Maemo is Dead… Long Live Maemo

Before I launch into coverage of the MeeGo Conference in San Francisco this past week, I’d like to touch on a touchy and related issue:  the future of Maemo.

As most readers here are already aware, Maemo was Nokia’s enigmatic attempt at a Linux operating system for mobile devices.  I don’t want to go into the history in this article; it’s easy enough to find on this blog and elsewhere and I want to focus clearly on the future.  

That future is clouded by a variety of issues.  One is the various proprietary parts supporting protected features of Nokia’s devices, such as power management.  Nokia sees these as value-added aspects necessary for revenue under its current business model, so despite the pleas of the Maemo community I don’t see significant changes forthcoming.  Another, even bigger elephant in the room is MeeGo– the former joint venture between Nokia and Intel that is now supported largely by Intel alone since Nokia’s drastic overture to Microsoft.

MeeGo is a mix of Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo.  That said, the open source operating system is mostly Moblin with Maemo’s mobility bits blended in.  Ever since its announcement, there have existed two related-but-distant communities with some crossover between them.  For the most part, those bridging the two efforts have been looking to migrate Maemo users over to MeeGo, as the former can only be heading toward the end of its lifecycle.  But this has been a hard reality to accept for those still wringing use out of Maemo devices.  As software advancements gradually orphan those still-usable products, what are frustrated owners to do?

Despite earlier fatal assumptions, the N900 at least is receiving some MeeGo love.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of Jukka Eklund, Carsten Munk and many others too numerous to mention here, the MeeGo OS is being adapted to the N900.  The current release is a bit rough around the edges but project leaders promise that current glitches can and will be ironed out over time.  Ultimately, the goal is to extend the life of the N900s and embrace ARM devices in general.

As excited as I am at this project, I have to toss a pint or so of cold water on the enthusiasm of N900 owners.  While I write this, the N900 products are showing their age and fragility.  Note that out of 2184 respondents to my poll on micro usb port damage:

  • 11.9% are experiencing charging and/or data issues with their N900′s usb port;
  • 3.53% have lost their usb connector due to some force;
  • 22.02% have lost their N900′s usb connector through normal usage

Altogether that’s 37.45% of N900s with significantly reduced usability.  And, that doesn’t include anyone who suffered a failure after they initially responded to the poll with no problems (votes cannot be changed).

In addition, other hardware failures are being reported.  I just lost usage of my SIM card after months of deteriorating performance.  I would reflash the device every time the SIM failed to be found, and regain usage for a while– those periods grew progressively shorter with each flash until the SIM is now completely unreadable (despite cold flashing).

What does this mean?

It says that, eventually, the majority of N900s are doomed to fail.  It may take a year or three, but they are obviously not robust enough to last as long as hardcore adherents would like.

But as long as there are N900s in use, there’s another way to extend their viability specific to the wants of Maemo fans.  A mature MeeGo build for the handset coupled with a Maemo-flavored UX/UI gets them part of the way there.  The rest is up to the community: recode and repackage existing open source applications into Qt.  Not exactly a simple task, but surely more attainable than prying Maemo completely free from Nokia.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if installing MeeGo DE on my N900 might revive the SIM functionality again…

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29 responses to “Maemo is Dead… Long Live Maemo

  1. Pingback: Maemo is Dead… Long Live Maemo | Tabula Crypticum | Maemo Meego

  2. The death of Maemo is not as bad as the death of the devices, N900, N810, N800 and good old 770. 770 “died” even before Maemo showed any sign it might stop!

    Stskeep’s lecture about this was great.
    http://summit.meegonetwork.fi/speaker/carsten-munk

    Software is evolving at an awesome rate. Much faster than hardware gets old. We need our systems to be very, _very_ adaptive. Nobody can afford a new gadget every time some new interesting Internet service shows up.

    I can’t get over any of the difficulties I experienced in N800. First with OGG format for songs. Then Flash not being updated. Then being unable to compile new mainline Linux kernels…

    I am still kind of lost about what Maemo meant and what MeeGo means. Only Nokia’s (or anybody else’s ) next Linux-based handheld device will help me understand.

  3. I know that Maemo and really MeeGo too, are dead OS’s no matter what Intel can muster for support, I really like My N900, and Maemo. I would buy them again. I know (not think) Nokia made a foolish choice, and will pay for that failure soon. I look forward to a refresh of my N900 with Meego, (even while I believe that will be obsoleted as well) But not today, Meego is more than a little ‘rough around the edges’ the user interface is just plain unsuited to the smaller real estate of a handheld. Maemo is Not!

    • I’m concerned about MeeGo, but it’s by no means dead. I disagree about its state, too. I find it very usable on the netbook and the N900 DE build I saw just needs polish. Remember, the MeeGo UI is just for reference– anyone can roll their own.

  4. Hey Texrat, just want to mention that I was told by a Nokia employee that the N900 USB port problems were resolved on later editions of the hardware. The earlier hardware (and all of the developer devices are in that category) all has that fragile USB port.
    Interestingly, both of my N800s are still in working order, and are still being used frequently as media players, although the touch screens are a bit spotty from so much usage, and you have to tilt the charging plug in just the right way to get one of them to charge correctly…

  5. The SIM issue is a HW problem, I think? At least I’ve had two N900′s that failed to register a SIM card, and both were fixed with a some folded paper between the battery and SIM holder.
    Also, I think Qole’s right. The later HW editions seem to fix the USB HW issues (I got my initial N900 swapped for later HW by Nokia “Care” when it first exhibited the SIM issue)

    • I raised the SIM contacts, which should accomplish the same thing. No improvement. Also, each time I recovered SIM use it was through reflashing, without taking the device apart and doing anything else.

