February 15, 2011

Business as usual

Disclaimer: I am an ex-troll and my company does a lot of Qt business with Nokia

I have been reading the largely negative comments in the blogs by Aron and Daniel about the future of Qt. Sigh, the anonymous internet has made it all too simple for people to post abusive comments and suggest conspiracy theories.

I empathize with the anger; my own business relies on the Qt ecosystem. However, this decision appears to be quite logical to me. On one hand, you have Symbian. Nobody in their right mind would want a Symbian future, let alone pitch it as the competitor for Android or iOS. If you think that line requires justification, you shouldn’t be reading this article, move along :) Second, MeeGo. I am going to speculate here since I have not seen the actual harmattan/MeeGo UI. So, let’s say we have something like the Intel MeeGo tablet shown at MWC. Shocking, no? They are “working” on Copy&Paste, zooming is slow, opening the app causes lots of flicker, the scrolling looks laggy and the presenter is defensive. Continuing my speculation, assuming Nokia’s UX is in a similar state, what would you as a CEO do? I mean, this is the state _today_, imagine 5 months back. I would just drop MeeGo and try shopping for the software elsewhere.

I believe that’s what has happened. Nokia had to make a tough call because MeeGo doesn’t appear to be shippable anytime soon. Some people are of the opinion that choosing an alternate OS is pointless because by the time one adapts to the new OS, one can clean up MeeGo. I think one reason here could be that Elop&Co simply lost confidence in their developers after seeing the state of MeeGo. Another reason probably is that Maemo has always been a research project inside Nokia. MeeGo was announced exactly a year back at MWC 2010. I don’t think Nokia internally ever took it out of the ‘research project’ mode. Yes, they had a little flirt with it trying to make it the main platform but they quickly seem to have discovered it’s not ready (Ballmer mentions that they started talks back in Nov 2010).

So, they now have to choose between Android and WP7. I simply don’t see how Nokia can compete with the existing vendors who have a big head start with Android phones. Back here in India, everybody and their great grandmother are _shipping_ Android phones. Motorola, LG, Samsung, HTC, Videocon (yes, that washing machine company), Dell, Sony, Acer, Micromax, Olive (yes, 10, that I know of!) are already shipping Android phones across all price ranges. With the upcoming cricket world cup and IPL, I expect lot more Android phones to be advertised. A Nokia android phone will be indistinguishable in this crowd. So, personally, I would go with WP7 too as there is some hope for differentiation. With WP7, Nokia can hopefully put pressure on MS (who wants this whole thing to succeed badly for their own future) to deliver on the software.

All this talk of conspiracy theories is quite baseless. Elop cannot make unilateral decisions, that’s not how companies work. He obviously requires the support of the directors. If the share holders think this is a bad decision, they can fire the board of directors but I don’t see this happening. If my speculation about MeeGo’s current state is correct, all it takes is to show the share holders the current MeeGo prototype and that would be the end of discussion.

It’s also a good decision for Nokia for not considering Qt port on WP7. Heck, Qt/Symbian local compilation support on Linux/Mac isn’t there (for what 2 years?) with Nokia having complete control over all the software layers – the toolkit, IDE, OS. Qt on WP7 is a massive massive investment. It is probably a worthwhile undertaking that project after Nokia/WP7 is successful.

FWIW, we all have to be happy that Nokia has been open about this even before it has done anything about it. I, for one, totally appreciate their Openness. So, before you pour out your hate for Nokia, please remember that this is just business as usual. At the end of the day, they have to pay salaries. They have had to disappoint us developers for their own survival. If you are going to argue that MeeGo was truly groundbreaking and what not – please put your money on MeeGo, start your own company and ship MeeGo devices instead of pointing fingers at Nokia.

Where does this leave Qt? Qt has taken a bit big hit because of this decision. This decision means that Qt has suddenly become lot less relevant. I expect the MeeGo phone to be only as successful as the n900. I don’t expect MeeGo or Qt to die inside Nokia until WP7 phones are wildly popular. One single phone, that has been delayed over and over again and that has been sidelined into research does not give me a lot of confidence. Personally, I was hoping for this uber-awesome device for which I can build and _sell_ great applications.

