Intel & Nokia Merge Maemo + Moblin to form MeeGo

In case you haven’t heard, Intel and Nokia are merging their respective Mobile Linux initiatives into a project called MeeGo (an unfortunate name, IMHO, but I guess that’s fairly common in the FLOSS world these days) that will be hosted by The Linux Foundation. From CNET:

Intel and Nokia are combining their respective Linux operating environments to power future smartphones and tablets, another step in a technology tie-up launched last year.

The technology merger will fuse Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo software to form a new operating environment dubbed MeeGo, which is expected to power a range of devices, including pocketable mobile computers, Netbooks, tablets, connected TVs, and in-vehicle infotainment systems.

Intel’s Moblin operating system has been offered on Netbooks from Dell, Acer, and Asus and made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show on a future smartphone from LG Electronics. Nokia’s Maemo OS has powered its N900, a high-end smartphone that Nokia refers to as a “mobile computer”–a likely precursor for future MeeGo-based devices from the Finnish telecommunications giant.

The Intel-Nokia collaboration began in earnest in June when the two companies announced the beginning of a “long-term relationship,” focusing on developing new chip architectures, software, and a new class of Intel-based mobile computing devices. This move is part of a major shift for Intel–a giant in PC chips but not a player in cell phones.

The goal for MeeGo is to put more flesh on the bones of last year’s announcement. In short, to combine two disparate, unwieldy operating environments under one roof, said Renee J. James, a senior vice president at Intel. “Across a range of devices we’re looking to build a single Linux platform with a single developer environment and a merged API,” James said in an interview with CNET. An API, or application programming interface, is a way for a program to interact with other software.

Both companies stressed that applications that run on Moblin and Maemo will run on top of MeeGo.

Importantly, MeeGo will support equally ubiquitous ARM-architecture chips, in addition to Intel processors. “It’s going to be cross-platform. That means it supports both Intel and ARM,” James said. ARM processors are offered by Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung, and others, while Intel’s Atom processor powers Moblin-based devices today.

The official Linux Foundation page adds:

MeeGo is fully open software operating system for the next generation of computing devices. Formed by Intel and Nokia and hosted at The Linux Foundation, the MeeGo platform is set to revolutionize computing and be adopted widely by device manufacturers, network operators, software vendors and developers across multiple device types. We welcome participation in the workgroup, and encourage all ecosystem participants to join the Linux Foundation and participate more closely with the MeeGo project.

As usual, RedMonk has a very good Q & A post up. Here are a few salient bits:

Q: So this project is basically a consolidation of two projects that were competing, essentially, in the same space?
A: There was some minimal distance between the projects, actually: maemo, for example, was never aimed at the full fledged netbook market. When Nokia entered that market, remember, they went Windows 7, not maemo.

So there’s more differentiation between their target audiences than is commonly supposed. But to the point, yes: this can be considered market consolidation.

Q: Isn’t that a good thing?
A: It certainly can be. It is not clear, for example, that either project had sufficient oxygen to sustain itself indefinitely. So by joining forces, they have a better opportunity on paper.

Q: Why do you say on paper?
A: Because these are technologies that – apart from their shared kernel heritage – don’t really have all that much in common. The packaging systems are different, the UI frameworks are different, the applications are different, and so on. Meaning that not only is the merger likely to be complicated, both communities are likely to be significantly impacted.

Q: Can you give an example?
A: Consider the packaging format. Moblin, being Fedora based, uses .rpm, while maemo, being derived from Debian uses .deb. According to the FAQ, MeeGo is going to support only .rpm. In practical terms, then, all of the packages available for maemo will have to be repackaged.

Q: So they should have supported both?
A: No, that just makes things more complicated. That’s the approach they’re taking with the UI frameworks, and it’s probably not wise.

Q: How so? What’s the story with the UI frameworks?
A: Without rehashing a lot of unimportant history, let’s just say that there are two popular open source UI frameworks: GTK and Qt. Qt had generally been better thought of, technically, but until 2009 was more restrictively licensed. GTK, being more permissively licensed, was more widespread.

Both Moblin and maemo were, at their inception, GTK based, though Moblin also used Clutter, which we’ll come back to. Nokia, however, acquired in 2008 Trolltech, the vendor behind Qt. They asserted at the time that maemo would continue to be GTK, but a number of people – myself included – were skeptical. And sure enough, maemo subsequently transitioned to that UI toolkit.

