Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 11th Oct 2012 21:41 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless It's a long read - but totally and utterly worth it. After interviewing ten former and current Nokia employees, and combining their insider information with publicly available information, Sampsa Kurri has written a long and detailed article about the history of Maemo and MeeGo within Nokia, and everything that went wrong - which is a lot. It's sad tale, one that reads almost like a manual on how to not run a large company. Still, between the bad decisions and frustrations, there's a red thread of hope that leads to Jolla.
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RE[2]: Remember...
by zima on Sun 14th Oct 2012 11:13 UTC in reply to "RE: Remember..."
zima
Member since:
2005-07-06

Well, you have to give it to Nokia : while Apple just chose to throw away Copland altogether and produce yet another UNIX clone instead, Nokia actually managed to fix enough of the problems that they encountered during their development hell to release a working product (the N9), which I believe is a fairly unique achievement in the computer industry ! ;)

What was N9 OS if not "yet another UNIX clone"? (some of its fans even specifically focus on how it's more "really *nix" than Android) And while Apple did throw away Copland, 1) I think some of Copland tech found its way into ~OS9 2) some Classic tech definately found its way into OSX - it was a moderately smooth transition.

Also, "a working product" might be not the most precise description (for example: http://www.mobile-review.com/review/nokia-n9-2-en.shtml & especially in view of the enormous R&D costs and the time it took; not sure from where the perpetuated myth comes, perhaps some people wish to see it as better than it was; or, from another perspective: products can be also judged by their marketplace performance)

More seriously, I think that many people around here feel sympathetic towards the old Nokia because, as is apparent in the article, it was one of the few remaining tech companies with engineers in power. Though it is also made obvious here that this approach has its problems, especially in large companies, there is something saddening about the way executives don't understand what their employees are doing these days, and can only think in terms of paying the bills and selling to the largest number. That may be a safer way to keep a company afloat and profitable, but it is alienating for workers and surely does not help innovation.

http://kyon.pl/img/21355,smbc-comics.com,.html ;)

And many (often the same?) people can't seem to accept how the present situation of Nokia didn't come from, say, the saboteur Canadian - but is the result of wide-scale company dynamics present & quite visible for around half a decade, by now.

BTW, I'd say that not safely keeping a company afloat and profitable alienates workers much more, and really surely doesn't help innovation

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[3]: Remember...
by Neolander on Mon 15th Oct 2012 09:02 in reply to "RE[2]: Remember..."
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

What was N9 OS if not "yet another UNIX clone"? (some of its fans even specifically focus on how it's more "really *nix" than Android) And while Apple did throw away Copland, 1) I think some of Copland tech found its way into ~OS9 2) some Classic tech definately found its way into OSX - it was a moderately smooth transition.

Well, Apple and Nokia both found themselves in a similar situation : they had an OS that did not perform well enough anymore, and which for some reason they could not fix in a simple fashion. Thus, they started a project to build a successor to their product, and due to the well-documented second system effect that project was stalled.

What I'm impressed with is that Nokia managed to save the original project, while Apple failed so badly at it that they have to completely start from a new base, wasting most of the original effort, as too many software companies do.

Indeed, "yet another UNIX clone" is not quite the problem I have with that, rather I feel that Apple have less merit for what they did. That the Nokia approach to resist the natural urge to rewrite everything from scratch and try to make the project work instead was a more elegant approach. And I can't help but think that they could have saved Symbian too if they put as much effort on it, but that's another story.

Also, "a working product" might be not the most precise description (for example: http://www.mobile-review.com/review/nokia-n9-2-en.shtml & especially in view of the enormous R&D costs and the time it took; not sure from where the perpetuated myth comes, perhaps some people wish to see it as better than it was; or, from another perspective: products can be also judged by their marketplace performance)

On this front, I am of the more pessimistic opinion that new software releases that have not been tested by a relatively large user base are always bound to have problems. I think that Nokia did the right thing with historical Maemo releases by releasing "experimental" devices for tech-inclined people to beta-test the product with, as the way the ARM ecosystem works sadly prevents companies from releasing beta-quality software without associated hardware for "pure" testing purpose.

"More seriously, I think that many people around here feel sympathetic towards the old Nokia because, as is apparent in the article, it was one of the few remaining tech companies with engineers in power. Though it is also made obvious here that this approach has its problems, especially in large companies, there is something saddening about the way executives don't understand what their employees are doing these days, and can only think in terms of paying the bills and selling to the largest number. That may be a safer way to keep a company afloat and profitable, but it is alienating for workers and surely does not help innovation."

http://kyon.pl/img/21355,smbc-comics.com,.html ;)

And you know as well as me that like all good humour, this is based on exaggeration. The idea that we need people specialized in selling products is maybe one or two centuries old, and we managed to build perfectly usable products before that. People who did not take the time to care about their users just failed once, and did it right the second time.

