web browser client. RIM thereby reduced the market to existing Blackberry owners, a mistake which should be rectified when version 2.0 of the operating system is released – expected later this month.

The second problem is the the extent to which Apple owns the tablet market. When you buy an iPad you know you are buying into a strong ecosystem and that every app vendor has to support it. That is not the case with the Playbook, making it a riskier choice. RIM’s fix is to introduce support for Android apps, though there are a few caveats here. Perhaps the biggest is this: if you want to run Android apps, why not just get an Android tablet and avoid any compromises?

The Playbook is a delightful device. The big question – for RIM and other new entrants into the tablet market – is what will make it sell, other than pricing it below cost?

Amazon found an answer for its Kindle Fire: low price, Kindle brand making it an e-book reader as well as a tablet, and a business model based on its retail business. Amazon can sell the device at a loss and still make a profit.

It is not yet clear to me what RIM’s answer can be. The most obvious one is to make it truly compelling for the large market of Blackberry smartphone users, but not if that means crippling it for everyone else as with the 1.0 release.

Another factor is that the device has to be nearly perfect. On the conference device, it took me 10 minutes to send a tweet. The reason was that the supplied twitter app is really a link to the twitter web site. That in itself is not so bad, but I found the soft keyboard unwilling to pop up reliably when twitter’s tweet authoring window was open. Making a correction was particularly frustrating. A small thing; but one or two frustrations like this are enough to make a good experience into a bad one.

Version 2.0 of the operating system does promise numerous improvements though, and watch this space for a detailed review as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Telcos have a dying business model – APIs and cloud services are the future says Alcatel-Lucent’s Laura Merling

Laura Merling from Alcatel-Lucent spoke at the Monki Gras conference in London earlier this week, saying in effect that telecommunication companies have a dying business model.

She gave a two-minute summary of Telco history.  “First it was all about voice,” she said. “Then the intertubes happened. Now you had data … then it went back to voice, the big push for wireless. Then of course wireless moved, so it’s not about voice any more, it’s about the data.”

She expects the next step to be “connected devices … the phone goes away, everything you do both data and voice happens on other devices.”

What does this mean for telcos? They have become commoditised, she said, suppliers of data plans. “It is a big commoditised business that has no real innovation.”

“In the future, the data plans dies,”, Merling says. “Think about it. How many devices have you got? Think about connecting all of those. You probably want the same data plan. But why pay for a data plan? How will telcos make money? You can’t just keep increasing the data plan.”

Instead, the money is going to come from the APIs and accessing the services.

Enter Twilio, a virtual telco. “I think of twilio as a craft telco”, said Merling, tying in with the beer theme that flowed through Monki Gras. “Do they sell hardware? No. They have software and APIs.” She says the Twilio business model scares the industry: it is based on transactions, not data plans. She also noted how old established vendors are buying up software-based providers, such as BT acquiring Ribbit and Microsoft acquiring Skype.

Tomorrow’s telco, says Merling, is a based on a software stack. “Antennas and towers are not going to go away, but the infrastructure becomes all software based … combining network services with cloud infrastructure.

“At Alcatel-Lucent we sell hardware. We sell big giant boxes. But this is where it is going.” She says the telcos are now aware of this, hence the title of her session “How telcos got API religion.”

Her final prediction? “Jeff Lawson becomes the CEO of AT&T. Why? Because the model has to change.”

It was a thought-provoking talk, though the unspoken question was whether in fact the telcos will successfully transition or whether they will simply become less important, continuing to maintain the pipes while others profit from what flows through them.

I interviewed Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson in October last year.

A quiet revolution in UK government IT: open source ousting big-vendor lock-in

The most striking and surprising presentation at the Monki Gras developer event in London earlier this week was from two quietly spoken men from the UK government’s Cabinet Office. James Stewart and Matt Wall work on the Government Data Service (GDS), and what they are doing is revolutionary.

What is the GDS? “It’s a new branch of the cabinet office which exists to deliver public services, public sector information in-house, rather than the traditional out-sourcing model,” they explained, though it turned out to be rather more than that.

Wall described his experience of talking to government workers about their IT needs.

