back to article How Nokia managed to drive its in-house Linux train off the rails

Nokia's strategy to revive its fortunes with its home-grown Linux was derailed by academic theory, bureaucratic in-fighting and a misguided partnership with Intel, a new report reveals. Finnish publication Taskumuro has published an extensive history of the Meego project which contains a mixture of old and new: some …


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  1. Daren Nestor


    Nokia had the markey presence outside the US to have caused people to sit up and take notice. If they had pushed at the right times they would be a realistic competitor. Their window closed a while back, but much later than people think.

  2. hplasm Silver badge

    The last line could be Nokia's epitaph-

    "It's all over, here."

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Harmattan UI was originally based on the Activity Theory principle

    This must have been just after some idiot put an MBA in charge of the project.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Qt Mobile wasn't ready in 2009

    So it's unlikely the N9 could have been released in 2009 with the same UI it has now. I guess a GTK+ version of the UI might have been possible, but would have needed a lot more work and the development framework to build on the UI wouldn't have been there.

    MeeGo stands a much better chance without Nokia (and certainly without Intel) - a small, nimble team of passionate developers should be capable of making an interesting product and more importantly, bringing it to market.

    Best of luck to Jolla.

  5. Arctic fox
    Thumb Up

    Very interesting Andrew, very interesting indeed.

    A somewhat more complex, nuanced and ,ultimately, depressing story than the (wilful) adherents of the "Nokia's been borged and Elop is the sweaty, chair-throwing maniac's bum-boy" explanation of where the Finns are now. Cutting to the quick, Nokia did it to themselves. No, I do not say that in any hostile sense - rather in the despairing sense. I hope very much (given that I still have a certain degree of affection for the company) that they will pull themselves back from the brink. Apart from anything else the pleasure of seeing the various members of the Choral Howling Association explode in hysterical rage at Nokia managing to turn the corner would be a major bonus in itself.

  6. kurkosdr


    Interesting article.

    Essentially Meego/Maemo was doomed by two factors:

    - As you say, they couldn't get it to ship

    - Forces inside Nokia wanted Symbian to be the only OS, because they thought they would control it better or because the Finnish gods would be mad if Nokia abandoned Symbian or something. Sure on the outside they pretended to want to see MeeGo succeed, but they did everything to sabotage it.

    I really hope Jolla succeeds. Please don't screw it up. Android + Jolla = geek heaven

  7. Andrew_b65

    Maemo 5 ?

    Your timeline completely missed out Maemo 5 and the N900, just sayin'.

  8. Anonymous Coward 101

    We will hear some wailing from Symbian fanboys here: the most blind, deaf and deluded of any tech nerds.

  9. Waspy

    Such a shame - Meego/Harmattan/Swipe joins webOS as a beautiful, functionally brilliant and very promising platform. I have an N9 and the OS is really nice looking, with great (true) multitasking and all the email/messaging/social networking functionality built right in (so you don't need hundreds of apps). The hardware too is really good...I can't believe how oleo-phobic the glass is, it hardly ever picks up any grease or dirt. It also always amazes me how iPhone and Android users just cannot understand the need for real multi tasking in a phone (and don't really understand what true multi-tasking is)...once you have it, you tend to miss it on other handsets. Android also has a disappointingly crap approach to multi-tasking, closing things when you least expect it.

    I fear Nokia had it all and threw it away...I can see why Elop took the route he did, and the brand new yet-to-be-released handsets look really nice, but they aren't traditional Nokias and I really hope it isn't too late. For me the N9 is the last true Nokia - a minimalist but powerful OS, great hardware and a great phone

  10. Anonymous Coward

    N900 debacle ...

    I remember well the buzz of anticipation that NOKIA managed to generate when the N900 was announced and the huge number of very committed users of that device who recognized its potential and bought into the concept. I was one of them. We then cursed NOKIA's very soul as it allowed the opportunity to turn to dust and as it betrayed nearly every promise made to the N900 users. Promised software features never appeared including basics like MMS, firmware revisions were late and not complete then dried up prematurely. Most importantly MAEMO was hyped as the future of NOKIA's mobile O/S that would DEFINITELY be used for the subsequent final revision device and then they threw it away by attempting to integrate with INTEL. We all know how that turned out! What truly appalls me is that the educated predictions of disaster made by most of the N900 user groups ALL turned out to be true. If you do this 'x' will happen NOKIA. They did it and 'x' happened. If you don't so this then 'y' will happen ... voila etc.

