Sunday, March 28, 2010

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 !


  1. Really nice discussion. At the moment, it isn't clear if Harmattan is the last Maemo device or even if Meego is just a "branch" of Maemo technology. In addition, with Intel as the second stakeholder, will Maemo community efforts be considered in future? I mean, will community be considered part of the ecosystem?

  2. well said. there's a chance to bring the community along and keep them engaged. i so hope nokia take this aspect seriously. its a real strength of maemo today and can only hope it will be of meego in future

  3. hehehe....

    so what about ?

  4. i'm curious if 'alien' could be ported easily to maemo/meego?

    if so, couldn't this be used to install DEB packages (maemo) packages in the RPM (meego) platform, and vice versa?

    yes, the community issues would not be rectified, but this could act as a buoy to keep things floating along nicely a little bit longer as the final meego related consequences become known.

    personally, i wouldn't mind installing DEB packages via alien on my n900, while the official distribution packages are RPM...

  5. The formal aspects of the MeeGo community are still being discussed (there is a community working group in the making), but it is not clear yet where does fit in the MeeGo picture.

    @bitflung: We’ll see tomorrow, but my guess is that there will be a dual-build system (maybe via OBS) to easily build debs and rpms from the same source. Either that, or there will be a ’special’ automated version of alien/build scripts for the same purpose.

    @JonS: is not related to MeeGo (as of yet, the contents of the page have been changed, though, but the only actual links there are to google ads)

  6. well.... at least now we know that MeeGo is using the RPM packages....

  7. but i m sochked when i was seen and ask from friends they told me it will not come in asia
    read it from here