Sunday, March 28, 2010

Busy week in Nokia land

The following week is shaping up to be a very busy one for Nokia. Starting today, there is a (largish) scheduled maintenance in the Ovi Store, nearly two days for publishers and most of Monday for end-users. There were hints of some major spring Ovi improvements in the past months, let's hope this maintenance introduces at least some of the new & improved functions.

The second (even bigger) event will be the first MeeGo code drop (a technical preview release for developers), also known as "Day One", which is scheduled for Wednesday (search for March 31), and also a TSG meeting later that day.

Last, but not least, while not really announced, the Nokia N900 PR1.2 firmware release, probably the most important one so far (as it brings all-important official Qt4.6 compatibility) could easily happen this week. The early access PR1.2 SDK has been released a week ago, and the autobuilders on have already been transitioned to PR1.2, so the firmware itself can't be far.

The MeeGo release is certainly the most important of all these events, so prep your hacking skills, you're going to be able to put them to good use in just a few days !

EDIT: As pointed out below, this week will also see the election of the Maemo Community Council, which while not strictly a Nokia activity, still plays an important role in the Maemo world. If you are a Maemo community member and have received a voting token, take a gander at the candidate list and their programs and make sure the candidates who you think are best take the seats!

Harmattan: Last of the Maemos or First of the MeeGos ?

It has been over a month now that MeeGo, Nokia's and Intel's joint mobile linux effort has been announced. The original formula was for Maemo 6 (also known as Harmattan) and Moblin 2.2 to merge, and form a Maemo 1.0 in the next iteration. This was cool and was generally well accepted (except for a few not too well communicated points like switching from Maemo's DEB to Moblin's RPM). Let's delve into the branding/community aspect of Harmattan, the upcoming protoMeego!

The Maemo 6 device is not even out yet, only announced for the second half of 2010. So, how does one prevent the Osborne effect? Well, the immediate, and understandable reaction was dropping the Maemo 6 brand for Harmattan. This seemed a bit of a middle ground, but it is evident that most people have never heard about Harmattan and will have trouble placing it in the correct position with regard to Maemo and MeeGo, so later  a MeeGo / Harmattan name started appearing. In interviews and blogs, even top Nokia folks regarded Harmattan as MeeGo compatible, or an instance of MeeGo. In theory, if a device implements the MeeGo API, it is MeeGo device, if it doesn't, well, then it isn't. What does this mean in practice? Hard to tell, unfortunately. The first problem is that the MeeGo API itself has not yet been publicly released, only outlined in a very rough architectural sketch. Furthermore, as discussed in my previous article, this Harmattan / MeeGo is not the MeeGo the N900 users (think they) will be getting. Many of you will say, why does it matter? If the SDK helps overcoming the RPM/DEB divide, isn't it pointless to point out "differences is obscure middleware components"? Well, sadly, the question is a lot more complex than that.

Arguably one of the biggest differentiators and unique aspects of the Maemo platfom is/was the well organized community at Many of you unfamiliar with the inner workings might think it's just a forum or a download portal of some sort, but in reality, it's almost a country of it's own. It encompasses several communication media, from forums through blogs to mailing lists, documentation and the complete community development and distribution process (which accounts for 95% of available software for Maemo devices). Another way this little country is unique is that is has elected representatives, and encompasses all sorts of users, from casual surfers through power users to hardcore developers - something very few communities of this size manage to do. This makes and everything it stands for an invaluable asset of the Maemo platform. What does this mean with regard to Harmattan?

I hope the problem is starting to become apparent - by pushing Harmattan users into the fold, they will miss out the experience and momentum has. At the same time, there will be a realization that the only thing in common with their Intel, LG, etc 'neighbours' at is the name itself - they will be using a different package format, different repositories, different DRM, different architecture, different (but similar) APIs, different application store and IMO it won't be long before it will be perceived as a MeeGo stepchild and the Harmattan section will be littered with 'when will the Harmattan device get a real MeeGo?' or 'why does everything have to work differently on Harmattan?' threads.