Conversely, the modern approach of going for the option that pleases the largest amount of users at the lowest cost has many well-documented problems, including a tendency to build products that all look alike, are not designed to last, are made in a harmful atmosphere where workers have to do more in less time so as to stay "competitive"... It becomes less about building the most awesome stuff, and more about how bad products and work condition can get before people stop buying into them.

Surely a sufficiently large amount of people will get fed up with this race to the bottom at some point, the question is when and what will happen next. Will we just go from an extreme to another and claim that everything was better in the past, or will we try to combine the advantages of the old and new approaches to company organization, such as by letting people freely move back and forth between administrative and technical positions as they feel like doing something new, with formations in the middle so that they always know what they are doing *and* what others are doing ?

And many (often the same?) people can't seem to accept how the present situation of Nokia didn't come from, say, the saboteur Canadian - but is the result of wide-scale company dynamics present & quite visible for around half a decade, by now.

BTW, I'd say that not safely keeping a company afloat and profitable alienates workers much more, and really surely doesn't help innovation

That is a given, but any interesting activity involves some level of risk that has to be acknowledged. If we are not ready to take it, or if the environment we work in is not flexible enough to let us do so, then undesirable side-effects like stagnation, quality regression, and Patriot Acts are bound to appear...

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[4]: Remember...
by henderson101 on Mon 15th Oct 2012 10:28 in reply to "RE[3]: Remember..."
henderson101 Member since:
2006-05-30

What I'm impressed with is that Nokia managed to save the original project, while Apple failed so badly at it that they have to completely start from a new base, wasting most of the original effort, as too many software companies do.


How many versions of Symbian are there? Why does a version exist with touch? Why did Nokia screw up Maemo so badly in the process, changing the API and ABI with every new release and why was the development environment tied to LINUX and fairly non trivial to install up till Diablo? Why did Nokia lie about moving from GTK+ to Qt? I mean, really out and out lie? We were told "no, we will still support GTK+, you're efforts are not pointless", then it was dropped as the tool-kit. The fact that the N9 exists at all is a testament to the fact that someone paired down the specs for once and tried to make a product without the entire LINUX kitchen sink included out of the box.

Apple may well have squandered a large amount of cash and lost face on Copland, but dropping both Classic and Copland actually worked out for the best in the log run. More luck than judgement, but OSX is not bad.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[4]: Remember...
by jared_wilkes on Mon 15th Oct 2012 16:39 in reply to "RE[3]: Remember..."
jared_wilkes Member since:
2011-04-25

What I'm impressed with is that Nokia managed to save the original project...



What did Nokia save exactly?

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[4]: Remember...
by zima on Tue 16th Oct 2012 23:47 in reply to "RE[3]: Remember..."
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

Well, Apple and Nokia both found themselves in a similar situation : they had an OS that did not perform well enough anymore, and which for some reason they could not fix in a simple fashion. Thus, they started a project to build a successor to their product, and due to the well-documented second system effect that project was stalled.
What I'm impressed with is that Nokia managed to save the original project, while Apple failed so badly at it that they have to completely start from a new base, wasting most of the original effort, as too many software companies do.
Indeed, "yet another UNIX clone" is not quite the problem I have with that, rather I feel that Apple have less merit for what they did. That the Nokia approach to resist the natural urge to rewrite everything from scratch and try to make the project work instead was a more elegant approach. And I can't help but think that they could have saved Symbian too if they put as much effort on it, but that's another story.

Ultimately, maybe it taught them similar thing, they ultimately did something very alike: as it stands now, both Apple and Nokia brought their new OS from outside the entrenched company structures... (hey, many would defend the "trojan Canadian" hypothesis, which says pretty much exactly that, with their life; for Apple & NeXT it was definitely a sort of managerial reverse takeover, killing a lot of existing projects)

Because, really, Nokia didn't manage "to save the original project" ...NVM how Nokia largely threw it away more than once (Maemo -> Meego transition alone was not trivial; and the Hildon UI of Maemo was birthed on Symbian, on S90 - oh yeah, and that's not even getting into numerous abortive Symbian directions; even in S60 alone we have ~2 compatibility breaks)

As to which path had more merit... look, Apple probably could easily try to go further into Copland, for a few short years (the really visible effects of NeXT acquisition needed that much time to show up) ...sinking more into it ...possibly ending kinda like Nokia now? Might be not the best path to follow.

WRT "yet another UNIX clone" - I forgot to point out previously that Nokia actually moved away from non-*nix OS, in more recent times... ;) (earlier: GEOS, Nokia OS S30 & S40, EPOC/Symbian S80, S90, S60; but the fabled Meltemi - so also *nix - was supposed to largely replace those that are still alive)


There possibly was something very broken with Symbian (some time ago I mentioned that you can explore it: http://sourceforge.net/projects/symbiandump http://code.google.com/p/symbian-incubation-projects/ ...unless you don't want to be "contaminated" or smth*) - look how S40 improved recently (curiously, under Elop; the usual suspects tend to overlook it); it's basically surpassing Symbian now.

