Saturday, February 12, 2011

Päiväkäskyni viimeinen: Kusessa ollaan!

Now that Nokia has decided to use Windows, the question for Finnish IT industry is: Who will do the work?

Ominously, Nokia Finland is not recruiting Windows, C# or Silverlight programmers (Silverlight is the plaform for making 3rd party applications to Windows Phones). In, Silverlight jobs are either in the non-mobile industry or in the multiplatform field, where all mobile platforms are listed.

For example Abhinaba Basu in Hyderabad, India works in a team with Windows Phone and Silverlight competence.

In the past, Finnish developers moved between Series40, Symbian and Meego. There is no sign that they will be moving to Windows except for Elop's words.

Moving phone OS development out from Finland would be a tectonic shift in the Finnish IT industry. A HS artice mentions 3100 Symbian and Meego developers in Tampere and Oulu. There are more in Salo, Helsinki and in Nokia's subcontracting chain. Quick layoffs will create a glut of unemployed, resulting in hundreds of applicants for each open position until the industry has restructured, which would take years.

Mauri Pekkarinen uttered the unfamous words "we are from the government and we are here to help." He talked about managed handling of the structural reform. Based on what I have heard about TEKES projects, I hope that they will do as little as possible and stick to existing mechanisms like income-based unemployment benefit and start-up grant. Finnish state financed with debt 25% of its costs last year. We don't need more of that.

Technology perspective

Symbiatch raves about the high quality of C# language and Microsoft tools in Desktop. But Windows Phone is not a desktop OS.

A colleague recently investigated porting a multiplatform client to Windows Phone. The application runs in the background. He found out that WP7 didn't allow background operation to 3rd party applications, making the port difficult and maybe impossible. Also the first comment to Symbiatch's raving is the lack of socket interface, a fundamental low-level network technology necessary for many serious applications. If Microsoft refuses to give enough levers to pull, easier programming is useless. Angry Birds may be a lottery win for Rovio, but it is not a business application and the hype hides the long tail of apps producing nothing.

WP is just one of Microsoft's many income sources. If Nokia demands improvements to WP OS, they can afford to say "Stop whining, boy! Nobody forces you to use WP if you don't accept the terms." Let's hope that Nokia is big enough player to pressure Microsoft into necessary changes.

Economic perspective

Symbian proliferated years ago as a counterstrike to Windows. Mobile phone manufacturers feared they would become Dell-style commodity hardware manufacturers with tight competition and thin profit margins. Simultaneously Microsoft would reap profits from just copying bits after the initial development effort. Since Microsoft holds iron grip over WP and 3rd party applications, these old threats resurface.

Another force working against Nokia are network effects. Silverlight is not popular outside WP. Java midlets are popular in many different mobile platforms. Meego is compatible with Linux kernel, enabling vast amounts of Linux applications to be ported to N900 with reasonable effort. It depends on Nokia's ability to open WP whether the network effects will be positive or negative. At best, Nokia will get Windows developers into more open WP. At worst, obstacles around WP will make it as isolated as Symbian was before Qt and C API.

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