My view is that Qt’s future lies outside Nokia. The Qt fanboy I am, I will do everything I can to keep Qt going. Qt has a very good future in the embedded space (settop boxes, IVI etc). Many companies I met at CES this year were committed to using Qt. For them to continue using Qt, the open governance model simply has to happen. Now. Qt has to be seen as a toolkit that has constant progress with an active community. Ports of Android, iOS can then become part of main stream. If this does not happen soon, future companies are just going to switch over to Android for their devices.

30 Responses to “Business as usual”

  1. Robert says:

    MeeGo was always doomed, people just refused to believe. http://www.techeye.net/software/nokias-meego-is-doomed

  2. Andre says:

    I think the question is how ready Windows Phone 7 really is, if it is able to compete with Android and iOS, and if the balance between additional investment and additional profit through differentiation and development savings really works out in favor of Nokia. It might work in the end, but I wouldn’t be blindly optimistic right now.

    If I look at this review for example: http://www.gsmarena.com/windows_phone_7-review-521.php

    On the first page I get:
    Main disadvantages:

    * No system-wide file manager
    * No videocalling
    * Limited third-party apps availability
    * No Bluetooth file transfers
    * No USB mass storage mode
    * No multitasking
    * No copy/paste
    * Too dependent on Zune software for computer file management and syncing
    * No music player equalisers
    * No Flash or Silverlight support in the web browser
    * No sign of free Bing maps Navigation so far
    * No DivX/XviD video support
    * No internet tethering support
    * New ringtones available only through the Marketplace
    * Swapping memory card requires hard reset; cards not readable by computer

    But more importantly, in the conclusions:

    “However, the imposed minimum hardware requirements for a phone to qualify for WP7, practically guarantee that each and every one of them will be an expensive high-end phone.
    And if you’re paying big, you’d expect high-end functionality. But Windows Phone 7 falls short of expectations on several occasions – Android 2.x and iOS 4.x will wipe the floor with it as far as power users are concerned.”

  3. John says:

    I like this article from an operational POV.

    However at a higher level, the world is rapidly becoming dominated by huge companies.

    This is NOT good news. History has terrible examples of the results from this For capitalism to work it needs competition – what we are seeing all to often is the power of large organisations to crush or buy out new companies with great offerings.

    This becomes self perpetuating and we the users/consumers become irrelevant.

    An independent Nokia is surely a lot better than throwing the towel in with MS.

    What Nokia needed was some talent at the top – not a MS stooge.

  4. Marco says:

    I have to admit that, given the state of MeeGo, this was the only feasible short-term solution.

    Still, it sounds like an admission of failure: their didn’t manage to produce an alternative to Android and iOS to replace Symbian.

    Probably they should review the way they address the development of the OS. Looking at the evolution of Android, iOS and even WP7, MeeGo should have already been on the marked by now.

    In any case, I’m very sorry, but my next phone will not be a Nokia, not with Windows on it.

    About Qt, I’m not too worried, because I believe it will survive thanks to the community that still believe in it.

  5. girish says:

    @andre: WP7 probably has a lot of shortcomings. But reviews like http://www.engadget.com/2010/10/22/samsung-focus-review/ are quite positive. The announcements at MWC are quite impressive too – http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/14/microsoft-shows-off-windows-phone-7s-future-with-multitasking/ and http://www.engadget.com/2011/02/14/live-from-steve-ballmers-mwc-2011-keynote/. biggest advantage that overrides everything else is that WP7 is shipping those update ~March. Anyway all that is pulp news, I can only hope Elop&Co have more insider information about WP7 progress than we do :-)

    @John, @Marco: I agree with you both. I think with the right people at the top and a sound development strategy, Nokia could have succeeded with MeeGo. Maybe Elop knows this and it’s why he has changed the top management altogether. At the end of the day, Nokia’s share holders have to choose between ‘a (low risk) not-so-innovative but money making company’ and ‘an (high risk) innovative but unsure of making money company’.

