Now that it’s all officially public I can write about what’s been happening at work. The memo which everyone has seen, almost certainly deliberately leaked in my opinion, was out a week or more ago and there has been a vast mess of rumors internally since then. Well, it turns out that the worst of them are true. A "deep" alliance with Microsoft which probably means an end to our independent web services offering (Ovi, yes – I’m not surprised you’ve not heard of them) as well as massive redundancies in the next 12-18 months as effectively all software development done by Nokia (currently maybe ~8-10,000 people) is dropped in favor of software from Microsoft.
It’s very easy to believe that this has been a "long con" by Microsoft who have been terrified at the future prospect of a scaling down of desktop PCs in favor of mobile devices. Apple and Google (the latter of which were no-where in this market two years ago) have dominated this area and Microsoft desperately needed to do something big to hang in as the third player. The CEO of Nokia, as has repeatedly been pointed out, worked for Microsoft less than six months ago and his gaining this position could easily all have been part of a Grand Plan where the board of Nokia gain nice bonuses in return for Nokia becoming a hardware arm of Microsoft in all but name. In fact it’s been said that this is one of the best business coups ever as Microsoft has effectively bought Nokia without having to pay a penny and without the legal hassles on worldwide monopoly and merger commissions.
For a company with ~35% of the smartphone market to abandon it’s ownership of it’s own OS future in order to join with a company that currently has ~1.5% of the market and pretty much zero outside of North America seems highly bizarre. This is especially true when both Symbian and MeeGo would have been able to get new Qt based devices out in less time than it will take for us to release a WiMo phone.
The cynical part of me believes that this is actually a very significant part of Microsoft’s thinking. Yes, they needed to get into the smartphone market to stay alive and, yes, Nokia is a major player and in is in some pain at the moment. Yes, Nokia has global reach and is a top brand in the segment – so far so smart for Microsoft. However, by eliminating Symbian and MeeGo they also create another massive coup by essentially killing off Qt. Qt is a application interface (API) layer that software programs are written on top of . Today there are lots of these (Microsoft, Apple, Linux, Symbian, Android, etc). Qt is a very nice API and is already compatible with Microsoft, Apple and Linux (although not used that much so far). Imagine if it was suddenly the default API on most of the worlds smartphones (you can bet that if Symbian and MeeGo supported it that it would get ported to Android ASAP). Suddenly Microsoft is losing not only the battle for its cut of the vastly growing mobile device market but also, perhaps more worryingly, it risks the OS (it’s only major asset unlike major rival Google) becoming a commodity with a common interface across all OSs stealing it’s thunder. Major win for Microsoft here.
Anyway, regardless of the intention it’s very plain what has immediately happened upon the announcement. The Nokia share price was down almost 15% when I last looked on Friday (i heard someone saying the $8Bn had dropped off the value of the company) but I’m sure that will recover. What will not recover as easily is the huge disappointment in the worldwide technical community who have en mass said via Twitter, blogs, blog comments, etc that they strongly disapprove of the effective merger. Internally the people I have spoken to are also disappointed but waiting for the dust to settle. Those who work on Symbian or MeeGo know now that their days are numbered at Nokia and are considering their options.
The biggest regret is that it could have all been so different if there had been an alliance with Google instead. Internal and external developers would have been psyched, share prince would have gone up and we could probably have had a device out in 3-6 months with development done internally limiting (but not removing) the need for redundancies. As it is it will take ~12 months minimum to get a Microsoft device out as virtually no-one in Nokia has any Microsoft technical skills. Yes, we would have been just one of many of the OEMs for Android but (1) there would be a much bigger joint application space which is what Symbian was originally created for by Nokia back-in-the-day and (2) we’re going to be just a new "Dell" to Microsoft now anyway. The agreement isn’t exclusive which means that a year or two after Nokia becomes an all-Microsoft shop Microsoft can switch to a much cheaper Chinese hardware supplier for their smartphone hardware, pull the plug on Nokia and leave us with no in-house developers and no OS to ship – destroying the company. Sounds fanciful but Microsoft have done it before.
What it means for me and anyone else not working directly in software creation is making a hard choice. It’s either drinking the cool-aid (and having a shower every day) and admitting they you effectively work for Microsoft or it means leaving. It’ll be easy to spot people dropping into three types right away: (1) those looking for contacts in Microsoft to create job-saving alliances, (2) those looking for new work and (3) those who are either paralyzed by indecision or apathy and will just drift and see what happens….
For those who want more of the sorry saga here’s plenty of links:
- http://goo.gl/gqonb (branding blog, always insightful)
- http://goo.gl/SbCeX (BoingBoing)
- http://goo.gl/N3LZU (Slashdot)
- http://goo.gl/LSzL6 (Bloomberg)
- http://goo.gl/Ae7mz (The Guardian)
- http://goo.gl/6RFVD (the so-called ‘walk-out’ which seems highly unlikely, I will check on Monday)