    I own a Samsung Galaxy Note.

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    From the article

    "The biggest thing that changed when Stephen Elop began his post as the CEO of Nokia, was centering the business around North America. According to Elop’s views, the trends that originate from the US are the ones that will prevail in the entire world, as the iPhone and Android have shown. That’s why Nokia absolutely had to be able to compete in the challenging American market to be successful globally."

    Flop proving once again that he's arse-about-face, for a change. Nokia was already successful globally, except the US. Solution? Decimate everything which was successful outside the US.

  12. Tim Walker

    N800 and N900

    It's odd to think I saw the N800 on display in PC World, of all places (sometime around 2008, IIRC). It looked Interesting for its time - I think they had this idea that you'd "tether" the N800 via Bluetooth to a Nokia phone like the N95 (which I then owned) for cellular connectivity, and optionally a BT keyboard to complete the "suite". The resistive touchscreen would date it these days, but otherwise the screen didn't look too bad to me.

    I remember thinking I wouldn't mind owning an N800, but it was outside my price range and the moment passed. A year or so later, and out came the N900, which was arguably more like a "QWERTY slider phone" which ran Linux (Maemo). I welcomed the idea ("great - I can get a pocket Linux device as my next blower from Carphone Warehouse!" - I thought rather naively...). Part of me still wishes I could've got one - for all I know, N900s are probably going for chump-change on eBay these days, unless the fans are hanging onto them...

    Ah, Nokia - they'll be studying you in years to come, as Exhibit A in "leading tech companies who threw it all away" :-(

    1. cyberdemon

      Hit the nail on the head

      As a continuing N900 user, I can understand your sentiment.

      But for me, it is, and always has been, the best phone _ever_. I use Debian on my PCs anyway, and a phone that can natively ssh back and run apps, complete with GUI, on my home machine is just brilliant. Any software I need is usually on an apt repository, and if it isn't, I don't even need a cross compiler toolchain to build it. I can install GCC and compile it on the phone.

      Maemo is debian based (unlike Meego which is based on Redhat afaik), which makes package management easy etc etc.

      Basically, I have a phone running general purpose Linux (natively with X windows, not some nasty Java layer), with a slide-out qwerty keyboard. What more could a geek want?

      But then Elop came along, from Microsoft. He killed the project dead, sacked all the developers, along with half the company's R&D staff in general, binned 10 years of R&D in Maemo, and announced that all the company's smart phones from now on will run exclusively Windows.

      The share price predictably tanked, and frankly it reads like a Microsoft conspiracy to scuttle the company in order to either buy it or just make sure that a disruptive technology never comes to market.

      It really makes me sad that I will never get a hardware upgrade for what is basically the best phone OS ever.

    2. Steve Evans

      Re: N900 debacle ...

      I had the misfortune to own a N97. Whilst it wasn't all bad, the most annoying thing was the lack of support, and impression that Nokia had just taken the money and run.

      The N97 was the first phone I dumped before the excessively long contract had expired. It was consigned to a draw and replaced with an Android powered HTC Desire Z (yes, I like slide out keyboards) a few month before the Elop hit. I use my trusty old N95 as my backup phone when a go off doing things which might break a phone and would rather it wasn't my 'droid.

      So it didn't really matter what platform Nokia went with, my disillusion was with their support, and attitude (I got moderated in their forum for disrespecting Nokia for posting a list of valid and accurate faults).

      1. bep

        Well, kinda

        Your N900 must be a little different to mine. Mine has occasions, always at the most inconvenient time, when it slows down to a crawl and becomes unresponsive. I believe it's doing some re-setting in the background or something. To make it behave again the only solution is to remove the battery, since none of the buttons, including the power button, will work, and the touch screen is unresponsive. So I don't think the N900 was the best phone ever made, by a considerable margin. I wished it worked, but it didn't.

        1. tapanit

          Re: Well, kinda

          Interesting. My N900 has been rock solid - the only thing I've had problems with is MMS messages (which have never been officially supported), but I've never needed to remove battery or anything like that. And I grieve for its never-materialized successor (N9 does not count, I want a real keyboard).

      2. MacroRodent Silver badge


        >I had the misfortune to own a N97.