Back to Clutter. A very cool OpenGL toolkit built in part by Intel acquisition OpenedHand, Clutter allows for hardware accelerated UIs via OpenGL and integrates well with GTK.

Complicated, no? The net is that there is considerable overlap between the UI technologies, but rather than annoint – or at least pick out of a hat – a winner, MeeGo is following in the footsteps of Linux desktops that preceded it, and intends to support all of the UI options.

Now, while it’s clear that Moblin and Maemo had an uphill battle ahead and long term viability was never guaranteed for either, I don’t know that it’s clear that MeeGo will fare much better. From Nokia’s statements it’s pretty clear they will be sticking with Symbian on all of their smartphones and will be putting MeeGo only on what they call “pocketable devices”. It seems unlikely then that others will attempt to use Meego on smartphones, which steers it clear of competition from Android, the iPhone and other more traditional phone OS’s. In the “pocketable devices” category though they already have competition from some established Linux distributions such as Ubuntu NetBook Remix, and ChromeOS will be ready soon. Add the soon to be released iPad to the mix and the space begins to look cluttered (zing) pretty quickly.

On the technical side, their is some compelling technology in both Maemo and Moblin. I’ve owned multiple Nokia Maemo devices and have really enjoyed them. Moblin boot times are looking extremely impressive. That being said, the two projects have some large technological differences (the RedMonk Q&A covers some of them, but think QT vs. GTK, RPM vs. deb… etc.) that will almost ensure that bits of both communities, which are fairly diminutive to begin with, will be alienated as part of the merge process. Will what remains be enough to fend off the well funded competition from Google, Apple and the others who may enter this up and coming product space? Only time will tell.

Additional Reading:
Thoughts about MeeGo
Ari Jaaksi – MeeGo time!
Official MeeGo site

–jeremy

Opening up Symbian – Good or Bad for Linux?

That’s the question raised by this recent Nokia press release:

Espoo, Finland – Nokia today announced it has launched a cash offer to acquire all of the shares of Symbian Limited that Nokia does not already own, at a price of EUR 3.647 per share. The net cash outlay from Nokia to purchase the approximately 52% of Symbian Limited shares it does not already own will be approximately EUR 264 million.

The acquisition is a fundamental step in the establishment of the Symbian Foundation, announced today by Nokia, together with AT&T, LG Electronics, Motorola, NTT DOCOMO, Samsung, Sony Ericsson, STMicroelectronics, Texas Instruments and Vodafone. More information about the planned foundation can be found at http://www.symbianfoundation.org.

From the Symbian Foundation site:

The Symbian Foundation platform will be available to members under a royalty-free license from this non-profit foundation. The Symbian Foundation will provide, manage and unify the platform for its members. Also, it will commit to moving the platform to open source during the next two years, with the intent to use the Eclipse Public License. This will make the platform code available to all for free, bringing additional innovation to the platform and engaging even a broader community in future developments.

Keep in mind that while not a huge success in the US, Symbian does still account for about 60% of all smartphones, with the next OS a distant second at about 15%. So, what does this mean for mobile Linux? It’s still unclear to me the direction Nokia will take, so it’s hard to tell. They are all over the place at the moment. The have the GTK based maemo project, have recently acquired TrollTech for QT and now have an Open Source Symbian. Long term, they can’t possibly want to support all three of these. Looking at Symbian specifically, I’m not sure it can compete directly with the likes of the iPhone and Android. The UI looks old and clunky and it doesn’t have a lot of the functionality and polish of the newer mobile offerings. That said, developers know it, it has a huge application catalog and an entrenched base. Whether that will be enough for Symbian to make it out of the Open Source process alive remains to be seen though, and in my opinion it isn’t a certainty. What Nokia does get is 1) options and 2) the perception that they are not sitting on their hands while Android and the iPhone pass it by. Even if Symbian can’t compete feature for feature with something like Android, this announce will serve to remove one of its key advantages. That alone is likely worth the investment to Nokia.