BTW, open-sourcing of Symbian can be probably seen as one of the greater exercises in cargo cults, the thought process probably being something like "so, Android got successful ...well, hm, it's open source; let's make Symbian OSS, too!" (and so they probably wasted perhaps half a year, perhaps a year for code reviews, setting everything up, and such)

> http://www.mobile-review.com/review/nokia-n9-2-en.shtml
On this front, I am of the more pessimistic opinion that new software releases that have not been tested by a relatively large user base are always bound to have problems. I think that Nokia did the right thing with historical Maemo releases by releasing "experimental" devices for tech-inclined people to beta-test the product with, as the way the ARM ecosystem works sadly prevents companies from releasing beta-quality software without associated hardware for "pure" testing purpose.

How ARM is set up (which perhaps isn't harmful at all... brings more variety, more lively ecosystem; shouldn't you be defending that, in context?! ;) ) concerns mostly the OS kernel, drivers, and such - but the whole mess of Maemo was also/especially at higher levels, of toolkit and user interaction.

Generally, this (and the link - plus note that the webpage is... sceptical about Elop) was about how N9 Meego isn't as polished as many want to believe.

> http://kyon.pl/img/21355,smbc-comics.com,.html ;)
And you know as well as me that like all good humour, this is based on exaggeration. The idea that we need people specialized in selling products is maybe one or two centuries old, and we managed to build perfectly usable products before that. People who did not take the time to care about their users just failed once, and did it right the second time.
Conversely, the modern approach of going for the option that pleases the largest amount of users at the lowest cost has many well-documented problems, including a tendency to build products that all look alike, are not designed to last, are made in a harmful atmosphere where workers have to do more in less time so as to stay "competitive"... It becomes less about building the most awesome stuff, and more about how bad products and work condition can get before people stop buying into them.

Humour is, of course, often based on exaggeration - but with "there is something saddening about the way executives don't understand what their employees are doing these days, and can only think in terms of paying the bills and selling to the largest number" you also exaggerated, and not in a humorous way.

Our entire modern civilisation is, more or less, built on the division of labour concept, of course those at the top won't know most of the stuff their minions are doing, it's impossible and inadvisable - might easily lead to micromanagment, missing the greater picture (also not dismissing pet projects of some small group of engineers). Maybe it's even safe to say that most companies led by ("really") engineers don't go anywhere...


Past wasn't a time particularly known for innovation as rapid as we had recently; lots of "secret knowledge" was long locked inside guilds, it was largely about maintaining the status of their members.

Yeah, and about that "building perfectly usable products" or "try again" - some cathedrals folded more than once, more than twice, before their builders got them right (while collapses of residential buildings were nothing out of the ordinary; try to imagine that for a minute, being quite unable to trust if the room in which you are won't collapse on you during sleep).

Generally, this isn't about small projects, trinkets, craftsmanship - but large undertainkings, strategic efforts which can... sorta kill a company (like Nokia?), if they fail.


*how's your OS going along BTW? (driven purely by ~engineering considerations, I bet ;p )

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[4]: Remember...
by zima on Tue 16th Oct 2012 23:55 in reply to "RE[3]: Remember..."
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

(hm, not sure I hit a limit before - oh well, the post continues...)

Surely a sufficiently large amount of people will get fed up with this race to the bottom at some point, the question is when and what will happen next. Will we just go from an extreme to another and claim that everything was better in the past [...]

Yeah, I see an issue of sufficiently many people believing myths about their past, hence also ultimately about themselves (and acting and/or voting on it)

A quote before, you're looking at the past through very rose-coloured glasses already. This is how it actually often looked like a century or two ago:

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phossy_jaw ( http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~belghist/Flanders/Pages/phossy.ht... )

- the peasantry in many places was effectivaly in a state of slavery right up to XIX century.

- France also had ~colonies, with widespread forms of - effectively - slavery; and even Algeria war was quite dirty.

- hell, Sweden was responsible not-so-long-ago for the death of a significant portion of, for example, Polish population... (wars of XVII century)

- recently at my place I had somebody who was deeply convinced in ~"something like PoznaƄ 1956 protests could never happen in the West, in the US" ...thing is, it could and it did:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludlow_Massacre even also had, well, a tank
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lattimer_massacre this one also rang a bell with him, considering the ethnicities... (many more in the table at the bottom)

And those are quite recent times, when we were already becoming moderately... civilised (plus, surely not the only nor the worst examples - but some I could quickly recall and find, because they were memorable or in recent browsing history)

any interesting activity involves some level of risk that has to be acknowledged. If we are not ready to take it, or if the environment we work in is not flexible enough to let us do so, then undesirable side-effects like stagnation, quality regression, and Patriot Acts are bound to appear...

But, overall, it's a question of finding the right balance. And Apple for example (of which you seemed sort of dismissive here) seemed to find that balance much better than Nokia...
(I stumbled once on comparison of their budgets from 2 or 3 years back - Symbian division alone consumed more funds than the entire R&D of Apple... Symbian never even beeing, IIRC, the primary cash-cow of Nokia - S40 was it throughout the last decade)

Reply Parent Score: 2