A common thing you see from very small to very large is someone in government who wants to get something done, who has a business problem or a user need that they want to serve, surrounded by a complex array of integrators, vendors, contractors, suppliers, and all of that, kind-of locked into that, their ability to manoeuvre or deliver services [is limited].

he explained. The only solution is to reform the way software is procured. They described their boss Mike Bracken’s goal:

We want to move from government procuring systems to government commissioning them, whether we build them ourselves, or just that we know what it is we’re asking for. We need that knowledge.

This is also about breaking the hold of the large vendors and finding ways to work on a smaller scale.

If you want to buy something in government, traditionally, some software or some system, the amount of momentum that you have to get up, the amount of people you can easily engage with, they tend to be from companies that are absolutely vast and they tend to take projects that are absolutely vast, the whole mechanism of working is stultifying for everyone involved. It is not just us, a small group of developers sitting in an office able to write some stuff, because that’s not scalable, you can’t do that for everyone. It’s finding small to medium sized companies, partners, out there in the market and finding ways to engage them … why should five very large companies get all the work?

Mike Bracken and the Cabinet Office minister Frances Maude are currently on the West Coast of the USA, they said.

They were invited to meet the usual suspects, Oracle, the major systems integrators. They cancelled it. They’re visiting Joyent, they’re visiting 10Gen, they’re visiting Twilio [applause]. It’s a wholesale change. We’re looking at how great web services are built.

There is also a commitment to open source. “All of the code that we’re producing is open source and out on the Internet,” they said.

What tools do they use?

Most of the core apps are in Ruby, with a mixture of Sinatra and Rails, and some Scala. We’re using a mixture of MySQL and Mongo for the database,

they told us.

The GDS is currently only about 30 people, 10 of whom are developers. How much impact can such a small team have?

We’ve just started and we’re very small. We’re already having a significant impact in some quite large and some quite small projects. The incoming demand that we face across central government and local government is absolutely astronomical, and one of the things that’s important to resolve over the coming years is how to manage that demand and provide services, abilities and communities for people . . . we never want to parachute into somewhere, rewrite all the systems and then go off somewhere else., that’s not sustainable.

Can this small group really change government IT so profoundly? That is an open question, and perhaps in the long term they will fail. There is no doubting though that this particular team is doing inspiring work. This blog post from GDS yesterday describes how open source participation was used to fix a government web site; it may seem a small thing, but as a new and different approach it is significant.

For more information see Mike Bracken’s post This is why we are here, and take a look at the team’s early work on GOV.UK, which is in beta.


Windows Phone 8 “Apollo”: Windows 8 kernel, more form factors

Microsoft’s partner ecosystem is vulnerable to leaks, as demonstrated today by reports of a video said to have been made for Nokia, which arrived in the hands of a smartphone review website. The leaked information was corroborated by Windows journalist Paul Thurrott who has received advance information independently from Microsoft, but under non-disclosure:

Thanks to a recent leak which has revealed some interesting information about the next major Windows Phone version, I can now publicly discuss Windows Phone 8 for the first time.

First, a quick recap:

  • Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” came out in the second half of last year and was the launch OS for Nokia’s Lumia phones.
  • Windows Phone “Tango” is expected in the second quarter of 2012 and appears to be a minor update focused on low-end handsets.
  • Windows Phone “Apollo” is the subject of the new leaks. Some of the details:
  • Uses the Windows 8 kernel and other OS components, rather than Windows CE
  • Supports multicore processors
  • Supports more form factors and screen resolutions
  • Preserves compatibility with Windows Phone 7 apps
  • Adds BitLocker encryption

I presume this also means that native code development will be supported, as it is for the Windows Runtime (WinRT) in Windows 8.

Date for “Apollo”? The rumour is towards the end of this year, as a close follow-on from Windows 8 itself.

Like many leaks, this one raises as many questions as it answers. While it makes sense that Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 should share the same kernel, it also raises the question of  how they are differentiated. Windows 8, especially on ARM, is designed for small screens and tablets. Windows Phone 8, we now learn, will support more form factors. The implication is that there may be Windows Phone 8 devices that are close in size to Windows 8 devices. Will they run the same apps from the same Marketplace, at least in some cases, in the same way that some iOS apps support both iPhone and iPad?

The Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 era will be simplified in one sense, with a single core operating system across desktop and devices. In another sense though, it ushers in new complexity, with multiple platforms that have subtle or not so subtle differences:

  • Windows 8 desktop side, on laptop and tablet (x86)
  • Windows 8 desktop side, laptop and tablet (ARM) – rumoured to be locked down for Office and perhaps a few other favoured apps
  • Windows 8 Metro side, desktop, laptop and tablet (x86) which should be nearly the same as
  • Windows 8 Metro side, desktop, laptop and tablet (ARM) – runs WinRT
  • Windows Phone 8 – runs WinRT, plus Silverlight compatibility layer

My guess is that Microsoft will push WinRT as the single platform developers should target, but I can see scope for confusion among both developers and users.

How to brew better software: The Monki Gras in London

I attended The Monki Gras in London yesterday, a distinctive developer event arranged by the analyst firm RedMonk.

This was not only a developer event, with the likes of Andre Charland and Dave Johnson from the PhoneGap team at Adobe, Mike Milinkovich the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, and Jason Hoffman with Bryan Cantrill from cloud services (and Node.js sponsors) Joyent. It was also a serious beer event, complete with a range of craft beers, a beer tasting competition with nine brews to try, and a talk plus a free book from  beer expert Melissa Cole. An unusual blend of flavours.


In charge of the proceedings was RedMonk co-founder and all round impressario James Governor. I am a big fan of RedMonk and its developer-focused approach; it has been a fresh and heady brew in the dry world of IT analysts.


The Monki Gras did seem like an attempt by a regular IT conference sufferer to fix problems often encountered. The Wi-Fi worked, the food was fresh, unusual and delicious, the coffee was superb; though brewing good coffee takes time so the queues were long. Not everything scales. Fortunately this was a small event, and a rare treat for the couple of hundred or so who attended.

That said, there were frustrations. The sessions were short, which in general is a good thing, but left me wanting more depth and more details in some cases; we did not learn much about PhoneGap other than a brief overview, for example.

Nevertheless there was serious content. Redmonk’s Stephen O’Grady made the point succinctly: IT decision makers are ignorant about what developers actually use and what they want to use, which is one reason why there is so much dysfunction in this industry. Part of the answer is to pay more attention, and several sessions covered different aspects of analytics: Matt LeMay from bitly on what users click on the Web; Matt Biddulph (ex BBC, Dopplr, Nokia) gave a mind-stretching talk on social network analysis which, contrary to what some think, was not invented by Facebook but predates the Internet; and O’Grady shared some insights from developer analytics at RedMonk.

I had not noticed before that github now gets nearly double the number of commits than does Google Code. That is partly because developers like git, but may also say something about Google’s loss of kudos in the open source developer community.

Kohsuke Kawaguchi, lead for Jenkins Continuous Integration and an architect at CloudBees, spoke on building a developer community. His context was how Jenkins attracted developers, but his main point has almost limitless application:  “Make everything easy, relentlessly.”

Something I see frequently is how big companies (the bigger the worse) place obstacles in front of developers or users who have an interest in their products or services. Examples are enforced registration, multiple clicks through several complex pages to get to the download you want, complex installs, and confusing information. It all adds friction. If the target is sufficiently compelling, like apps on Apple’s app store, developers will get there anyway; but it all adds friction, and if you are not Apple that can be fatal.

The Joyent guys did not speak about Node.js, sadly, but rather on the distinction between a VP of engineering and a Chief Technology Officer. Sounds dry and abstruse? I thought so too, but the delivery was so energetic that they were soon forgiven. Hoffman and Cantrill moved on to talk about management antipatterns in the software industry, prompting many wry nods of recognition from the audience. “It is very hard for middle management to add value,” said Cantrill.

Milinkovich made the point that the most valued open source projects generally make their way to a software foundation; PhoneGap to Apache is a recent example. He then gave the talk he really wanted to give, noting that as new software stacks emerge they have a tendency to re-implement CORBA, a middleware specification from the Nineties that tackled problems including remote objects, language independence, and transactions across the Internet. CORBA is remembered for drowning in complexity, but Milinkovich’s point is that the creators of exciting new stacks like Node.js should at least research and learn from past experience.

Milinkovich also found time to proclaim that “Flash is dead, Silverlight is dead, browser plugins are dead.” Perhaps premature; but I did not hear many dissenting voices.

I tweeted the conference extensively yesterday (losing at least one follower but gaining several more). Look out also for a couple of follow-up posts on topics of particular importance.