        The big trouble there was immature software. I have a N97 mini (basically same with slightly smaller case and no sliding lens cover) and after religiously applying all Nokia's patches (the latest last year) it is quite stable and usable. Had it been released with the software it now has, it would have been a winner at the time! It is still quite good, even new compatible apps appear now and then. The only major gripe I have with it is that videos shot it with are not up to today's standards (can be described as "VHS quality" at best). But the stills are still quite good for a 5Mpix camera.

        1. Stoli89

          Re: N97

          The N97 had a critical design fault that was rectified with the N97 mini. It had too little C drive space, so when the OS updates came later with Qt...the N97 free C drive space became so constrained that the product became almost unusable.

          1. MacroRodent Silver badge

            Re: N97

            @Stoli89: Ah, thanks. Didn't know about that issue relative to the "big" N97. I thought only the exterior differed. Good thing I missed a N97 offer when shopping for either at the Finnish equivalent of eBay.

    3. Luther Blissett

      What Theory?

      This >> Activities are open systems. When an activity system adopts a new element from the outside (for example, a new technology or a new object), it often leads to an aggravated secondary contradiction where some old element (for example, the rules or the division of labor) collides with the new one. Such contradictions generate disturbances and conflicts, but also innovate attempts to change the activity. <<

      Is pure marxian dialectical materialism. And no-one at Nokia spotted it...? So, the USSR did manage to strike from beyond the grave.

    4. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: Chris Wareham

      "......This must have been just after some idiot put an MBA in charge of the project." I know a gent that used to design car interiors for a well-known German brand. He told me his best review team were his pre-teen kids - he could take design pics home and they would pick out the problems or good points every time, much more accurately than the MBA-luggers. Look'n'feel is either good or not, and trying to turn it into furmulae or theorems is simply making up for a lack of perception.

    5. Test Man

      Re: From the article

      Nokia was already failing way before Elop came aboard.

    6. Bad Beaver


      1. Magnus Ramage

        Re: What Theory?

        Activity theory is neither as obscure nor as Marxian as the article and comments imply. It's a pretty mainstream part of human-computer interaction theory. It has its roots in Soviet psychology, but has long since gone beyond those. It's really very interesting, and has particularly been influential in Scandinavia (notably through the work of Yrjö Engeström, who's Finnish like Nokia and is not especially Marxist at all). There's a good article on AT at

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: What Theory?

          It might be nice for describing interaction, but it's no help at all in design or evaluation of a UI.

      2. gurmit

        Re: From the article

        approaching a cliff edge yes, but he did not help to turn it around, just pushed it off the cliff edge

      3. Philip Lewis


        I have one too - stunningly good phone IMHO

    7. Doug Deeds

      Re: Nokia...

      I saw two major fails while I worked at Nokia:

      They did not take the US market seriously. At one project meeting, we had to list as a manager (still a VP unfortunately) told us that the US was not a significant market.

      They also wanted to go with the Henry Ford business model - You can have any color you want, as long as it's black. They would not customize significantly for the US carriers and that was simply market death here. Even in 2006 we were still stuck with dictionaries from England and Spain, not suitable for either the US or Latin America.

    8. pepper

      Re: N800 and N900

      I got a N900 for 160 euro's last februari, second hand not used very much was sitting in its box after the owner got a new phone. was about 9 months old when I got it.

      It really is a neat pocket linux device with all you really need.

      Note that if it has been idle for too long it will either need a new battery or a bit of external charge, since the OS needs to be booted to charge the battery. Otherwise it will get in a startup > drain on boot > shutdown > startup after N minutes loop.

      Funny fact:

      Nokia is still sponsoring the community coding competition at and is still giving away the fabled N950(developer phone).

    9. Hyper72

      No, AC 101. The mythical wailing fanboy is very rare for any platform. Symbian, Apple or otherwise.. Largely its only the haters that wail, moan, scream and rant like the infantiles they are.

      The rest of us quietly make our choice based on taste, personal preference and enjoy life.

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: N800 and N900

      My 900 is part of my collection of "brilliant but ultimately too flawed tech gadgets" along with a Palm Pre 2 and a few other handhelds from various suppliers. Reading this thread I booted it up and it still works. So no, I wouldn't flog it on eBay, I might find a use for it one day. (I can use it to run Java applications over X from a headless Linux box, though on a three inch screen this is mainly for bragging points.)

    11. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Nokia fanboys

      I posted on another forum a few weeks back that, with the stumbling of the iPhone 5 and the favourable reviews of the Lumia 920, Elop might have to be re-evaluated. Result: flaming, down-voting, the odd abusive email. But this report from Finland actually suggests that Elop made the right decision for Nokia. It was clearly a very dysfunctional company with a skunkworks, a vested interest group (Symbian) and internal politics to make the Chinese Communist Party look like the Electoral Reform Society. It looks like they left him little choice, and he was right not to go with Android and try to compete with Samsung.

