The Elopocalypse: Nokia chooses Microsoft

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 Elopocalypse

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!

MeeGo

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.

Qt

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?

Conclusion

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14 Responses to The Elopocalypse: Nokia chooses Microsoft

  1. Andres says:

    we’re a qt shop and feel betrayed by nokia. nokia are finish(ed). i think the only hope for qt is with kde and we will contribute resources to make this happen.

  2. esarbee says:

    *facepalm*
    I wonder if the sting pullers and decision makers at Nokia are actively striving to drive the company into the ground. Going for Windows Phone 7 is such an stupendously stupid move, it must be on purpose.

    Nokia spent years and tons of money to build up community goodwill and trust. They had a solid product, good partnership and – most important – full control over said product and its direction.

    WP7 on the other hand out of their control and while Microsoft may retain their quasi-monopoly on desktop operating systems and office products for quite some while now, they have been unable to deliver a mobile operating system that is able to compete with Android or IOS.

    This might be a good move for Microsoft, but I fail to see any strategic advantage gained by Nokia.

  3. Regarding Ryan’s comment… Android is already emerging as an embedded platform in a pile of devices coming out of Shenzhen; I ran into a set-top box from there this week, and that’s without including the whole emerging Google TV ecosystem.

    Thanks for a great writeup of this. It’s going to be interesting.

  4. Jerome Haltom says:

    I do view this as doom and gloom for non-Android based Linux phone development. But I mostly view the established lack of non-Android Linux phones many years into the game as foreshadowing that. I don’t know what sort of market share these things have outside of the US, but I can state with a certain confidence that I have never in my life actually seen such a phone. Nor even been made aware of any available phone models. Anywhere. Except that Nokia one. Which everybody on p.g.o got. And that’s it.

    I don’t view this as doom and gloom for Nokia, nor for MS. There’s no loss here for MS. They have a hardware provider. Finally. That can’t hurt them.

    Nokia however I think they may be onto something. MS has a tenacious way of latching onto a market, even one they’ve already had in the past, throwing enough cash at it, that it eventually works. It’s a ridiculous process. They fail, terribly, over and over again. But then they get it. Eventually. I mean, they actually have all the money in the world to throw at it. Maybe Nokia sees this as their only option to differentiate themselves from all of the other hardware providers. Doesn’t mean it has to last forever, but if they can get some phones sold, and make some money, then cool, right? If it works, it works. If it fails, they can always just start making Android phones.

  5. Jerome Haltom says:

    I should clarify and obvious omission. I know about WebOS. I know it’s Linux. I once had a friend who got a Blackberry with it. Long time Blackberry user. He got rid of it in about a week and got an iPhone. I’ve still never seen a “MeeGo” phone, or whatever.

    • Jeff Waugh says:

      Uh… Blackberry does not ship webOS, dude. It’s a Palm (now HP) joint. They got a point or two of share in the EU and US back when the Prē shipped, so there’s a fair number of them out there. Plus it’s a real, no-nonsense, unadulterated Linux platform. Unlike Android. :-)

  6. Greg K-H says:

    As for the Linux Foundation and MeeGo, remember, MeeGo is “just another workgroup” at the Linux Foundation. The LF just provides a place for the companies participating in the workgroup to meet together.

    In other words, MeeGo is just like the “Carrier Grade” workgroup at the LF, nothing really to worry about at all.

  7. That’s disgusting!!!

    I wish people would stop saying stupid things like “open source is about choice”!

  8. sadig says:

    Hmmm….

    I don’t want to sound cynical, but sometimes you, as a Company, have to make a decision. And mostly this decision is not always right (which you will see in the future when your Company died or you are losing customers in high numbers).
    But in every decision there is a new opportunity.

    Let me sum up:

    1. There is Google + Android, they are not producing phones, but the OS itself. It’s linux, and many phone manufacturers are happy with it.
    2. There is HP + WebOS, IMHO when HP is doing it right, they take WebOS to higher level. Hopefully HP will push WebOS to some other hardware vendors. The underlying system is Linux (as for Android) and the API looks interesting (especially the JS API).
    3. There is Nokia. They do produce phone hardware and they have at least 2 promising phone OS’ (Symbian and Maemo/Linux). They have a great developer library (Qt) which runs on many hardware systems, including small form factors.
    4. There is Apple and its IPhone and iOS..it’s BSD and…well, despite the fact that BSD is normally open, iOS is very closed source and nothing for the happy opensource dev.

