Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why Meego on N900 is the right and future-proof direction for the community

So, I think it's about time for me to really weigh in why it is I'm pushing MeeGo on N900 and why this is the right direction. This is probably going to be a bit long. Some people asked me to repost it on my blog as to not have it lost in the maelstrom of talk.maemo.org.

This is also probably my last long post on the matter as I'm now fully in a MeeGo role, no longer maemo.org distmaster.

The fact is that the model of 770 -> N800 -> N810 -> N900 has been that of one device per OS version. There hasn't been resources for keeping a full product team for multiple devices at a time.

This has caused what some describe as Rapid Obsolescence Syndrome, where the device OS rapidly goes into maintenance mode after device release while mostly everyone involved moves on to the next product/device. This obviously leaves users unhappy.

Now, there are multiple suggestions around maemo.org:

* Fremantle community SSU
* Petition for open sourcing most of Fremantle to keep it maintained
* Harmattan HE for N900

And my main point in the following is that those directions will be like pissing your pants to keep yourself warm. Quick review:

Community SSU can work on the open source parts (it has happened on N8x0 just fine). Maybe you can find some ability together with Fremantle aficionados inside Nokia who could be interested in contributing with upgrades of some binary packages -
I doubt there's any problem if those exist to slip some packages out.

But the main point is: no upstream work will really happen. I highly doubt you can find enough people that are still around to keep things working. Even with documentation, the code can be quite hairy to add new features to. So that bends down to a resourcing problem.

Open sourcing most of Fremantle - I simply don't think it's going to happen. Too much work for too little benefit. And the same problems as with normal SSU when the code does arrive.

Harmattan HE. This would already be obsolete by the time we were done as a more modern platform would be available in MeeGo. As well as at some point, no more upstream development.

The main point - you'll piss your pants with these projects to keep yourself warm for a while, but you'll just keep on feeding the Rapid Obsolescence Syndrome to some extent - that you'll never be able to play catch-up to new technologies and satisfy the requirements of your users. It is a physical impossibility as there's many more man-hours poured into MeeGo than you can provide here.

MeeGo and Qt has changed the status quo that existed that:
* Any Linux-based OS platform from Nokia is tied to a certain device
* Any applications from Nokia is tied to a certain device by fact that they were released for a certain OS platform.

It's a game-changer because now, for any given 'Nokia' OS for these devices, this will after Harmattan be based off MeeGo (platform from MeeGo.com).

Now, what are we actually doing in MeeGo for N900?

First off - we're making the hardware adaptation for N900 maintainable.

This means that we are actively upstreaming N900 drivers to the mainline Linux kernel as well as getting those few blobs we have into the MeeGo non-oss repositories with redistributable license. This is actively happening.

Second, we're running QA daily to make sure that N900 still works with the current MeeGo platform state. This means we're always at the front of the platform development. MeeGo platform doesn't move forward if a change breaks N900 - it is a reference device

That's not pissing your pants to keep warm. That's making a bonfire and collecting wood to make us sustainably warm. And that's one of the reasons why I hope for more people to contribute to the MeeGo effort.

Now for the users. Look forward a bit - Nokia's obviously going to make a OS release based on 'real' MeeGo.com. The same code that'll power future handsets will be based on the same code that N900 already now supports. It's the same infrastructure that builds images and software that MeeGo for N900 is made using, as any given future Nokia OS. Instead of Nokia having applications tied to Fremantle or to Diablo or whatever, they now tie to MeeGo - the same platform you have on your N900.

If you want to make a real bonfire and eat your cake too, you will want to do the following:

* Contribute to MeeGo and MeeGo on N900 in the short term - this will improve matters for Nokia N900 obviously.
* Petition for Nokia early on, to consider providing the following things:
** Executive summary: access to the binaries making up the Nokia differentiation
** Weekly (or other interval) repository releases (binaries) available to Nokia N900 users of their future MeeGo.com-based OS under the usual 'this is not for end-users, bla bla'. Kinda like the old 'Sardine'
** Kickstart files for these weekly releases so you can edit them into your own images for the N900 using the Nokia bits.
** Community can be possibly be more involved in the QA process this way and contribute in general.
** If branding is a problem, have community themes and icons.
** Suggest new ways to have both a 'closed' vendor OS with all the goodies based on MeeGo.com while at same time having your power user community close to you.

Now, this is a way that can keep you ahead of the curve regarding your device. The N900 hardware isn't going obsolete for many years and is still very capable.

I think this might be possible to pull off, but it requires people to start gaining skills within MeeGo - and help contribute to MeeGo on N900. It's a similar approach to Harmattan HE, but more involved and more future proof. So I wouldn't say it's impossible.

So - it's your choice: Live in the future instead of the past.

I'll be working to make the future happen - see you on http://www.meego.com (and http://wiki.meego.com/ARM/N900 ).