      Now look at HP who backed out of webOS (which looks as if it may run next on a G-Nex) and nearly sold the largest PC division in the world, and are now having to bleat to the shareholders that "we'll really get back into phones, one day, honest guv"

      In the exceedingly unlikely event that I ever meet Stephen Elop, I'll buy him lunch and tell him I admire his willingness to do the right thing despite knowing it would be hugely unpopular.

    12. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Resistive, not capacitive

      It's oleo-phobic because it's a textured resistive plastic overlay. At least it is on my N800. If you take it apart, you can peel the touchscreen surface off the glass.

      And yes, the Android approach of "close down the program when you switch away from it" does suck.

      1. Mike Judge

        Re: Nokia fanboys

        LOL, deluded much?

        Had Nokia gone with Android, they almost certainly would be where Samsung is today.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nokia fanboys

          Indeed? Have their own OLED fab, memory and processor fabs, and the rest of it do they? And a massive presence in other consumer electronics goods to cross-fertilise development?

          Samsung benefited enormously from having Apple as a customer because it gave them economies of scale. Look, Nokia made some very good phones (I just passed a 5 year old one in perfect working order to an OAP who dropped hers down a drain). But they had exactly the same problem that IBM did with the PC: another division (minicomputers) wanted to cripple it, just as the Symbionts wanted to kill the Maemo derivatives. Samsung did not make that mistake.

      2. Bad Beaver
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Nokia fanboys

        So you're out fishing for downvotes?

        I would not exactly helo Elop to a free lunch but I would agree that the new platform starts to look better – and even the current gen devices are pretty good, from a non-geek perspective – I still like more control over my device though. We will see about the new OS once it is out, but with the next gen 920, Nokia has a killer device and it will actually be to market in time to outshine a lot of the competition. Regardless, relying on MS is and will always be a double-edged sword.

        Don't get me started about HP.

      3. GrantB

        Re: Nokia fanboys

        "I posted on another forum a few weeks back that, with the stumbling of the iPhone 5 and the favourable reviews of the Lumia 920, Elop might have to be re-evaluated"


        Even if miracles happened and the Lumia 9nn started outselling everything else, it would be despite of Elop and not because of him.

        And judging from sales of the Lumia brand to date, I very much doubt the Lumia will outsell anything much less a ‘stumbling iPhone 5’ or SIII. Remember that Apple have probably sold more iPhone 5’s in the last couple of weeks than the total numbers of Lumia’s sold by what was the world’s largest cellphone company with billions of dollars in marketing support from Microsoft.

        "Result: flaming, down-voting, the odd abusive email. But this report from Finland actually suggests that Elop made the right decision for Nokia. It was clearly a very dysfunctional company with a skunkworks, a vested interest group (Symbian) and internal politics to make the Chinese Communist Party look like the Electoral Reform Society"

        It was all that.

        So they needed a CEO to get implementation and delivery of projects to work. Make the hard calls to fire anybody not moving forward with the Nokia smartphone OS (Meego) and a low end OS for feature phones like the Asha range. Get stuff shipping rather than infighting and analysis indecision wanting to have the perfect UI.

        Maybe once that was sorted, take a look at a partnership with MS, Google or Apple to work on a range of Nokia phones running Windows Phone, Android or iOS (yeah, I know the latter won’t happen but interesting to speculate)

        “It looks like they left him little choice, and he was right not to go with Android and try to compete with Samsung”.

        Right, so he didn’t go with Android where they could have competed successfully with 2nd tier players like HTC, and instead went all in with Windows Phone in which they get to compete with Samsung, HTC and maybe Microsoft – who control the OS they are now 100% dependant on.

        If you think Lumia 920 will be good (and remember we don’t know how much it will cost or battery life details etc), then running Android it could have competed well. Running W8 – a new, untried OS (at least on a phone) that doesn’t even have a finished SDK yet, it still has to compete in the market place with the iPhone 5 and SIII, but not running the OS that people have indicated (by handing over dollars) that they really want.

        “In the exceedingly unlikely event that I ever meet Stephen Elop, I'll buy him lunch and tell him I admire his willingness to do the right thing despite knowing it would be hugely unpopular”.