    Android will survive, because Google can concentrat on the Software, they don’t need think about the hardware.
    WebOS will survive, with HP in the background and thinking that HP will do the same as Google, concentrating on the software, it will be a good competitor to Googles Android.
    Apple will survive (even with a smaller market share), because of their design, not their technique, eventually it’s better for them to take android or webos on the iphones and just design the form of mobile devices.
    Nokia will go away, after several years of expanding, Nokia will come to its EOL.
    Nokia is an elephant in regards to their production. Hardware production + Software production is a way you can’t go anymore.

    But what about Nokia and Qt?

    Thinking in terms of a KDE developer, when time comes they should fork the Qt project and do their own things. KDE has a lot of Qt core developers on board, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

    Anyways, Nokia had to make a decision, if they didn’t IMHO their business will die much faster then it will now.

  9. heater says:

    Never mind phones. A smart phone is just a computer with phone hardware attached.

    This is a brilliant way for MS to stifle development of Qt.

    Qt + KDE + X11 + Linux is about the only competitor to Windows in all segments of the computer market.

    MS having control of Qt is a clear monopoly situation that the European community should investigate.

  10. Russell Stuart says:

    There are layers of ironies here. Prior to the iPhone/Android smartphone phenomenon, there were three smartphone platforms duking it out. WinCE, RIM and Symbian. RIM grabbed the enterprise market by managing to provide better exchange connectivity than Microsoft did with WinCE, and Symbian crushed WinCE in the rest of the market place.

    Microsoft tried many times to revive WinCE’s fortune’s in the mobile phone space, the penultimate attempt being Kin which lasted for 6 weeks on the market last year, setting a record for the fastest mobile phone platform failure. WinPhone 7 is Microsoft’s latest attempt at putting lipstick on the pig [1]. From afar it looks like they didn’t royally fuck it up this time, but market wise it looked like without something bordering on a miracle their opportunity was gone. Google had emphatically took over the role software supplier to the commodity phone manufacturers – the same niche that Microsoft owns for the PC world.

    The company that currently has top selling smartphone platform on the planet suffering a crisis of confidence, putting up the white flag and adopting the weakling they had pummelled into the ground can only be described as such a miracle. Never let it be said Microsoft isn’t one of the best marketing companies on planet. This is right up there will Bill Gates buying 86-DOS and selling it to IBM as MSDOS. Someone in Microsoft deserved to be canonised.

    How this could possibly happen is pretty clear to anyone who has worked in a company like Nokia. The insider stories of firmware development teams being given a brief a year before then a few weeks from release being told the RAM size has dropped by 25% will be familiar to anyone who develops software for a company driven by hardware engineers. The irony here is how this will be fixed by adopting WinPhone 7. If the hardware guys go waltzing up to Microsoft with a new spec a few weeks out, they will do what the internal software guys should have been able to do: tell them where they can stick their new specs.

    I was both saddened and amused by some of the comments on the Nokia blog you link to. Saddened because the howls of pain were both real and distressing. Amused because most of those howls appear to be coming from commercial developers who adopted Qt after it was re-licensed under the LGPL, and are they are now proclaiming Qt is now dead because software can clearly not survive when it is free. The other amusing thing is the Symbian Qt division is still hiring. Apparently the signal from the dinosaurs brain hasn’t made it to the tail yet.

    [1] WinPhone 7 is WinCE, painted with a .Net printer, then give a final gloss coat with Silverlight. Nonetheless, it remains WinCE underneath. It is an O/S that has yet to make the 64 bit transition (phones are being released with 1G of RAM now). But worse, as someone who was peripherally involved in porting it to a new platform, I can say it is a absolute prick of a thing to work with. Turns out porting an OS to a new hardware platform when you don’t have the source code is near mission impossible. Who’d of thunk it?

  11. Dante_J says:

    My Primary concern is Microsoft exercising control through their trojan within Nokia; Elop, to gain access to Nokia patents.

    In the past Nokia has managed to be somewhat restrained in the amount of evil it could carry out, with it’s patent portfolio.

    Once this becomes the effective property of Microsoft, then there’s plenty to concern Google, Apple and the rest of the world that likes to benefit from telecommunications technology.

    By assuming Nokia into the Borg of Microsoft, they get to sit on some important FOSS code, causing it to go stale, and gain access to a sweet bunch of patents to use as a weapon. *Sigh*

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