Further Reading:
Linux Foundation
Red Monk
SAI

–jeremy

Letstalk == FAIL

I was quite excited when I found out I had been excepted into the N810 maemo device program. I own an N800 and really like it. Nokia is doing some really interesting things with both the N-series and Open Source, so I was looking forward to being able to get an early look at the device and post about it here. I even had plans to give away my N800 to someone who was willing to do something interesting for maemo. It has been epic fail ever since. The main target of the program was developers (so they could get early access to develop), documentation writers (so they could get early access to write docs), bloggers (to stir up interest), community supporters, maemo evangelists – well, you get the idea… early adopters and influentials. The first thing that struck me as odd was that this program made the device available long after the device was available to the general public. Ironic, considering the target market. For the deal I was getting though, I was happy to let this slide. Then came the mix up with discount codes. As this point, the device has been available in stores for about two months. The problem has been pretty well documented. I still held off on commenting. Hiccups happen (especially when the size of a program is so small, compared to the size of Nokia). They were doing a good thing, I figured, and I really like the N800 – so I’ll cut them some slack.

Then, I am finally able to place my order. I figured I’d still have the device in time for SCALE, where I could show everyone how great it was. The device came with 2 day shipping standard. About 5 days later, still no N810. I log in to check the status of my order. Status: CANCELED. No call or email from Letstalk, just canceled. I thought it might be a mixup, but yesterday I got an email saying the order was canceled (with no explanation). So, today I call Letstalk. They don’t seem to be 100% sure why the order was canceled, but it may be because I have placed too many orders with them in a short period of time. I have never even heard of this company, let alone order anything but this N810. So, I try to place an order over the phone. First, they tell me I’ll have to transfer to a different department right after my order, or else it will be auto-canceled again. Odd, but whatever. Then, they can’t get the developer discount code to work. A couple times on hold and finally that is resolved. Then, they place the order with a completely made up address (I kid you not – after telling him my address multiple times and having my previous order to look at… the confirmation email I got said Michigan). Another call and they straighten out the address, but my order has to be “confirmed”. Another call for that. The rep explains that they will need to call my bank and verify the shipping address and some other information. Sure, no problem. About 20 minutes later he says that the bank has confirmed all my information and identity. He now needs my SSN so he can access some public records and verify three questions. At this point, I canceled the order. I’m not sure what would have been needed after I answered the three questions, but I assume it would have involved a blood sample. If you getting word directly from my bank is not good enough, what is?

So, I guess I won’t be getting an N810 after all… which is a shame. I’ll certainly never do business with Letstalk again and it really reflects poorly on Nokia as well. The N-series is fantastic in general and the N810 looks to be the best yet. Nokia just bought Trolltech and seems to be moving more and more toward Open Source. I really do wish them the best, but I hope they wise up to the fact that Letstalk is giving them a very bad image.

–jeremy

Nokia to acquire Trolltech to accelerate software strategy

Continuing what is becoming a popular trend, another Open Source company has been acquired. This time it’s Nokia acquiring Trolltech, who are best known for QT and Qtopia. From the press release:

Espoo, Finland and Oslo, Norway – Nokia and Trolltech ASA today announced that they have entered into an agreement that Nokia will make a public voluntary tender offer to acquire Trolltech (www.trolltech.com), a company headquartered in Oslo, Norway and publicly listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. Trolltech is a recognized software provider with world-class software development platforms and frameworks. In addition to the key software assets, its talented team will play an important role in accelerating the implementation of Nokia’s software strategy.

Nokia will offer NOK 16 per share in cash. The board of directors of Trolltech has unanimously recommended that its shareholders accept Nokia’s Offer. Holders of 35,024,830 shares, representing approximately 66,43 % of Trolltech’s issued shares and votes have as of January 27, 2008 irrevocably undertaken to accept the Offer. Haavard Nord, Vuonislahti Invest AS (controlled by Eirik Chambe-Eng), Teknoinvest and certain funds managed by Index Ventures are among the shareholders who have agreed to tender their shares to Nokia.

The acquisition of Trolltech will enable Nokia to accelerate its cross-platform software strategy for mobile devices and desktop applications, and develop its Internet services business. With Trolltech, Nokia and third party developers will be able to develop applications that work in the Internet, across Nokia’s device portfolio and on PCs. Nokia’s software strategy for devices is based on cross-platform development environments, layers of software that run across operating systems, enabling the development of applications across the Nokia device range. Examples of current cross-platform layers are Web runtime, Flash, Java and Open C.

