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IBM is Utopia for Trolltech's 'Qtopia'

IBM shopped around this week for a Linux partner to help it build new handheld devices based on the open source operating system.

What the Armonk, N.Y.-based company found was Trolltech, a 75-person company in Oslo, Norway whose software claim to fame is an embedded application environment it calls Qtopia. The company, which has offices in Santa Clara, Calif. has contracts with other manufactures including Sharp Electronics for its Zaurus line of PDAs.

Trolltech's Qtopia is an embedded Linux platform used mostly by third-party developers. The software includes an embedded development environment and apps like e-mail, calendar tools, multimedia applications, games, and document handling. Trolltech estimates some 600 applications are currently available for mobile eLinux devices based on Qtopia software.

The two companies already have a business relationship. IBM uses Trolltech's Qt multiplatform C++ application framework, embedded GUI and Qtopia PDA app suite for its IBM e-LAP reference design - sometimes known as the "embedded Linux application platform." The e-LAP is based on IBM's PowerPC 405LP processor and includes 32MB SDRAM, 32MB NOR Flash, 64MB DiskOnChip Flash, a 4-inch 240x320 pixel color creen, TCPA security chip, USB host/device, SDIO, and sound. It runs MontaVista Linux, IBM's J2ME JVM, and Opera's embedded browser.

Neither IBM nor Trolltech would comment on when IBM devices with Qtopia would hit store shelves.

According to published reports, Trolltech received an undisclosed, upfront payment for the deal, said to be worth $10 million to $20 million in license fees over the next three years. The partnership also allows Trolltech to get a direct cut of sales for every device IBM sells with its technology.

"This is a huge step forward for the mobile systems market, and for embedded Linux," said Trolltech CEO Haavard Nord. "Together with Qtopia, IBM's reference platform opens the door for a whole new generation of embedded Linux devices."

For some time IBM has been looking at Linux as an alternative to Palm and Microsoft PocketPC technology. The task has recently fallen into the hands of IBM's Pervasive Computing Division in Silicon Valley.

"With an increasingly mobile workforce, corporations are looking into deploying enterprise applications on devices across multiple platforms -- including Java/Linux," said IBM Pervasive Computing Division director Michael Karasick. "Mobile applications in IBM's reference platform, such as Qtopia, can enable mobile employees to access time-sensitive work information wherever and whenever needed."

With its reference platform, IBM says it has combined many of the underlying hardware components used by such products into a single "reference design" centered on the low-power IBM PowerPC 405LP microprocessor to help extend battery life. The reference platform also contains IBM and partner software aimed at supporting both enterprise and consumer applications.

Apart from IBM's J2ME certified Java Runtime platform for devices, IBM's WebSphere Micro Environment, the company said its platform also includes device management and database software, a browser, as well as support for multimedia, data connectivity, and speech and handwriting recognition.