  6. Rezza says:

    I have to agree (partially) – they had to react. But I don’t think OS change (and whatever OS it is) does solve anything. With practically the same people in the top management, now not MeeGo vs Symbian but Smartphones vs Mobile Phones… No co-operation at all (even now impossible!). Maybe rumors but I heard a lot (from blogposts etc.), big corporation, gazillions managers and good job for developers with development for development, not for production. And now even without the ability to influence it – in another big corporation with gazillions managers ;-)

  7. Andre says:

    girish: While that review is quite positive, it only reviews the phone. Here is the review of the OS: http://www.engadget.com/2010/10/20/windows-phone-7-review/

    The latter is quite positive as well, but in my opinion, they underestimate some of the shortcomings (though mentioned!).

  8. mgoetz says:

    Hooray, I agree with most of your post.
    (Disclaimer: I am a current-Troll :-)

  9. yokem55 says:

    What I see in the video of Intel’s Meego Tablet tells me that:
    1) QML OpenGL performance in the Xorg stack is STILL a problem. Whether this is due to drivers, or in Qt or elsewhere in Xorg, this is still a very real issue. And this is on x86 – an area where there should be fewer problems with OpenGL.
    2) Intel doesn’t seem to be using the new MPX framework in Xorg, either because Qt doesn’t use it? or because the touchscreen driver doesn’t support it yet?
    3) The lack of refined copy and paste is indicative of poorly underdeveloped touch input layer.

    What does this all mean? Maybe the upstream first policy of Meego makes for great stability of development in the long run, but will slow things down in the short run. I.e., great for an infrastructure project, but not so great on the product development side of things.

  10. NokiaFan says:

    Great post. I see why this has happened but it’s the wrong choice. I would have preferred that Nokia went with an action plan like http://nokiaplanb.com/ instead of getting into bed with MS. To paraphrase from that site “We put our money in an innovative tech company with huge potential. We did not invest in a low margin, low growth hardware OEM”.

    Nokia’s problem is not the OS, it’s the top level managment and development methodology of the 90s.

  11. xsacha says:

    Your whole article, at least with reference to Meego, is based on your assumption that Nokia’s N9 UI would look something like Intel’s Meego UI.
    I can tell you this just simply isn’t the case.

    Here is a video of Nokia’s UI back in November — 3 months ago.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTgxteroJc8

    Remember that the UI is proprietary and under wraps and the people developing it have said it is definitely ready for release now.

    Please check out that video and perhaps write a follow-up article.

    Thanks.

  12. José says:

    I disagree. In my case I and 3 partners, we made a user interface and full-hd playing in a record time for an ARM processor.We were four people!. You’re telling me that many programmers Nokia has failed to evolve Meego or Symbian. I think that it has boycotted the development of Symbian and Meego by executives who conspired to this agreement with M$. That could justify the change. Trolltech made a lot of money because long ago many people support them and believed in their way of business. Now all are excuses by Trolltech.

  13. Andre says:

    Its funny that so many mentioned copy and paste.
    *To make it clear: Windows Phone does not support copy/paste!*
    “The lack of refined copy and paste is indicative of poorly underdeveloped touch input layer.”

  14. girish says:

    @xsacha: Yes, I merely speculate about the N9 UI. The video link is the MeeGo Tablet UX. It’s not the UI of N9 which is totally under wraps (as you said). If it is indeed the case that it is ready for release, I don’t see why it’s not released right now. Especially since Nokia has plans to release the device anyway. I fully expect the directors & management to thrown out at the next shareholder meeting, if the people who are developing it say is true :)

  15. sparta says:

    I agree with your views Girish, as unfortunate as it is, WP7 is not an entirely bad decision for Nokia (and for Microsoft) and I can understand that the BOD agreed to the decision. I suppose most people that played around with WP7 are quite satisfied as – besides some small shortcomings (that can easily be fixed) – it’s a really competitive OS.

    The main problem for “the rest of us” (as in professional Qt developers) is that by that announcement Qt was effectively declared dead. There is not much conspiracy about that (beside maybe that Microsoft would not cry a single tear if Qt died…) just the raw facts…

    See my post here:
    http://blog.qt.nokia.com/2011/02/14/update-on-qt/#comment-2810

    Also for all the other Nokia employees this deal was something terrible to happen…. for Nokia itself, well time will tell if the WP7 strategy works out in the mid-term….

