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Trolltech Expands WebKit Footprint

In the minds of many, WebKit is just an Apple technology used to power its Safari browser on Macs, iPhones and Windows.

But the reality is that the open source Web browser engine is far more, with a broader range of uses and a number of vendors besides Apple participating in its development.

WebKit is now poised to grow even further in importance thanks to the efforts of Trolltech, which makes Qt 4.4, a C++ application development framework that enables developers to write applications once for deployment on multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux/UNIX and Mac OS X.

Qt also is well-known as the application development framework behind the open source KDE Linux desktop.

If the framework's supporters are right, integrating WebKit could become the catalyst that spurs Qt (pronounced "cute") to mobile and desktop dominance as it melds the offline and online into a seamless user experience.

"When you look at Qt 4.4, the most exciting feature is the WebKit integration," Benoit Schillings, Trolltech's CTO, told InternetNews.com. "It's a model that reconciles the DHTML, AJAX-type of development and the more traditional C++ development."

Though WebKit is most popularly thought of as the technology behind Safari, Schillings said there are a few other big companies that contribute to WebKit including Google and Nokia. He also argued that in the mobile market, WebKit is becoming the de facto browser engine.

There is also a direct historical link between WebKit and Trolltech. WebKit was originally derived from the KTHML rendering engine behind the Konquerer Web browser for the KDE Linux desktop. Trolltech's vice president of engineering, Lars Knolls, is the original author of KHTML.

"So even though Apple is the company that is most visible around WebKit, it's actually code that originally came out of Trolltech," Schillings said. "It's a beautiful symmetry to have this technology being incorporated back into our product."

Schillings also said WebKit can be used for many other things beyond just browsing.

"What we are really looking at is to provide WebKit as a building block so that local applications can be written as a combination of native and DHTML code, blurring what is a local experience and what is an online experience," Schillings said. "For the mobile market, that is quite critical."

The new Trolltech Qt 4.4 model enables developers to created applications with C++ code for core features, but also leverages dynamic HTML for developers to write top level interactions.

The Qt 4.4. release is also likely the last Qt release before Trolltech is formally acquired by Nokia, through a $150 million deal announced at the beginning of this year.

Both parties expect the deal to close this quarter.

Schillings said Nokia did not influence the development of Qt 4.4, as the development process has been ongoing for a long time. Qt 4.3 came out in June of 2007.

Chuck Piercey, vice president of product management at Trolltech, added that the company's current product lineup does, however, align with Nokia's plans quite well.

"What's interesting is WebKit really is the first step on a different way to writing applications that's quite interesting to our core customers and Nokia," Piercey told InternetNews.com.

That said, Piercey said that Trolltech and Nokia are five weeks from actually closing the acquisition, so the plans may change.

Still, he added that Nokia provides a certain degree of critical mass that could help Trolltech pursue its core objective of spreading Qt.

"Things get juiced up in a big way when you couple our track record with a company like Nokia," Piercey said. "It's very exciting for us in terms of our core objective of Qt everywhere and us delivering that value everywhere."