Nokia to release Perl for smartphones

Larry Wall's barmy army rejoices


Nokia will make an internal version of the Perl scripting language for Series 60 smartphones available to its developer community, Lee Epting, Nokia's VP of Developer Relations, tells us. Nokia acknowledges a demand for more developer options as Nokia's Symbian-based Series 60 platform reaches mass market volumes.

Right now developers have two choices if they want to be sure an application will run on a Series 60 device. There's the native Symbian C++ APIs, which offer lots of power but a steep learning curve, and Java. But even Java is overkill for simple forms-based applications that are typically knocked up by business managers, rather than developers; and Java doesn't always offer access to native resources such as vibrating alert or SMS.

There's no timescale set, but Epting hinted that it shouldn't take too long. She also had positive things to say about the venerable BASIC-like language OPL, which is the cheapest and easiest way for novices to write Series 60 applications. Symbian open sourced the language - which can trace its lineage back to the Psion Organizer in the mid-1980s - a year ago. Compared with AppForge's Booster, which allows Visual Basic 6.0 applications to run on SymbianOS (and Palm and Pocket PC), OPL doesn't require an expensive developer add-in and the runtime footprint is much smaller, which handset manufacturers value. It's potentially a killer app, and the project, and developer Ewan Spence who freed it from Psion's cold dead grip, could certainly use some TLC.

"It requires some funding to complete it," Epting told us, "and it needs some buy-in from the rest of Nokia." Ensuring that OPL and Perl developers get the same level of support is a consideration, she added. Although the community has done a fine job with the Wiki.

Coins in, software out

Lee Epting joined Nokia a year ago from Handpring and she's a breath of fresh air for a company that has had to learn about nurturing an open development platform for the first time. (She was Handspring's 15th employee, she tells us, and joined from Palm). Forum Nokia, the developer community, is part of her group and in the recent reorganization was given a horizontal role that feeds into the four vertical business groups at Nokia: mobile phones, multimedia, networks and enterprise.

Amongst her priorities, she told us, was documenting APIs - a constant demand from developers - optimizing porting, and better integration. She also pointed to models such as superdistribution, an umbrella buzzword that covers a few different things: smart downloading and billing, as well as DRM forward lock. (That's when you own the full copy of an application or game, but can beam a demo or trial version to a friend).

Nokia also wants to get the word out that development makes money. Nokia has an intriguing distribution vehicle in Asia in the form of kiosks: distribution points similar to the Wide Ray familiar to many tech conference attendees - and an idea which we've noted before, has a lot of potential. Nokia's kiosks allow phone users to drop in coins, and receive software by Bluetooth or Infra Red. Epting cited the Puzzle Bubble game, which has sold 22,000 out of 240,000 from kiosks. Even in its early stages, Series 60 has spawned an impressive amount of software. Nokia says six figure sales are not uncommon, although developers earn more for premium Series 60 smartphone applications than for cheaper Java games. For example, MobiMate sells 15,000 of its WorldMate a week - at $25 a pop - across three OSes including UIQ and Series 60.

That's a tidy sum. ®

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