    But for Qt… I have to repeat it again:
    “This is our most desperate hour. Help us, Intel; you’re our only hope.”

  16. Thorsten says:

    Hmm, loving my N900 I see they had a nearly ready Maemo5 system. But with Trolltech takeover they reinvent the wheel and choose to throw too much stuff away for fulfilling the Qt everywhere mantra.
    Then you could notice this strange splitting in Qt mobile UI management. It seems every group tries to invent their own UI system being incompatible with the desktop API.
    During this time I missed a vision and a strategy inside of Nokia Smartphone dept.
    Now its too late. I bed that Nokia is in two years MS smartphone hardware department, if WP7 is still relevant. But MS was late at the GUI Desktop, was late in internet browsing and is late in mobile systems. In the past they won and they have a lot of money. A bad quarter for MS means only less profit.
    For Qt I hope for an open foundation. Qt will survive this. But I hope the Trolls find a place in such a foundation. For KDE (as this is posted to planet-kde) it to not see a platform for all the mobile application like plasma-mobile, marble, kontact or freoffice. Here I hope we will see a Meego mobile phone from a new competitor in this game.

    Bye

    Thorsten

  17. Markus S. says:

    > assuming Nokia’s UX is in a similar state, what would you as a CEO do?

    Stop the retarded code duplication.
    All the FOSS UXes are done solely by Intel.
    Nokia develops/developed its own Handset UX.

    And there is KDE who are developing their Plasma technology since years.

    Instead of three instances doing basically the same thing, Nokia as well as Intel should stop their NIH attitude for the GUI. They should just support KDE’s alternative Plasma shells.
    Seriously: The MeeGo Tablet UX looks like a cheap knock-off of Plasma’s “Newspaper” view — a view that’s basically done since two or so years.

  18. mikecomputing says:

    “Stop the retarded code duplication.”

    They dont code duplicate backends like QML/GL framework etc…

    making different QtQuick components for different screensizes etc is totally logical and I guess the problem with lags and soo on is not because of that.

    As someone says this issues is more lowlevel like GFX drivers. Shitty bloated X11 and so on.

  19. Kirsten says:

    Then Then, what is the EU symbian project for? Wasn’t it announced 5 month ago?

  20. Ilgaz says:

    I wouldn’t choose a windows phone for the same reason I couldn’t choose linux back in 90s over windows.
    A duopoly (not in criminal sense) exists, android and iOS. No matter what happens or which little games played, they will get software and even bugfixes first.
    Qt was supposed to do business and profit. Normally qt guys would be working on official android and webos ports, both commercially supported. In hands of nokia, they are just busy explaining people why they won’t ship to windows phone.
    Allthough I am not a developer, a person who uses computers since 80s gets an idea. Can someone explain how come c++ developers will want to switch or even learn something like c# or silverlight? I mean, if you have to learn something new and strange, why not android or obj c/ios?

  21. Shantanu Tushar says:

    This is probably the first post about the topic that I am commenting, because, as you guessed, your post says the right thing about Qt, its *not* dying, thumbs up.
    But I have a strong objection to the support for Nokia, I have an N900, and IMO the things which makes this phone not up-to the mark are-
    1. Bulky device
    2. Touchscreen is not responsive as competition’s
    3. There wasn’t enough marketing (have you seen N900 ads like the way N8 ads were there?)

    All the points above (esp 1) have *nothing* to do with software, even a proper phone hardware running Maemo could’ve rocked the world. The only way MeeGo would’ve been better is that it would’ve been written using Qt, not GTK.

    But still, it is damn WRONG to say Nokia didn’t have a choice than WP7 or Android, they just (as you said) never understood that their “experimental” device is one heck of a rockstar. So bad that I won’t be able to buy my next device from the company that I trusted for years because it’ll run a stupid restrictive OS, just like iOS.

  22. tbscope says:

    Symbian here, Meego there, mobile this, Nokia that…

    Where, in this whole picture, is the desktop?
    Qt is very strong on the desktop. Will Nokia continue this work?
    Or will it degrade Qt to just QML and some research projects for several years to come?

