What does the Nokia-Microsoft announcement mean?

I've been mulling over the Nokia-Microsoft announcement for a while to avoid a knee-jerk relation (that I did on Twitter) and here's my take. This is a fairly long post, but I've tried to take a larger view on the topic with lots of detail.

Symbian

Good riddance. Symbian's main problem was always the fact that nobody actually wanted to code for it. It was not built for developers, it was built to be understood by a very small core group of engineers, who would build a few apps on top of it, and that was all.

And I'm not talking about 3rd party developers here. When the system and the programming interfaces are complex, even developing the platform itself and the phone built-in apps costs more money, takes more time, and is more error-prone. Developer productivity is low. This is the reason why Nokia lagged behind in Symbian: it was just too complicated. Yes, technically the kernel is brilliant and power-efficient and fast. Unfortunately, nobody higher up was able to co-ordinate a rescue effort until the idea to buy Qt came along - which would've solved all these issues by increasing developer productivity significantly. Unfortunately it was too late.

Also the fact that Symbian was not fun meant that you would not have a skilled pool of enthusiasts to hire from. People coded for Symbian only because someone paid money for it - and that means that the best, brightest and most productive guys would go to work elsewhere. (Obviously there were exceptions. There always are. But over the years, the most appreciative comment I heard about Symbian from a programmer's point of view was "It's no worse than the others." That tells a lot.)

Windows Phone

Out of the different possibilities, Windows Phone is probably the best choice to adopt. It pains me to say this, but really, it is. Competing in the Android ecosystem with Nokia's overheads against all the Chinese manufacturers? No way. At least with Microsoft there's Microsoft's marketing, traditionally excellent developer tools and relations, and some very good technology and brands (like XBox).

Also, Nokia will probably have much better impact on Windows Phone development than they would for Android, considering that in short order, they will be shipping a massive majority of Windows smartphones. In the Windows ecosystem, they will be the giant.

Windows Phone is -- as S. Elop pointed out in his famous "burning platforms" -memo -- an act of desperation, and the best of the worst options. Now, nobody really likes it, as everyone would've liked to have seen Nokia build something really beautiful and awesome, but they didn't and couldn't, so there you go.

Meego

Meego's situation is interesting, and it's easy to read too much or too little into it. Microsoft hates everything GPL with burning passion, and Linux has been a sore point for them for years. I would not put it past them to hide a special clause in their contract that in exchange for lower Windows license prices, Nokia will stop any Linux development that may threaten them. (Though this is obviously pure guesswork, and nobody in their right mind would ever confirm such a thing.)

In this case, Nokia could not say that they will drop Meego straight away because of existing agreements with Intel and others. But the phrasing "research OS" essentially means "only a handful of people will do any serious work on it." Intel and some others may continue to use it, and it may become an interesting tablet OS at some point. Who knows. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for anything. It's no longer on Nokia's critical path for the future, and in fact is in direct conflict with the strategy of their most important partner, and resourcing will reflect that.

This will also have direct impact on Linux in general, since Nokia has been a fairly active contributor to the kernel (2.3% of all kernel contributions, whereas Google is only at 0.7%. Nokia has been contributing over three times more than Google - and Google is actually shipping an Linux-based operating system!).

HOWEVER, it may also be that Nokia's careful wording about Meego is designed not to piss off Microsoft. Every single other major mobile phone manufacturer has their own OS, and as Steve/Apple has many times pointed out, the only way to make a truly great customer experience is to control both the hardware and software. It is entirely possible that Nokia is planning to still roll out Meego as their premiere smartphone OS, and Windows Mobile is only an interim solution. However, it is no longer on the critical path to succeed, so they can afford to continue development in a smaller group that can hone it to perfection. This move gives Nokia time to rebuild their software engineering process by shedding out all of the old baggage - if they are brave enough. This is an opportunity for Nokia to reset themselves and really transform themselves into a proper software company, if they so choose.

Now, Nokia might've been desperate, but they are not stupid. Considering that mobile phone manufacturers have consistently failed to work with Microsoft, Nokia needs a plan B. Now they have a couple of years of time to execute it. If they do not, then it's obvious that they've thrown in the towel and are only waiting for Microsoft to buy them.

