Finnish IT site Taskumoro has a fascinating article on the internal struggles that resulted in Nokia’s adoption of Microsoft’s Windows Phone as its sole smartphone operating system. Most people with an interest in mobile operating systems will remember Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s 2011 ‘burning platform‘ memo to Nokia employees, which signalled the beginning of the end for Nokia’s participation in both of its open source smartphone projects Meego and Symbian. At the time, it was clear that Nokia was falling behind both the iOS and Android ecosystems, and that they had trouble getting phones into the market in a timely fashion. Some suggested that the problems might lie with Nokia’s flirtation with open development, although in reality anyone who chose to examine the public interfaces of the Maemo/Meego/Symbian projects could see that they were run (like Google’s Android) in a primarily closed fashion.
For the article, author Sampsa Kurri has interviewed numerous Nokia insiders and developers, and the results are interesting. It seems that – as many suspected at the time – tensions within Nokia’s numerous competing teams resulted in a deadly inability to act fast. The Symbian executives feared that Meego would undermine their own value, and so worked to slow its development. Software development work was contracted out without a strong vision of how the project as a whole should fit together. Management changes meant that UX decisions were repeatedly revised. Vast resources were placed into what were not only parallel, but competing, efforts.
So I would strongly recommend the article for anyone interested in how big projects fail. It has special interest for the open source community in that it highlights how poor project management and communication can compromise sustainability, while demonstrating that – although both Symbian and Meego are open source software – they failed for Nokia for reasons essentially unrelated to that fact.