  23. Srikanth says:

    Hi Girish,

    I know the amount of contribution you made to Qt, I have been following you and your forwardbias very closely. I admire your work. Let me keep it bluntly it seems like some part of your blog reflects a business interest with Nokia. I hope and encourage you to star wp7 consultancy next to your Qt work. It makes sense for business. But some of your views are a bit unrealistic. The fact is that Symbian is “THE” only OS in the world that is designed to run on mobile devices, back then it is called EPOC32. But over time, Nokia put their crappy S60 framework on top of Symbian. Now everyone knows that problem with Symbian is its incompetent UI layer. But what everyone is missing is that Symbian is OS kernel and S60 is the UI layer -its like if you don’t like HTC Sense UI, you cannot blame Linux kernal or X-window system. The fact is Nokia shot at its foot, when it failed to upgrade S60 UI. Symbian is very efficient, but not S60 (yes, it is the same layer you see on S^3 phones).

    Secondly, with the basic understanding I have, Nokia is buying time. There is no wow kinda OS on table right now to release phones with. So they have to choose wp7. And I honestly appreciate Nokia if it let Qt to be an independent entity or someone to acquire Qt. In such case, Qt can officially support Andriod, iOS, webOS etc. In the years to come, no one will invest time to write code for different mobile OS. I can tell clearly in this war no one can win, neither Apple nor Andriod. When each OS/ecosystem comes to a saturation level, the market share is closely and approximately equally distributed. Now, from a developer point of view, which platform do you target? You should have a cross platform solution, where Qt is the best. The point I am trying to make is that mobile is entering a logical cycle of what computers in 80′s have been. But the difference is there won’t be a clear winner. If Qt can target all platforms out of box ( I don’t think it is really difficult with light house and webkit doing well) it will be a clear winner. Currently everyone are assessing the victory of Qt within Nokia. That is a bad calculation. Nokia’s ecosystem is just a part of the entire ecosystem. Also, we shoudl keep in mind that HTML5 can give a decent fight to native apps. With all these considerations “code once, run everywhere” has a lot of potential. The best thing that can happen to Qt is to get rid of Nokia, and standardize Qt with different OS vendors and OEMs giving their input and forming as an alliance.

  24. girish says:

    @sparta: I prefer that Qt not go from corporate hand to another. Ideally, Qt becomes an open project like WebKit and corporations can do whatever they want.
    @Thorsten: Yes, the software division/management of Nokia has simply failed. I have heard of the same thing – one rewrite after another without focusing on shipping.
    @Ilgaz: Most developers will move wherever the money is. That is how it is.
    @Shantanu: Agree, they had something going with the n900. As you can read from Thorsten’s comment their software development model is just screwed up. They should worked on an incremental enhancement to an n900 instead of throwing out everything and rewriting over and over again.

  25. girish says:

    @tbscope: I think Qt/Desktop will continue with the same level as support as it is now. The Desktop has it’s place but I think you will agree that all the action is happening in the embedded and mobile side these days. For that reason, I don’t foresee major changes coming in the Windows/Mac/Linux desktop. In short, Qt will continue working on the Desktop.

  26. Simon says:

    You may be right about MeeGo being of abysmal quality. The PCMag reviewer has ripped it apart – http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2380359,00.asp.

  27. Mara says:

    In the end it’s clear to see none of this has benefited nokia. Surely nokia can’t in any way be commended for being open in it’s decisions (for either employees, subcontractors or customers). Yes, one could write a book of mistakes made inside nokia, but it still got screwed badly. Regarding QT, with patent, copyright and licensing issues nobody in they’re right mind will use QT now. Might sound cautious, but under the circumstances it wouldn’t make any sense. Unless QT with all its patents and other IP is sold or separated from nokia soon, QT as we know it is doomed just as much as nokia is. It’s a shame that.

  28. Yngve says:

    Very nice and insightful read! I think you make your case well.

  29. trampster says:

    hahaha qt on WP7. Given that its Microsoft allows only managed code that mean QT wouldn’t be a port it would be a new from scratch implementation in c#.

    Nokia can’t take any code with them to WP7 as nothing they have is written in c#

    Really people should do some research before posting crap.

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