        It’s not just that he did the unpopular thing, it’s that he did it badly. So badly people suspect malice rather than just pure incompetency.

        The burning platform memo killed the Symbian market overnight, before they had a competitive replacement in the market. If they had got the N9 shipping and supported, then introduced a new range of Windows or Android phones, I suspect they would have been in much better condition than now.

        Looking at the failure of WP7 and WP7.5, I suspect they could have extracted a lot more from MS right now to ship a decent range of W8 devices if they had held off.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Nokia fanboys

          Being an armchair CEO has the advantage that it is really easy.

          " fire anybody not moving forward with the Nokia smartphone OS (Meego) " - it's pretty clear from the report that Meego was a mistake as a phone OS; Intel couldn't deliver. And keeping Symbian going would involve a long term dead weight of support for too many models which would have distracted from the main job.

          He may have done things badly but we have no way of knowing. On the evidence, however, he took the risk of killing failing platforms.

          The woes of HTC despite having good hardware are well known. Why would Nokia have been any different?

          The "Burning platform" memo seems like a case of telling it how it was. RIM is now going through the same pain, HP abandoned the market.

          If Elop made a mistake it was in underestimating how long it would take Microsoft to get its act together. Look how long it has taken to get Android to work as smoothly as iOS: years. 6:6 hindsight is wonderful, and it is the besetting sin of the armchair CEO.

      4. John Hughes

        Re: Resistive, not capacitive

        Uh, the N9 is not the N800.

        The N9 has a goirilla glass oled capacitative touchscreen.

      5. John 62

        Re: Nokia...

        The US should have THANKED Nokia for proper English dictionaries!

        Anyway, a few years back, Joel Spolsky was telling everyone about how cool his E series phone was while everyone else was using an iPhone 3G.

      6. A. N. Other-Coward Silver badge

        "The rest of us quietly make our choice based on taste, personal preference and enjoy life."

        Not sure about the "enjoy life" part - at the moment it's an existence - Last December, I got a N9, and it cheered me up no end!

        This was after the burning platform speech and was an informed decision, knowing full well that N9/Meego was going to be the first and last of it's kind. I'd had various "low tech" Nokia handsets and a 6310i had served me well for years. Then I got an Android handset (HTC Hero) for email and web browsing. It was somewhat underpowered so I was looking to get a newer handset when the N9 was announced.

        For me, it is just a phone and web/email client . Nice easy option to switch to developer mode and tinker - handy to be able to block ads and banish the social media apps which come with it. When enabled, Skype client integration to phone is seamless.

        Got the added bonus of built-in offline navigation which comes in handy - and it works!

      7. RICHTO Silver badge

        Re: Nokia...

        And they were absolutely right - the US isnt a globally significant mobile market. Europe, India and China are far larger and more important. There are 500 million mobile customers just in Europe.

    13. Anonymous Coward 101

      Re: From the article

      Nokia's smartphone market share was on a death spiral in the two preceding quarters before burning platforms, and that was after the release of the N8. The appointment of Elop and the abandoning of old Symbian allowed 'stab in the back' legends to take hold.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: From the article

        Their market share was dropping but from 2009 to 2010, they saw an increase of 34% in smartphone sales. The raw numbers, from 100 million to 134 million per year. That is NOT a burning platform. Now Nokia is vying for around 10 million smartphone sales a year,

      2. Dan 55 Silver badge
        1. Anonymous Coward 101

          Re: From the article

          Sigh. The smartphone market was exploding in 2010 hence the increase in sales in spite of the horrific drop in market share. When market share drops by some 12% in 6 months (with no end in sight), that will translate to sales dropping when the market stops growing as much.

          To the person that linked to the Tomi Ahonen blog, please read his postings in January 2011 to find what he really thinks of Nokia's performance from that time. He never refers back to these posts, because he knows they undermine his 'Elop bad' thesis.

          1. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: From the article

            And since then a few more figures have been released and he's had chance to see Elop's performance.

        2. fch

          Re: From the article

          That man begs to rant. Granted, there might be differences hidden in the sheer amount of drivel. I usually tire before I find them though. But then, Tomi Ahonen writes like a real Nokian (Nokianiac ? Nokiate ?)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: From the article

        @Anonymous Coward 101


    14. John Hughes

      Re: N800 and N900

      "Part of me still wishes I could've got one - for all I know, N900s are probably going for chump-change on eBay these days"

      Between USD 200 and EUR 300.


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