The fallout from the dissolution of the MeeGo project continues to
impact many in the Linux-based mobile device world. Former employees from
Nokia's Maemo/MeeGo division formed a company called Jolla, pledging
to pick up development and deliver a platform to mobile phone
companies. But although Jolla has announced partnerships with device
vendors, the company has been less successful at engaging with the
still-active Maemo/MeeGo community. Add in the overlapping open
source projects claiming ties to MeeGo, and it can be confusing to
see how the pieces fit together. Shaking out the relationships
between players is challenging for those on the inside, too, as Jolla
and a major community group have recently discovered.
Million little pieces
When Nokia terminated its participation in MeeGo there
were—to put it mildly—hurt feelings, among both the
developer community and Nokia's MeeGo engineers. Some of the veterans
in both camps followed MeeGo's other underwriter Intel to the launch of
MeeGo's official successor Tizen,
but others hedged their bets. Most
notable was the Mer project,
the existing MeeGo code and vowed to continue it as a community-run
project. Subsequently, Mer project participants launched the Nemo Mobile
distribution, which added MeeGo Handset UX components to the Mer base
system. Still, the project continued to advertise Mer itself as a
general-purpose system equally suited to be the base for MeeGo, Tizen,
or other platforms, including KDE's Plasma Active.
Jolla was formed privately sometime in 2011, but it announced
itself in public in July 2012. Started by a group of former Nokia
employees, Jolla advertised
that it would "design, develop and sell new MeeGo based
smartphones." Since then the company reportedly signed
a sales agreement with Chinese retailer D.Phone and hired
several Mer developers to help develop the platform.
But details about the company's work have been hard to come by,
with almost all information arriving through second-hand sources like
interviews with executives published at blogs, or social media outlets
like the company's Twitter account or Facebook page. The jolla.com
site is an un-navigable matrix of Twitter and Facebook links that are
release (PDF) from November 2012, though, highlighting Jolla's appearance
at a start-up event in Helsinki. At the event, Jolla previewed
Sailfish OS, its Mer-based software platform.
there is precious little information in print about Sailfish OS; the
site is a wiki that highlights Sailfish's inclusion of Mer and Qt5, but not
much else. The QA page
explains that Sailfish will provide hardware adaptation and a user
interface layer that are not found in Mer, and that components from
Nemo Mobile will be included as well (although not the latter
project's UI layer). Video of the demonstration talks at the Helsinki
start-up event are available on the Jolla
Youtube channel, including a walkthrough of the software
development kit (SDK), but the SDK has not been released.
The Mer, Nemo Mobile, and Jolla camps are largely composed of
developers working on the core of the operating system. But one of
Maemo and MeeGo's bigger accomplishments was its success at
cultivating a large and active community of third-party application
developers. As with the platform developers, some of the third-party
application developers have migrated to Tizen, but a sizable
contingent embarked on their own hedging strategy by forming the
Hildon Foundation (HF) in September 2012. The name comes
from the pre-MeeGo application framework from Maemo, but the group emphasizes that it,
too, is happy to work with the other post-MeeGo projects, Mer included.
The chicken and egg salad problem
It might seem as if the HF and the various
MeeGo-derived platform projects need each other in a big way; after
all, a platform needs applications just as much as applications need a
platform. But, so far, the disparate pieces have yet to link up and
establish a strong partnership.
The HF took a step toward more cooperation on
January 3, 2013 by publishing an open
letter addressed to Jolla. The letter notes that one of the
principal motivations behind the formation of the HF was Nokia's impending
decommissioning of the maemo.org web infrastructure, which hosted
discussion forums, documentation, and software repositories. The HF
undertook the task of maintaining the sites, but had little success in
raising the funds necessary to cover the hosting bills. The
application ecosystem centered around those sites, the letter argues,
would make the HF "a beneficial advocate for Jolla." To
that end, it suggests the formation of a relationship between the foundation
and the company:
We would welcome discussion about a relationship between our
organizations… If anything, we would like to form a friendship. If
Jolla would be willing to become a sponsor and aid us in promoting the
open source software aspects of Jolla and Sailfish — or, possibly even
foot the bill — we would offer valuable community support to Jolla. In
fact, we see a huge possibility of the Hildon Foundation becoming a
part of the Jolla ecosystem or Sailfish Alliance itself.
A Jolla representative responded to the letter with a comment
on the post—one which was not overwhelmingly positive.
"We can talk on a regular basis and we can form a
friendship," it said. "But talking and claiming
friendship is easy." Jolla is already providing financial
support to Mer and Nemo Mobile, the comment said, projects with
"very small budgets" and which:
...have based their operations around being able to do big things, with
small resources, like a startup or community would – and not only with
contributions from just Jolla.
For what we want to create and the world to come with Jolla and
Sailfish – these projects are where you would want to be
participating, to be in the front seat of what’s to come. Places to be
The reactions from other commenters to Jolla's reply varied; user
Mark Z asserted
that it amounted to the rejection of the HF's large pool of potential
customers (by way, presumably, of the HF application developers'
existing customers). Others, like joerg_rw,
that a formal relationship was too much to expect from a new startup,
but that establishing contact was good for the moment.
The HF board posted a longer response
on January 10. The response seemed to take slight umbrage at the
"true pioneers" comment in Jolla's reply, saying that "in all
honesty, the Maemo community has been a true pioneer for many years
now." It also laid out a case that Jolla, Mer, and Nemo Mobile
lack the specific infrastructure elements that comprise the HF's mission:
Currently, neither Jolla nor any Jolla affiliates affiliates (Mer,
Nemo, Sailfish OS, etc.) have any sort of "community," user base, or
public space for communication to speak of. These assets can be
extended if, for example, you are interested in a community
repository, cross-platform development, or helping developers migrate
to Sailfish. We had already intended to provide a public space for
Jolla/Nemo/Sailfish and will continue to do so regardless. Would Jolla
like to help with any of these efforts that will benefit Jolla?
So far, Jolla has not followed up with a second reply.
Whether time and the benefits of launching Sailfish OS on handsets
in China will change minds at Jolla is anybody's guess. But at the
moment, some members of the HF remain optimistic, particularly if
Sailfish OS's Qt-based API is substantially similar to Nemo Mobile and
MeeGo's. Logic would suggest that, at some point, Jolla will set out
to cultivate an application developer community, and the Sailfish OS
SDK previewed in November indicates that the plan is already in the
works. One would simply hope that the company does not alienate the
existing developer community between now and the SDK's public release.
On the other hand, Mer would seem to be a more natural fit for a
partnership with the HF, since it too is a community-driven project.
But despite its secrecy in other areas, it is evident that Jolla has
financing, which cannot be said about the other, community-driven
Whatever happens between Mer, Jolla, Nemo Mobile, and the HF, it is
remarkable to see how durable the Maemo/MeeGo community has remained
years after its corporate founder washed its hands of the project.
Strangely absent from the discussion about how the above camps can
work together is Tizen, which is supposed to be the official successor
to MeeGo. The platform and the API differs considerably, but if
anyone at Tizen is watching carefully, they may see an opportunity to
step in and win over new fans and developers, since the other parties
cannot seem to all get together on the same page.
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