December 08, 2010, 4:43 PM — Beware open source. Just ask AOL. All it wanted in the late 1990s was a killer browser to destroy Microsoft's Internet Explorer. They figured the best way of getting this was to make Netscape open source. Four long years later, AOL finally got what it wanted, just about, but the world had changed almost beyond recognition. Internet Explorer was dominant; the game was over.
In those four years the open source guys had entirely rebuilt Netscape from the ground up, defining technical standards still in use today. They built a world-class bug filing system too. The trouble is that AOL really, really needed a killer browser as quickly as possible. If ithad received it, computing history as we know it today might be very different.
I'm starting to think that Nokia might be in an AOL's former situation with MeeGo, the operating system for mobile devices that was created by the merger of the Maemo and Moblin projects. It's true that as a project, MeeGo is relatively young, but it's based on established and mature technology that first saw the light of day in 2005 as something called Maemo.
Since that time, Nokia has been heralding Maemo and then MeeGo as the future of its phone business, and in doing so have put significant faith in the open source universe.
What Nokia really needs right now is a killer smartphone OS--n phones it's selling at this very moment, during this holiday season, which is sure to go down in history as being the defining moment for smartphone sales. The revolution starts here, but Nokia isn't 100% present.
Until MeeGo produces the goods, Nokia is stuck with Symbian, an aging, creaking operating system that's stretched almost to breaking point in Nokia's latest phone releases.
Nokia is one of the chief sponsors of MeeGo, which is slated for its first phone release in the middle of next year. By that time Android and Apple's iOS will be extremely well established. It'll be game over for any other competitor because history has shown that most technology marketplaces only support two main players.
What's rather strange is that lots of people are expecting MeeGo to be a blockbuster of an OS that will finally show the world how mobile phones should work.