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…