Okay, I hear you say, then they just integrate it with and let it live through it's protoMeeGo days along with it's N8x0 and N900 predecessors until it really gets to be MeeGo 1.0. Unfortunately, that's not a decision without drawbacks, either. Right off the bat, there is the marketing problem of this making saying it somehow 'old', obsolete. In reality, it's not Harmattan that is obsolete, I feel that it was the MeeGo announcement that was in many ways premature as it is really something that affects the 2011 time frame of devices, anything before that will be MeeGo in name, not essence. And this brings us to the second problem of this approach - if the community coming with the Harmattan device is part of the Maemo community, there will be no substantial (read: one including end-users) Nokia device community present on until well into 2011 and the first 'designed for MeeGo' devices.

What's the solution, then? Harmattan is in a tough spot, Nokia aiming for high and noble long term goals, but that does not ease necessary near-term choices (especially considering they already made the most important one - going forward with Harmattan as planned regardless of MeeGo). I already talked about the branding problems - this is something only Nokia can decide on. On the platform side, I feel the community can help, but solid bridges need to be built between and, to allow for users to harness present-day community resources and experience, at the same time allowing them to grow/migrate into when the time is right. Trying to push them into a future infrastructure now could easily hurt Harmattan (and indirectly Nokia's own long term MeeGo) efforts.

DISCLAIMER: A lot of things about MeeGo are in flux, things becoming more clear when the first Harmattan and MeeGo SDKs are released (this should happen in just a few weeks).  I'm pretty certain there will be updates based on those coming for my little analysis above, so let's see what the future (and various MeeGo stakeholders) hold !

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The danger of weak branding or: which MeeGo is the real MeeGo?

By following various blogs and forums, it occured to me there is quite a confusion as to what actually MeeGo is. The basic idea, announced in Barcelona during the MWC, was to have Maemo and Moblin merged into a new OS called MeeGo. So far so good (number of MeeGos: 1). However, recently Nokia re-branded Maemo 6 as MeeGo / Harmattan, which uses a different package format, repositories, so not quite the same MeeGo that was originally announced, despite the general similarity (number of MeeGos: 2). In the same vein, Moblin folks started calling Moblin 2.2 simply MeeGo (number of MeeGos: 3). But wait, the plot thickens! It has recently been confirmed that the N900 will be Nokia's reference platform for ARM-based MeeGo devices. Now, this is closest to the MWC MeeGo, but is just a developer reference platform, not something that end users are expected to install/use (number of MeeGoos: 4). Getting dizzy? Take a look at, you'll see that MeeGo also intends to provide separate versions (as in different user experience) of  MeeGo not just for Pocketables. There will be distinct editions for Netbooks, Media Phones, TVs, In-vehicle devices and, as you probably guessed it by now, they're all called MeeGo (number of MeeGoos: 5, 6, 7, 8). So the next time somebody asks for or talks about MeeGo, make sure it is clear what the object of the talk is, lest the discussion turn into Marklar.

This problem has been usually tackled by subbranding, for example Ubuntu very successfully uses names like KUbuntu, XUbuntu, Edubuntu, Ubuntu Netbook Remix, etc. Why is this so important you ask? MeeGo targets a very wide range of devices and users, far more diverse than Ubuntu. By allowing everything to be called MeeGo, despite having different UIs, architectures, application stores, DRMs, APIs, packaging systems and repositories, MeeGo becomes a weak brand. It will no longer be important whether something is MeeGo as it provides no guarantee of anything except for a generic Qt based compatibility (which means little to end-users). It's crucial this branding mess gets cleared up by the powers that be before the first releases are made and the first devices hit the streets, otherwise MeeGo (all 8 of them if I counted correctly) risks going from a strong distribution brand for the embedded industry to being just a generic synonym for 'Linux with Qt'.