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Trolling for Embedded Linux Dollars

With a new development platform and Motorola as a customer win, Trolltech is upping the ante in the embedded Linux stakes.

Trolltech is best known for its qt cross-platform software development framework for the desktop, which is the underpinning of the KDE Linux desktop. This week Trolltech released a new version of its Qtopia user interface and development platform for embedded Linux intended for mobile devices.

Qtopia 2.1 includes full-screen handwriting input and touch-screen phone support among its numerous enhancements. The theming engine that allows manufacturers and end users to customize their devices has also been enhanced. Qtopia now includes support for Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) that allows cell phone users to view and create messages with both audio and visual content.

The new version of Qtopia has also lowered the bar with reduced minimum Flash memory requirements that according to Trolltech will enable Qtopia to support Linux devices with very limited Flash memory.

"The software features are more important than ever for the success of the device," Trolltech CEO Haavard Nord told internetnews.com. "Linux provides manufacturers the ability and robustness to differentiate and innovate each handset and device they make. We have a strong belief that Linux is the way to go for mobile phones and consumer electronics."

The Qtopia platform is available in phone and PDA editions, though Nord admits the PDA market is tough.

"It is a declining market," Nord said. "Sharp is the main company using embedded Linux in PDAs like its Zaurus, the market leader in Japan. However, we do not believe mobile phones and consumer devices will see the same poor track record."

Trolltech also announced this week that cell phone giant Motorola would be using Trolltech's Qt/Embedded Linux development platform for the upcoming E680 and A780 phones. Motorola had announced last year that its A760 phone would use Trolltech's Linux platform.

"Trolltech's sophisticated, customizable development environment for embedded Linux is leading the way for the widespread adoption of Linux in mobile devices," said Mike Sudol, vice president for Motorola's GSM Open Platform Products group in a statement.

"With Trolltech technology, we've been able to leverage the benefits of Linux to deliver a series of innovative, feature-rich handsets that can benefit from the thousands of Trolltech-compatible applications. We are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with Trolltech to develop additional leading-edge devices in the future."

It's been an eventful period for the embedded Linux space this month. Last week, embedded OS vendor Wind River announced that it was entering the Linux space with its firm embedded Linux product. Not to be outdone, MontaVista Linux announced that consumer electronics Godzilla NEC Electronics has selected the MontaVista Linux platform for its embedded initiatives.

Nord isn't in competition in the embedded Linux space with either Wind River or Montavista.

"We do not see Wind River as a core Linux player," Nord said. "MontaVista is not a competitor because they do not provide mobile phone development software, no applications or user interface. They provide the bare bones Linux kernel that resides closer to the hardware. We are closer to the end-user. We don't provide Linux; we depend on companies like MontaVista to do that."

Nord also explained that Java on mobile devices is not a competitor to embedded Linux, either.

"Linux and Java fit together like a hand in a glove. They complement each other and do not compete," Nord explained. "While Linux provides the software application platform on the device, Java provides a way to download and install applications."

"Linux and Java each have their strengths and you can have the best of both," he added.