I think the way to figure out which way Nokia is going to go can be seen on how they treat Qt. If they choose to keep it, Meego is going to be the future. If they choose to let it wither and die (or sell it off), Meego will become just a curiosity. Qt is the key for Meego developer adoption, and the only way it could become a feasible smartphone platform. In my opinion there's no point to develop Meego just for the tablet market; it would be really hard when you couldn't leverage the same development effort as on the phone side.

At any rate, Meego will lose a number of good people, simply because they are fierce open source advocates who will not work for a company which has sided itself with the Evil Empire. I'm hoping that this is not going to be a large number.

S30 & S40

Not a whole lot will happen here. These guys (who are, by the way, really good at what they do, and totally underappreciated) will continue to ship Nokia's own operating systems and sell billions. Nobody in the tech industry will care because they're not shiny, but a massive amount of the world's population will continue to buy them and for the next billion, the mobile experience will be defined by them.

Even if Nokia is facing a lot of pressure on the low end too, I think that the fact that Nokia no longer has to worry about smartphone development means that they can now dedicate more resources to the feature platorms. Nokia's brand value is still good, the platform is very mature, and they don't have to pretend to keep any sort of backwards compatibility.

Ovi

The mobile industry is still going towards services. Or to be precise, internet services are going to mobile. Microsoft isn't very good in the service business (they're also geared towards shipping boxes), so Nokia will need something. My guess is that they will keep rebranding OEM services under Ovi (like Ovi Chat and Ovi Mail are now run by Yahoo), while concentrating on the few services that are doing well: Ovi Maps and Ovi Music Store, and the necessary infrastructure to run them. I don't think Ovi Store is going to go away as such: Nokia needs an S40 app store; there will still be a significant amount of Symbian devices out there which need a store; and Nokia has an extensive billing system already in place.

If you do, however, see talk about Bing Maps replacing Ovi Maps and Qt being sold, then you know that Microsoft and Nokia are heading for a merger. Or a buyout, which seems more likely at these stock prices.

Java & Oracle

There has probably been much teeth-gnashing and furious typing into Excel sheets at the Oracle boardroom: You see, even though nobody was really paying attention, with every single Symbian phone shipped a Java Runtime. So, in essence, Oracle will lose licensing money from the 100M Symbian phones that Nokia was shipping every year, and will lose the only smartphone platform which had their technology. To compensate, Oracle will need to tighten its screws on other Sun technology they have, possibly upping their effors against Google. Which can be a problem.

Qt

Qt guys are waving the good flag, saying that Qt is still going strong and that they're still hiring. As Symbian is being ramped down, there will be no new projects started for it - and all the old ones are using the native Symbian APIs anyway. There will be no Qt for Windows Phone, as it would compete against Microsoft directly. So Qt for mobile is only with Meego, and as I've said previously - the way that Nokia is going to treat Qt will reveal their intentions for Meego.

However, what is interesting is that Qt is the basis for KDE, which is the other major Linux desktop system. In fact, if Nokia guts Qt development, it will strike a very, very serious blow to Linux as a desktop environment. If Qt goes down, a lot of the Trolls will probably walk out and start a new company that will continue to develop Qt, but since copyrights stay with Nokia, this will be a tougher sell than previously. This would obviously please Microsoft.

If Nokia sells Qt, Google would be a good recipient. They would gain a valuable software asset (and many contributors to Webkit, which is the most important mobile browser engine right now), and could provide a ready-made development environment and tools for their desktop and Android OS. If their discussion with Oracle turns really sour over Java, then they may have to conjure up a good native environment, and Qt could be it. However, more likely the buyer would be either Intel (who would then have a solid continuation for Meego) or another embedded systems manufacturer.

NSN

I'm with Tomi Ahonen on this one - NSN will be sold sooner or later.

Working with Microsoft

I feel a bit sorry for the people who will stay at Nokia. Or to be precise, I feel sorry for their families. Microsoft's HQ is ten timezones away, and that means that teleconferences start at 6 pm for Finns. Or later.

Now, I kinda do like Microsoft's recent efforts. They've been surprisingly nice to people who jailbreak Phone 7, XBox and Kinect are cool, and even Microsoft Office X on my Mac is actually quite pleasurable. So these guys know how to build and ship software, so it'll be okay from that perspective.

