One Down for MeeGo: Now What?

Who has two thumbs and isn't at all surprised at Nokia throwing MeeGo under the bus? This guy. The Nokia partnership with Microsoft is appalling and bad news for MeeGo, but not a surprise at all. What comes next? That's up to Intel.

Congratulations, MeeGo community — Nokia’s new CEO views you as a “a learning experience,” but he’s taking Nokia to the altar with Microsoft and Windows Phone 7 instead. And things aren’t looking entirely bright for the Qt community, either. Now what? Read on for my two cents on how to make the best of the lousy situation.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you that things weren’t well in Camp MeeGo. The news Friday that Nokia is getting into bed with Microsoft is disappointing, but hardly surprising given Nokia’s leadership and adamant refusal to stick with a platform strategy long enough to see it through. It’s only been a year or so before they were shifting gears on Maemo and less than six months since they shuttered Symbian Foundation. Yes, they’ve said they’ll work on MeeGo and release a tablet later this year — but those kind of pronouncements have a way of being walked back in time. Even if they do — who’s stupid enough to buy it? Yes, by all means, I’d like to pony up my cash for a device that’s likely to be orphaned or a technology dead end from a company that considers the technology a “learning experience.”

I would have liked to be proven wrong by Nokia and Intel, and hoped that 2011 would be a good year for the project. But it was like watching the opening reel to a horror flick — you know somebody isn’t coming out alive. The week leading up to the Nokia announcement was like watching two horny teenagers heading into a basement where you just know the guy in a hockey mask is lurking somewhere. Well, it turns out this is a team up — and it’s Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop waiting with the machetes. Chop. Chop. Chop.

Now What, Intel?

Intel has said that it will stick by MeeGo. You know what, this might be good news for MeeGo. No, really. But it requires Intel to make a blindingly large effort up-front, immediately, now. Step one, they need to demonstrate commitment by doing more than saying they’re committed. They need to be loud, proud, and start coming up with devices that run MeeGo. Even if it’s only hardware for the extended developer community. I don’t mean a tentative roadmap of chipsets or vague handwavy “Q3″ announcements. I mean “we will ship this hardware at this price point that you can run MeeGo on by this date,” committment.

Step two for the remaining captains of the ship at MeeGo? They need to embrace the living crap out of the community with an enormous mea culpa about the failure to work well with interested developers in the Fedora, Debian, and openSUSE camps. Get together with the community distros and find out how you can get them to immediately start shipping MeeGo-derived releases that developers can build on.

Oh, and an assurance that another Moblin is not in the offing. The open source and proprietary mobile developer communities, and partners, are not toys that can be cast aside and then picked up again at a whim. Abandoning a platform has consequences. Making back-room deals with large companies that affect your product strategy drastically affects a lot of individuals and companies. And that kind of ongoing shakiness worries the bejeesus out of people. Intel has said it is standing firm, but that’s easy — the community deserves concrete commitments.

Nobody is asking about Google’s level of commitment to Android. Nobody has to wonder if Apple is committed to iOS. Can you say the same about MeeGo? Can you even say that most of your community feels comfortable, even before Nokia left Intel at the altar? No, not if you’re being honest. One of the reasons that nobody worries about Apple’s loyalty to iOS is that Apple is not hedging its bets with other OSes. Same with Google — it’s Android or nothing. Intel? Well, in the same breath they say that they’re still committed to MeeGo, they mention their “strategy has always been to provide choice when it comes to operating systems, a strategy that includes Windows, Android, and MeeGo.” Oh, gee. Well, it’s nice to be included.

MeeGo needs to stop being a bolted-on community effort led by corporate entities and it needs to start being a community led effort that is participated in by corporate entities (as well as individuals and projects). Nokia doesn’t do well in those — but Intel does. Look at the kernel, and X.org. Intel has people who know how to work in those projects and how developers and contributors expect to be treated. It’s time for MeeGo to be a truly independent project that Intel has a large stake in.

Other Options

Another option for Intel is to cut losses and get with a project that’s closer to completion. For example, Unity and Ubuntu, GNOME 3.0 and GNOME Shell on Fedora, Debian, or openSUSE, or KDE and its netbook interface on top of Debian, openSUSE, Kubuntu, or Fedora.

All of these options have pros and cons. But they also have established, functional communities that are invested in their success and would probably welcome — as a peer — Intel and its MeeGo partners’ involvement. The justification that was voiced by several people about the way MeeGo was run was that it was the only way to get devices to market fast enough. Move quick, and then do the right thing with the community. That failed, period.

The worst part of this is that it’s really not that surprising. Nokia has been exhibiting a decision making disorder for a few years now. The partnership with Microsoft may be specifically surprising, but the fact that MeeGo is being downplayed should come as no surprise to anyone.

What Happens to Qt?

Less talked about, but more important, is what happens with Qt. KDE is dependent on Qt, obviously — and Canonical has embraced Qt for its 2D implementation of Unity.

The indication is that Nokia will keep maintaining Qt for its Symbian phones — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll get much attention beyond maintenance. Aaron Siego noted it will take “weeks, not hours or days” before it’s understood how it will impact the KDE landscape. I suspect that’s true. I’m also less concerned about Qt because there’s a decent-sized developer community around it that could maintain it if it needed to fork. The community has managed to develop and keep GTK alive for many years, I have no doubt that it could sustain Qt as well if Nokia abandons it or simply does a poor job of stewarding it in the wake of the Microsoft deal.

Nokia’s announcement is disappointing news for a lot of people. It may not be fatal to MeeGo, and might even be positive if Intel does the right things. Yes, MeeGo is not only Intel, but Intel’s the one with the ball here.

What say the readers? Does MeeGo have a snowball’s chance?

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