It’s good to see that Nokia has explicitly confirmed its commitment to keeping Trolltech products Open Source and available under the GPL. I think the move makes quite a bit of sense, although I remain unsure what the real future of Symbian is. Nokia is creating some really interesting devices (although I am still waiting for my N810). It should be noted that while QT forms the base of KDE, devices such as the N810 currently run Gnome. Congratulations on another successful Open Source exits. With the current trend, it’s unclear how much longer we’re going to have “Open Source companies”. It seems that more and more, Open Source is simply being seen as a logical way to develop software, even in historically proprietary companies.

–jeremy

Where's my Gphone?

Google finally made the highly anticipated Gphone related announcement today:

Despite all of the very interesting speculation over the last few months, we’re not announcing a Gphone. However, we think what we are announcing — the Open Handset Alliance and Android — is more significant and ambitious than a single phone. In fact, through the joint efforts of the members of the Open Handset Alliance, we hope Android will be the foundation for many new phones and will create an entirely new mobile experience for users, with new applications and new capabilities we can’t imagine today.

Android is the first truly open and comprehensive platform for mobile devices. It includes an operating system, user-interface and applications — all of the software to run a mobile phone, but without the proprietary obstacles that have hindered mobile innovation. We have developed Android in cooperation with the Open Handset Alliance, which consists of more than 30 technology and mobile leaders including Motorola, Qualcomm, HTC and T-Mobile. Through deep partnerships with carriers, device manufacturers, developers, and others, we hope to enable an open ecosystem for the mobile world by creating a standard, open mobile software platform. We think the result will ultimately be a better and faster pace for innovation that will give mobile customers unforeseen applications and capabilities.

It’s important to recognize that the Open Handset Alliance and Android have the potential to be major changes from the status quo — one which will take patience and much investment by the various players before you’ll see the first benefits. But we feel the potential gains for mobile customers around the world are worth the effort. If you’re a developer and this approach sounds exciting, give us a week or so and we’ll have an SDK available. If you’re a mobile user, you’ll have to wait a little longer, but some of our partners are targeting the second half of 2008 to ship phones based on the Android platform. And if you already have a phone you know and love, check out mobile.google.com and make sure you have Google Maps for mobile, Gmail and our other great applications on your phone. We’ll continue to make these services better and add plenty of exciting new features, applications and services, too.

This is fairly inline with what I was expecting. While some were anticipating a hardware device from Google, a platform plus stack release makes much more sense. They don’t have to get into a very low margin high capital business and they can keep existing partnerships in place without the added stress of direct competition. This move should have fairly large repercussion for the entire industry. With the availability of a full SDK for this platform, Apple is really going to get hurt if they are too closed with their SDK, which will be released soon. Looking at the Open Handset Alliance members, you’ll notice both Nokia and FIC are missing. You have to wonder how this announcement will impact Maemo and OpenMoko, respectively. I’d guess we’ll see many more partners and stepped up competition as a result of this announcement, so I’ll keep an eye out and post an update when the dust has settled. One thing is clear, the Linux mobile landscape is heating up.

Additional Reading:
TechCrunch
Edgadget
Mashable
Techdirt
Linux Foundation (which has pointers to many of the Linux mobile initiatives and players, including: ACCESS, A La Mobile, Celunite, FST, Mizi Research, OpenMoko/FIC, Purple Labs, Trolltech, LiMO, LiPS, Moblin and more)

–jeremy

Nokia N810 gets official

Regular blog readers will know that I really like my Nokia N800. On that note, it’s great to see that Nokia just officially announced the N810. The N810 is fairly similar to the N800, but now includes a built in QWERTY keyboard and GPS (which were certainly two of the most requested features, so Nokia is listening). You can see a more complete comparison here. The updates on the N810 look great and I’d guess that the next generation device (N900?) is going to be an absolutely killer device.

–jeremy

Are SCO Execs in trouble?

From Mark Webbink:

Some have speculated that it would be worthwhile to now take SCO off the market. Heck, their market cap is now under $10 million. The problem is that paying $10 million to buy SCO would not be the end of it. SCO is still embroiled in the IBM case and the Red Hat case, to say nothing of the on-going claims that Novell has. In addition, when the lights finally flicker out on SCO, look for some shareholder lawsuits based on violation of securities laws. If you go back to the press conferences that SCO repeatedly called back in 2003 and 2004, they never began those press conferences by making the standard disclaimers cautioning investors to take what they were saying with a grain of salt. As a consequence, investors had every right to take what Darl McBride and Chris Sontag were saying in public back then as the gospel truth. Like McBride stating publicly that SCO owned the copyrights to Unix in the spring of 2003 while he was privately corresponding with Novell begging them to transfer the copyrights to SCO.