But unfortunately, the Earth is spherical, and if Nokia's phone development stays in Finland, it (and the lives of those connected) will be seriously impacted by this. I would not be surprised if Nokia's main phone development were moved eventually to existing locations in the US, leaving only the corporate HQ here - and then it would not be a long time before it too would leave Finland.

Impact for Finland

Short term - this will be devastating to morale and job market once the reality starts sinking in. When Symbian goes, so do all the support functions (HR, WR, etc). And so will many people in the other companies that have been providing subcontracting for Nokia. The job market will be flooded with people with people who don't necessarily even know what it is to be unemployed, or have a skillset that's suitable only for obsolete technology.

Employers (with money) will of course rejoice, since they can now hire good people cheaply out of a large and highly educated pool. Expect average wages to go down. However, there aren't enough employers in Finland to suddenly hire all these people. Some will try entrepreneurship, but few will have the drive and the ideas to carry them anything further than what the separation package carries them. Certainly the best will be snatched by competitors, and everyone with a house loan (which is almost everyone) will seek a steady paycheck rather than take their chances. Most of these people weren't in Symbian because it was fun and exciting - they were there because the money was good. That attitude does not a good entrepreneur make.

With the elections just coming up, no politician is able to do anything other than issue stern statements, and I just don't trust that the Finnish government is capable of quick, decisive action on this. If they do something, it will have impact two years down the line, and while that will be great, the short-term impact of anything they do will be equivalent to handwaving. In fact, I am not even sure whether there is anything that could possibly be done by the government, other than plan for the reduction in tax income.

Finally

Of course, the impact might not be that great, depending on how much custom software Nokia will want to bundle with their new phones. They still need to differentiate, and be able to offer cool apps to counter the larger developer populations of iOS and Android. So there's still hope for good subcontractors and developers.

And, on the other hand, a lot of people will get a very long, paid summer vacation. So perhaps that'll make the country happier, overall :-)

(Phew, there you go. And that - I hope - is the last thing I say on the topic. Unless the great, unwashed masses of the internetz completely misunderstood me, and come flooding here to flame me. Just needed to get this stuff of my chest so that I can purge myself of all things mobile. I'm beginning to be really bored at it - the same way as I was bored at Amiga vs PC vs Mac so many years ago. Discussion about mobile operating systems damages your sanity; the interesting stuff is happening elsewhere now.)

Update: I just want to make it clear that I am not employed by Nokia. I used to be, but I left over nine months ago.




Comments

This was a great read. Thank you for this article!

I found this analysis making some very realistic predictions. Also, being a Maemo fan, I'm naturally entertained by your thoughts about MeeGo's survival. :)

--Chris, 13-Feb-2011


Thanks! This was a sharp and non-provocated analysis, clearly giving some topics to follow. Let's wathch how they will deal with Qt!

--prasanen, 13-Feb-2011


I think that you are wrong about the capability for the job market to absorb the few 100's of developers that will leave or be fired. It is also likely that competitors will start offices in or near Finland (Sweden, Estonia or Russia are likely), and this way benefit from the pool of qualified people available in the Finnish market. But overall the Finnish market for software development was already overheating, so a few 100's of people looking for jobs will make the market get back to normal (say like 2007-2008). Nokia is big, but their presence in Finland has been dwindling for many years. Many of the people employed in Finland were from other countries and will likely return to those countries.

About people staying with Nokia because of the money: surely you must never have worked there. The salary strategy by Nokia has always been "top people at average salaries" :) It is true that people who chose to stay long term employed are not the best entrepreneurs, but then again Finland is not the right place to find a large pool of entrepreneurs in the first place :)

--Vasco Duarte, 13-Feb-2011


I doubt they will sell Qt. If they sold it to Google or HP, it would mean that Google or webos becomes the de facto upgrade path for symbian users and developers. Thus they will keep it, the question being if it's going to return to it's status prior to nokia, or if it's going to die a slow death by fork and braindrain.

--Qt fan, 13-Feb-2011


@Vasco: I worked for Nokia for 8 years. Never had an issue with my salary.