      My second N900 was supposedly from a later, corrected batch but still lost its connector. That’s one reason I’m doubtful of a fix.

      EDIT: I also have to wonder what percentage the supposedly corrected N900s make up out of the whole. If they were toward the end of production, as is likely, then odds are they are around 25% or so. Again, doesn’t bode well for the product.

  6. Pingback: Meego d.e release đã xuất hiện - Trang 4

  7. …recode and repackage existing open source applications into Qt…

    Sounds a little bit too easy. There are only a handful (3?) Maemo apps using QML right now, and the rest of the Qt apps are QWidget-based. Compared to Maemo 5, there’s no QWidget style for MeeGo Handset yet. All other Maemo apps that use GTK+/Hildon would need a full rewrite, anyway.

    If the Harmattan platform (Qt Components, etc..) and apps (Dialer, PIM, etc..) get released as open source or at least are provided as binaries for use on the MeeGo DE (and get integrated by the DE team), I can see MeeGo on the N900 becoming day-to-day usable. If that’s not going to be the case, our best bet would be to either port Hildon-Desktop and Fremantle platform to MeeGo (the Cordia project) or simply continue providing Maemo 5 with updates through the Community SSU.

    I’m pretty sure most developers won’t bother porting their apps to Qt, which would take them approx. 6 months at which point it might not be worth it anymore, especially when what we already have (Maemo 5) works great *now*.

    One just don’t tear down houses and rebuild them every year. One renovates and fixes them. The sum of all the fixes and improvements over time makes a great software product. The usage of Teh Latest APIs(tm) does not. There’s no magical SDK where you put in GTK+/C code (or QWidget/C++ code) in on the one end, and it gives you a fine QML/C++ binary on the other end. Developing software is hard. Value your community developers’ time.

    • Well, I did say “not exactly a simple task”. But at this point I had to reach a conclusion, however painful to anyone. And bear in mind my thinking has no bearing on anyone outside my own household, and too often not even within. ;)

    • MeeGo didn’t have qwidget theme, but also many things are still missing in qml, as it s a new framework. It s require a rewrite to do thing the right way.

  8. Another nail in the N900′s coffin will be hammered when/if AT&T buys TMobile. They then lose 3G and become much less desirable/functional. I have 2 N900s so hope to get as much usw out of them as I can.

  9. Too bad the usb port issue kept me from buying the n900.

  10. Nokia has lost my confidence and I sell my N900
    I will waiting for an good alternative with MeeGo
    temporarily I will use android until a good alternative with MeeGo is on the marked
    W7 is certainly no-go solution: P

  11. Hi to All!
    I have installed MeeGo DE on my N900 as dual boot – it’s pathetic.
    I think that Nokia, if it discontinues Maemo and MeeGo support for N900 has, at least to promise installable version of Windows 7 Mobile for N900 and continuation of support and commitment to its products?
    Then we All will be able to judge who is the better: Maemo Linux or MS Mobile? And if Nokia are right in its shift to Microsoft.
    Peter, Senior embedded programmer.

  12. I love my Nokia N900. The UI of Maemo is so nice.
    I know that it’s old but I still get Community SSU updates and updates from the software management-app, I so don’t think that it is completely dead yet.

    I look forward to MeeGo for N900 and I think I’ll buy an SD Card when it’s released.

  13. I believe your poll is fairly biased, since it would clearly attract people who already have issues with their USB ports. I don’t think the numbers you give in this blog post are likely to be anywhere near accurate.

    • There’s no getting away from bias completely in a case like this, but I believe these numbers are close enough to accurate. The poll has received a tremendous amount of attention since I started it (over 8000 unique views) and at first the reported failure rate was much lower than now, while the overall number of respondents was high. Over time, the percentage of failures slowly grew, as one would expect with this sort of failure. In addition, as I’ve noted, visitors who initially reported no issues have stated later that they did experience a failure but their votes cannot be changed. That works against the natural bias. There’s also the desire of N900 fans to counter negative reports, and that has compelled many to vote here as encountering no issues.

      My 2 out of 3 N900 failures line up with the results here.

  14. I’ve got a broken screen on my N900. Several users have similarly found that they’re not too robust. So unfortunately I think you’re right to point out that the future of the OS for these devices is maybe not such a big deal.

    • No broken N900 screen here, but I’m starting to see some red dots in the upper left corner on occasion. On the N800s, blue streaks on the screen were an occasional issue, especially on preproduction devices.

    • Replacement screens can be had on eBay for about £20 here in the UK. A few days ago I bought a new digitiser and entire new housing and keyboard for about £25 .

      The digitiser on my N900 seems to lose accuracy regularly and I have to click about 8mm outside the crosses in the recalibration screen so hopefully a replacement fixes that. The housing was bought just as a spare for later. I’ve no idea if they are genuine Nokia parts as there was no packaging but I would be hard pushed to spot the difference.

      The SIM and USB problems are more of a concern for the life of the device ultimately I think as they’d prove more difficult to repair.

  15. Pingback: Maemo Weekly News for Monday, 30 May 2011 | Maemo Nokia N900

  16. I had today the same problem with the SIM.
    It was enough to gently lift with a pocket knife the springs in the SIM holder, which probably were not any more pushing hard enough.

    Problem solved.

  17. red dots can actually be caused by dust that has infiltrated the screen – I once found a prototype device with many pixels i thought were dead, instead when the screen was analysed by HW engineers, it was found full of dust.

  18. Pingback: Anche il Nokia N900 riceve un morso di Ice Cream Sandwich - Tutto Android

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