At the outset, I must admit that I have no real interest in Nokia these days. What I can muster is entirely related to their impact on the FLOSS world, my friends who work there and at the various Open Source companies who do contract work for them.
So, because today’s announcement has consequences for a lot of great FLOSS people, I have felt guilty waiting to see what happens purely for entertainment value. A little bit guilty. Lord knows there’s a metric fuckton of kickarse Open Source jobs out there at the moment anyway!
The gist of the Elopocalypse is that Nokia will team up with Microsoft to use Windows Phone 7 as its primary smartphone platform. No fucking around, Nokia is going all the way: Platform, developer tools, search, advertising, application marketplace, etc.
They are pissing practically everything away into the Microsoft hole. While Nokia has said this as a “new strategic direction”, I think it’s better described as “outsourcing”.
Let us recall the long line of successful and happy Microsoft platform development “strategic partners”: *crickets* (Update: Horace Dediu made a list! In memoriam: Microsoft’s previous strategic mobile partners.)
Under new leadership imported directly from Microsoft, Nokia has chosen the route most damaging to itself in the long term, and most advantageous to Microsoft in the short term.
Most importantly: Who has four fingers and desperately needs a major hardware vendor to ship his brand new smartphone platform? This guy!
What of their Open Source platform ambitions? According to the press release, Nokia intends to continue working on MeeGo and ship a product using it:
Under the new strategy, MeeGo becomes an open-source, mobile operating system project. MeeGo will place increased emphasis on longer-term market exploration of next-generation devices, platforms and user experiences. Nokia still plans to ship a MeeGo-related product later this year.
So it sounds like MeeGo will be used for tablets, mobile Internet devices (if that category even exists in 2011) and perhaps other form-factors… but then, check out the choice of words: “project”, “exploration”, “related product”. Elop all but confirmed the loose end nature of the project during the CEO Q&A.
There’s no commonality whatsoever between MeeGo and the Windows Phone 7 platform (unless Nokia do something very clever with Mono, but I can’t see Microsoft allowing it), so now Nokia has Symbian, MeeGo and Windows Phone 7 for different device profiles… a confusing story for developers, don’t you think?
I just buried the lede, didn’t I? Yes, you read that correctly: Nokia has added Windows Phone 7 without dumping any of its platforms, and will continue maintenance of — and ask developers to understand the difference between, and at least a subset of them to embrace — Symbian, MeeGo and Windows Phone 7.
What’s the app store strategy for Nokia MeeGo devices? It won’t be Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace, that’s for sure!
Then you have to consider Nokia’s partners in the MeeGo project: Intel and the Linux Foundation.
Intel have lost their 800lb smartphone hardware gorilla… does it make sense to continue investing in MeeGo? Just for tablets or netbooks? Who else is going to jump on board, particularly since the HP webOS announcement this week?
… and what possessed the Linux Foundation to get into this mess in the first place? So far, no response to Nokia’s announcement from the Linux Foundation, by the way.
Update: A quick thought from Ryan Paul:
I think the Linux Foundation can still salvage MeeGo by making it a generic upstream for low-level embedded Linux stack for set-tops, IVI, etc.
That would probably be worth it for Intel, too — consider Yocto and friends. They’re working hard to build great tools for embedded Linux developers.
Update: Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation has made a statement:
The Linux Foundation is disappointed in Nokia’s decision today to choose Microsoft as the primary platform for its mobile phones. Tough times give birth to difficult decisions that we don’t always agree with, but open source is — at its core — about choice. We believe that open source software is more than a sum of its parts, and the market is currently bearing that out. The Linux Foundation is here to enable collaboration among its members and the Linux community, and we invite participation in MeeGo and any of our other many projects and programs. In its 20th anniversary year, Linux is a significant underpinning in every computing segment. Full steam ahead.
(Yes, that’s the ED of LF saying “open source is about choice”… blërg.)
After not-so-quietly dumping the first MeeGo smartphone, I’ll wager the MeeGo device they’re talking about (rumoured to be shown for the first time at Mobile World Congress) releasing “later this year” will be closer to a “mobile internet device” and the N800 family than a smartphone, even if it can do 3G and voice.
Now we’re in bat country. Check out Nokia’s letter to developers:
Qt will continue to be the development framework for Symbian and Nokia will use Symbian for further devices; continuing to develop strategic applications in Qt for Symbian platform and encouraging application developers to do the same.
Extending the scope of Qt further will be our first MeeGo-related open source device, which we plan to ship later this year. [...] That device will be compatible with applications developed within the Qt framework and so give Qt developers a further device to target.
So let’s get this straight: Symbian won’t be Nokia’s primary smartphone platform, but Qt will continue to be used on it, and (fuck knows why) Nokia still plans to ship Symbian devices. MeeGo won’t be Nokia’s primary smartphone platform (though will continue to be developed for future non-smartphone devices), but Qt will continue to be used on it, and Nokia still plans to ship at least one MeeGo-based device.
“Who’s on first?”
As part of its restructuring, Nokia has returned to having two phone-related divisions: Smart Devices (where the Windows Phone 7, Symbian and MeeGo stuff will happen) for smartphones and presumably other high-end devices of various form-factors and Mobile Phones for the historically large (but now-shrinking) dumbphone market.
There’s always the chance that Nokia takes MeeGo seriously, either as an escape route for the future or for new, non-smartphone devices. The “first MeeGo-related open source device” they plan to ship “later this year” sounds like a “keeping developers happy” play.
But Qt on Symbian might not be the inevitable deathmarch it sounds like… sure, Symbian won’t be the smartphone platform of choice, but it might play a role in Nokia’s attempts to take back the low-end market.
Then again, Nokia has announced that it will help bring Windows Phone 7 down to lower-end devices.
Bottom line for Qt: I would not like to be a Troll today. They’ll be facing layoffs, reduced investment, and for the foreseeable future, life in non-strategic-focus limbo. Unpleasant.
Other options: I can’t see Nokia selling off Trolltech while still relying on Qt for Symbian (although an ongoing development agreement could cheapen the deal). And anyway, who in the Open Source market would want to acquire or poach the core developers?
Intel? Only if their interest in MeeGo survives, and they could just as easily pivot back to GTK+ and/or Clutter (where they have development expertise) given that it was Nokia pushing Qt in the first place.
Canonical? Mark announced only very recently that they’d commit to better Qt support in Ubuntu, mostly for third-party application developers. I can’t see Canonical or any third-party developers being particularly encouraged by Nokia’s decision. I wouldn’t want to second-guess the range of bizarre avenues Mark might pursue, but shovelling money into Qt doesn’t sound like something he’d jump on.
It sounds like a shit sandwich, but there might be a silver lining in this for KDE: Despite never accepting the premise of the criticism, KDE has been stuck under the heel (and on the shifting sands) of Trolltech and Nokia for a long time… could Nokia’s Elopocalypse be KDE’s Independence Day?