As for the impact, I really, really do hope you're right. I just fear you're not.

--JanneJalkanen, 13-Feb-2011


@Qt fan: Isn't Android already the de-facto upgrade path for Symbian developers and users?

--JanneJalkanen, 13-Feb-2011


@Vasco, we are talking about few thousand developers (taking all the subcontractors in account). And another few thousand project managers, HR, sales etc. The developers will have a tough time selling themselves, but there is always jobs truly skilful people. Sure, some will have relocate, be unemployed for a while, accept a job with smaller salary, but they will survive. The other group (pm's, middle managers, etc) will have much tougher time. This country simply doesn't need that many power point experts. Furthermore, there are enough people who have been burned be dealings with complacent Nokia managers that for many jobs having "Nokia" and "Manager" in the same CV is a big no-no.

--escapingfinland, 13-Feb-2011


the issue is, Nokia has absolutely drained their brand loyalty in past years. Even sony ericsson who abandoned their flagship phone (uiq3/p1i) in a single day, declining to update it even while they own the source has larger brand value and trust. I keep seeing suits thinking somehow, that N8 user who must be extremely pissed off will go and buy a windows powered n9 when it ships. No, he will sell N8 for dirt cheap and move to android from another established brand or join apple cult to never leave again. N8 purchasers have no money problem and once they are gone, they are gone forever.

--Ilgaz, 14-Feb-2011


Microsoft hates everything GPL? I wouldn't say so. They've even contributed lots of code for Linux kernel. And yes, I know it's just to get Linux to work on their platforms, but still. Linux still hasn't gotten anywhere near Windows on the desktop and on the server side there's nothing like AD etc. So I really don't even see any reason for them to even care that much about Linux.

Otherwise a good summary.

--AnonymousCoward, 14-Feb-2011


Your right about Symbian, but do not forget that S60 made it a lot worse. I started Symbian programming when it was still Epoc, and Eikon, S80 and UIQ were easier to use than S60. For app developers, third party and internal, the UI API is very important at what drives programming ease of use.

I am having more of a problem with the idea that Qt will save Nokia in case the Microsoft deal fails. No commercial developer in his right mind will start to work on substantial Qt apps with the idea of making money on MeeGo. There is no volume. Period. For Symbian the reasoning is: is the investment worthwhile given that Symbian is dead. What other opportunities are out there? iOS, Android, Bada? Will my return be bigger there?

If the deal falls through in the future, and Nokia is going to create a new platform, and it becomes popular, then developers will use that platform, whether it is Qt or someting else. Nokia is going to have a big problem getting developers back on board after the backstabbing last friday. See, Qt should have been on top of WP7, because that portability was what kept developers and what attracted new ones. Now that promise is broken. I understand that, but doing business with an unreliable partner again and again? Lets wait even longer before committng.

--Sander van der Wal, 15-Feb-2011


The Symbian market share has been going down but unit sales up. In 2008 73M, 2009 80M, 2010 100M... in 2011 ? In terms of financial figures the Symbian brings most money to Nokia. Given that, difficult to understand the decision to start ramp down for Symbian. With QT, Symbian would lure developers - I've seen people with no/limited SW experience creating applications and saying that this is cool and easy.

And the Nokia windows device is again promise - no one knows when it will be available. If Nokia would have introduced real Windows phone last Friday, the share price might have increased instead of reaching all time lowest price. Overall the communication last friday was a failure from Nokia which undermined the smartphone sales for 2011/2012. Just telling that NOkia opens another front with Windows but at the same time continues strongly with QT story for Symbian and Meego, might have been better approach.

Now Nokia is taking huge risk on behalf of MS.

--Wee, 16-Feb-2011


The original post is great, and I agree with it in general. However I think that now, less than a week from the big news we are quite negative. I mean last year when everyone was waiting delayed S3 devices, a lot of bloggers etc. in Finland and outside were bashing Nokia and Symbian. A lot of talk about how Nokia should leave Symbian and take Android etc. Now, when Symbian is going away many people are missing Symbian and think that Nokia is going for worse, when it is just doing the big change that is needed.

