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Eirik Chambe-Eng, President, Trolltech

Eirik Chambe-Eng Trolltech has a critical role to play in the Linux ecosystem.

Its Qt (pronounced "cute") application framework is at the heart of KDE , one of Linux's main graphical environments, the other being GNOME, which is based on the GTK+ framework.

Qt's mobile version Qtopia is a critical component for rolling out Mobile Linux and is used by Motorola among numerous other cell phone vendors.

Internetnews.com recently caught up with Trolltech co-founder and president Eirik Chambe-Eng to talk about the challenges that his company faces, about mobile Linux and about choice on the Linux desktop.

Q: From a sales point of view is it hard to convince mobile phone manufacturers to use Qtopia or mobile Linux on their devices?

Currently there are some technical challenges. Today you need to shop around for a lot of components. You need to get a kernel, a browser, someone to integrate it and you need a lot of knowledge

We have a strong track record. Our challenge is just getting customers to give the solution a test run. Motorola has been very important because of what they've done and because they've sold so many in China. We now have already 30 customers building mobile phones with Trolltech.

Q: Where is the biggest opportunity for growth? The mobile space or on the desktop?

We're seeing strong growth in both of our major product areas. Both on the desktop and on the embedded mobile side they really are closely tied together. The fact that Qt is the foundation of Qtopia, we have the entire third-party ecosystem surrounding Qt for our customers

We're currently experience the largest amount of growth for Qtopia and I think that is natural for the phase that we're in.

In terms of revenue, we really have two different business models for the two types of products. For Qt we sell licenses per developer platform but that means we get our revenue when our customers start their projects.

Whereas for Qtopia it is based on a run-time model where we get paid per device sold into the market that contains our software. So we get our revenue when our customers have completed their projects.

That's why there is very strong revenue stream currently from Qt on the developer tools side and we have a building revenue stream on the Qtopia side.

Q: On the Linux desktop there is a perception among many that there are more GTK+-based applications than Qt-based applications. Is that a valid perception? And how is Trolltech working to build further acceptance of Qt on the desktop?

I beg to differ with you. We see a lot of applications based on Qt. We're seeing a lot of commercial and open source application out there that are based on Qt. We think that it's a good thing to have choice.

We also think that one important technical aspect is often forgotten in the debate of GTK+ vs. Qt, GNOME vs. KDE, which is that they are both based on the X Windowing System and they are both on top of Linux so any application built for GNOME can work on KDE and vice versa.

Q: Novell may or many not now be pushing GNOME over KDE. Red Hat has a lot of GNOME developers. Does it matter whether the large enterprise Linux vendors push one desktop over another?

It's a choice kind of thing. There are players pushing KDE also and we think that it's very good for the community to have two windowing systems. We think it's vital to have competition.

If we only had one of these, you wouldn't have the same quality and technical excellence that you find in both projects today.

Q: Linus Torvalds recently came out strongly in favor of KDE over GNOME. Were you "gratified" by Torvalds's gleaming endorsement?

What we said "hurrah" about was the fact the he said that KDE was great because of the underlying technology, because of the development tools it is based on, because of Qt.

We thought that it was great the Linus Torvalds thought our technology was great, that made us proud.

Q: Is Qt just for Linux? And if not what is your developer breakdown by OS?

No it's a cross-platform toolkit with the same API also available on Windows and on Macintosh. I have to say that we have 70 to 80 percent of our revenues from Windows and 70 to 80 percent of our revenues from Linux.

It's because our customers make cross-platform software. Most of our customers use Qt for both Windows and Linux and then we have a nice base level on Macintosh.

Our core market is really customers that want to deploy on both Linux and Windows at the same time. Very often we'll see developers use the Linux version to develop the software and then they'll just recompile with the Windows version and then they can deploy on Windows.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that Trolltech faces now?

The biggest challenge is that we're growing really fast and we're seeing so much momentum on both the Qt and the Qtopia side. Today we're 170 employees and we'll be 250 by the end of the year. We were 95 on the first of January last year.

We need to run as fast as we can to take advantage of the potential we see out there now and growing the organization and making sure we keep the Trolltech spirit and culture. That's the big challenge.

Q: What are the remaining goals with Qt that you hope to achieve to meet the challenges that you're seeing today?

We have to add new types of functionality to the product all the time. Basically what we're doing is creating an infrastructure for the common challenges that developers face.

So we have to always look at what's common now, what is the wheel that everyone is inventing, and that changes all the time.

The really challenging stuff that is going on right now is going on in the user interface -- expressive design-type user interfaces. There is a lot of buzz on around that. That's something we're working hard on.