We have come a long way from that day in 2003 when McBride suggested IBM buy SCO for $500 million.

I’d expect shareholder lawsuits once SCOX runs out of money and it looks like Darl McBride and Chris Sontag might end up getting a little more than they bargained for. It would have been nice to see this case make it all the way through to judgment, but it’s looking less and less likely that SCO will be able to hold out that long.

–jeremy

Feature upgrade release to the Internet Tablet OS 2007 edition

With all the iPhone hype, it’s easy for other gadgets to fall out of mind. The N800 is still a very cool device, however, and does quite a bit that the iPhone just doesn’t do (and never will). Oh, and it’s a mostly open platform. The latest firmware has just been released and contains some really nice features:

* Skype client support
* Adobe Flash 9 browser plug-in
* Up to 8GB memory card support
* better touch screen sensitiveness
* better battery life
* New pre-installed content
* Tableteer applet
* and more! (there’s a comprehensive roundup here)

It’s great to see that Nokia continues to add features and improve the device. The N800 is hands down one of the most useful (and slickest) devices I’ve ever owned. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to upgrade the firmware today. Previous upgrades have gone very smooth and it’s great that there is an official Linux installer.

–jeremy

Ari Jaaksi on Nokia and Open Source and the N770

Stephe points to a white paper on Ari’s blog that details the early learnings at Nokia around open source and product delivery. This learning predominately focuses on the Nokia N770 and maemo project. The N770 is an “Internet Tablet” and is the predecessor to the N800, which I’m the proud owner of. If you’re unfamiliar with the N800, you can get an LQ branded look here.

The 10 page white paper is full of useful information and insight and is a worthwhile read in its entirety. Here are a few highlights.

On cost savings:

The biggest cost savings came from the utilization of already available components. We utilized several free components and subsystems as such, with no modifications.

We also improved several components to better meet our requirements. Such improvement is cheaper than creating the needed functionality from scratch.

Some 2/3 of the code of the Nokia 770 is licensed under an open source license. These components made it possible for us to build the software cheaper than we could have done using closed and proprietary technologies.

On code quality:
If we compare the code from open source to the code developed by us, our conclusion is that open source is of better quality. We have more bugs and problems in the Nokia developed code. This is only natural because the majority of the Nokia code is build from scratch and is thus very young. Open source code, on the other hand, has mostly been used by others already. They have fixed the most severe errors already before we started to use the code.

On engineering flexibility:
Open source is flexible when we needed to fix a problem or change functionality. We often requested bug fixes or modifications to the commercial closed components on our platform. If the vendors didn’t have the capacity or will to fix the problem on time, we had few options. We could not fix problems ourselves because the companies using closed source didn’t want us to access their source code. With open source components, though, we fixed bugs yourself, hired somebody else to fix them, or worked with the communities for the modifications. We thus had many options available, and in most cases we managed to fix the problems at hand. The free access to the code and to the developers improved the quality of open source originated components within the final product.

On confidentiality and the open source community:
We worked intensively with communities already before we announced the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Open source approach requires openness and information sharing during development. A high publicity launch, on the other hand, is the way to introduce consumer products to the public and you do not want to reveal the products before the launch date. There is thus a potential conflict between the open source openness and product launch secrecy.

The credentials, work, and history of open source hackers are open for everybody to see. The hackers typically want to work with interesting things also in the future. Therefore, they don’t want to become famous for jeopardizing somebody else’s project and misusing their trust. Thus, openness and open source can actually be much stronger bond than any NDA or monetary sanction one can put on an individual or a company.

Based on our experiences, we can combine open communication and product confidentiality. We had no information leakage prior to the commercial product announcements, although we had had tens of developers working on the software with us. For some of the developers, we had told very detailed information about the forthcoming product. Developing products in open source and yet maintain the confidentiality of the product plans and roadmaps was possible for us.

and a summary:
Our experiences demonstrate that open source technologies and development model suit very well for such devices. We created the product in shorter time and with lesser resources that we have managed to develop other products utilizing proprietary software. In essence, open source offers time and cost savings in a form of readily available components and subsystems, available developers, and effective development model.

It was clear at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit that Linux in the mobile space is going to be huge. Even though Nokia has a serious investment in Symbian, they are exploring what the future holds for mobile Linux. That future looks very bright.

–jeremy

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