I was working for Elisa (mobile) in Finland when the company was streamlined and more than 1.500 were put out (in a few sets). The feelings were negative, but finally all the people I know personally found good jobs and probably they think today their lifes are much better. I decided to leave Elisa also in 2004 but today as a company they are doing great, Elisa leading the Finnish market, brand is very strong, etc. Change is not so bad, even if the process hurts. I suppose the uncertainty and loss of motivation, both taking several months or even years, are the worst parts.

--Happy C7 user, 16-Feb-2011


I think it is a nonsense decision to ditch Symbian and MeeGo completely. Samsung is running Android, WP7, Bada + some others with no problems. They can control what they're doing.

--MeeWent, 16-Feb-2011


Guys, thanks for good commentary. It's wonderful to see that my readers have good, solid, well-thought opinions (as opposed to foam-mouthed ranting like I've seen elsewhere).

Thank you :-)

--JanneJalkanen, 16-Feb-2011


As I see it:

It is very important now to get Qt going and ythirdparty to continue write apps for QtMobility/Quick.

This way wee can be more sure about Nokia:s "planB" as you describe above :-)

But atm. it seems to many developers are sceptical. Soo its time for us too change this right now.

Everybody should take a look at planetqt.org daily. I am sure we will see alot of progress in Qt. I hope the Qt trolls fights back hard now and doesnt give up even if there is to many sceptical people atm...

I like Qt(Quick) and Meego soo I want it to continue :-)

/mikecomputing

--AnonymousCoward, 18-Feb-2011


Hi Janne,

You should update your "about Janne" page (http://www.ecyrd.com/ButtUgly/wiki/JanneJalkanen) as you have not been a Program Manager for the last 9 months :)

/mike

--mike bradshaw, 18-Feb-2011


1. Microsoft doesn't hate linux 2. Symbian is(was?) not designed for a "touch" experience. The same reason why MS practically created the Windows Phone 7 rather than redesign Windows Mobile. 3. It is in Oracle's interest to sell more Android phones. (provided they win the IP battle) So, Google taking Qt is unlikely. 4. HP has webOS. If that fires, Qt can be ported there. After all, webOS is pretty much Linux Mobile. (IMHO, probably Nokia should have gone with webOS) 5. The future of Meego is bleak, which ever way you look. As intel's clout in mobile/tablet is not the same as in comps. 6. Feature phones may be bringing in cash now. But, the rapid growth of smartphones means those numbers will not see much growth. 7. MS may not be the best match, but it gives Nokia a fighting chance. Rather than being gobbled up by Redmond, this will more likely be similar to MS/Intel partnership. 8. The economic cataclysm being envisaged is impossible.

So here is to Winokia.

(sorry for the "numbering". Just habit)

-- Phil, 18-Feb-2011


D'oh! Thanks Mike. Updated now.

--JanneJalkanen, 18-Feb-2011


One thing you've missed in your analysis is that if Nokia stop developing Qt, they trigger the FreeQt agreement (which then causes Qt to be released under a BSD-style licence). Probably something that they want to avoid.

--cibyr, 19-Feb-2011


Ah, cibyr, that's brilliant. I wasn't aware of this agreement. Thanks for letting me know.

That should guarantee the continuation of Qt - though it would still be a blow to the community (remember what happened during Netscape => Mozilla Foundation transition, it took a long time just to get organized and release something useful. Of course the NS codebase was a mess, but still.)

--JanneJalkanen, 20-Feb-2011


Of course this is only my personal view.

Nokia pushed opensource... but then sudenly realised they do not get revenues from it (what a suprise)... they will be blocked from good content.

When they blew it? Did they have a hint? Did they care? Who was in charge? What they possibly gain afther this?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2000/feb/01/efinance.internet2

--Jan Raikkala, 20-Feb-2011


Still Opensource Ecosystem wins this deal sooner that later. Nobody is paying for content for every gadget.

--Jan Raikkala, 20-Feb-2011


I am not disappointed by Nokia's this decision. Moreover I am excited about it. I take it as Nokia adding 1 more OS to its family after Symbian, Qt, and MeeGo. It would be interesting to see another OS (WP7) with Nokia and how it drives the competition in the market. Looking forward to it guys. :) Check this to see what other developers have to say: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kfWFvCJJaNs

--therohan, 01-Mar-2011


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