Nokia and Microsoft

Many of my friends have expressed various degrees of shock after yesterday's announcement that Nokia ramps down Symbian, gives Meego out to open source and starts to use Windows Phone 7 in its new smartphones.

Well, it is indeed a shock if you have worked for a technological gimmick for years, and then the company leadership just abandons the whole thing. Been there, done that.  I worked for Nokia and NSN from June 1, 1989 to June 1, 2009 - for 20 years and 1 day, and there were quite a number of good times and bad times during these years.

Many people in Nokia-Finland are quite devoted to the technology they work with - there's more loyalty and emotion than towards the company itself. That makes it hard to accept this change.

Now it is easy to see that this decision wasn't something that Stephen Elop came up with after he became Nokia's CEO. Clearly, this is a strategy chosen by Nokia's board, under the leadership of Jorma Ollila, and Elop was chosen to execute it.

What I'd like to say to this situation is that we shouldn't get too depressed about it. Yes, it is a big change. Many will feel that their life's work and commitment has been thrown over - and the company given to the jaws of the big, ugly, unfair, dirty Microsoft.

Indeed, I'm no fan of Microsoft. I use Windows at work, and some of the tools are pretty OK, but as the  developer tools and APIs and that kind of stuff go, I am definitely a Unix man. I write this on my home laptop that runs Linux. The amount of broken logic, weird conventions, hordes of inexplicable legacy... that's Windows. However, it's not as bad as Symbian, which as far as I ever saw - not recently, I admit - was only slightly preferable to syphilis, if you consider the damage it does to your brain, not to mention your social reputation.

But Nokia was clearly in need of change. The Ovi Store is just astonishingly unbelievingly miserable. What I ask you to notice is the time Nokia decided this change. It may be relatively late as Nokia goes - because Nokia has always been quick to react to problems - but still, Nokia did make this decision before it lost its position as the world's No. 1 mobile phone maker. The next year or two may be a bit difficult because there is not yet a load of new WP7-based smartphones, and the old Symbian base is eroding, with customers losing interest right now. That's why the share price took quite a dip: clearly there won't be that much dividends next year. But Nokia is still the largest phone maker, with an amazing machinery of production and purchasing power, and an impressive delivery chain that covers the entire world - and it intends to stay there. I think this move with Microsoft improves the possibilities.

It's a bit sad for MeeGo and the lots of bright people I know have been working there. I think there's been some internal back-stabbing that has kept Maemo/Meego from coming to phone near you sooner. Now developers and Nokia internal organizations need to adopt Windows Phone 7. There's quite a curve to learn the new environment, but I'm pretty sure that given some time, the engineering talent in Finland will be using its time better than before (with the exception of those who were working on Maemo/MeeGo, I'm afraid - I think it should have been kept as a second strategy, because dependency on Microsoft has always been a death's kiss for vendors).

What disgusts me is the schadenfreude that some commentators express in public comments and in blogs, the kind were people say that it's so nice that some of those big earners lose their jobs. Indeed, the income distribution in Finland may become more flat because of lay-offs in Nokia, and the Green "welfare metrics" will improve, but I just abhor people who say that's a good thing. Some certified idiots blame this on political parties in Finland  - as if the product and web shop strategies of Nokia were the result of policies of Kokoomus or Keskusta. Scavengers.

A particularly ugly example of this political scavenging is Paavo Arhinmäki, who claims that Nokia did this move because it is so easy to lay off people in Finland and some generous packages like those in Germany are a birthright. What utter rubbish. Does he really think that it is more difficult to reduce staff in the US, where Microsoft does their OS development, or in China or in India? High-tech jobs aren't going to be preserved by making employers more hesitant to invest, hire and train. These jobs are to be preserved - and renewed - if they are productive; if they are perceived worth the cost to the shareholders. Why doesn't Arhinmäki just go hiding under the bed like Jutta Urpilainen - wisely- does regarding the current Nokia story? The world might not be a better place, but it would at least look cleaner. There are some well-meaning but utterly, and I mean utterly clueless proposals, like Jouko Skinnari's idea of a new state company acting as a sheltered employment center. That anyone who was even a child at the time of Valco has such ideas is beyond belief.

To all the former colleagues at Nokia I wish good luck and successful change. I should remind that these are not bad times - compared to what things were in 1991-1992. I wasn't a regular employee but a trainee, had a stream of fixed-term contracts, many times continuing to work even though a new contract wasn't even signed until weeks into the new contract period. The company was truly struggling for existence. And it renewed, and it rebounded, to an extent where it literally saved the Finnish economy after the collapse of early 1990's. Look at where the company is now: yes, there is a bit of a crises, but it is still the largest phone manufacturer in the world, and it can stay so if it just keeps going ahead.

1 kommentti:

  1. I am one of those lucky ones (I guess) that joined Nokia in 1992 and I was surrounded and caught by the spirit of "we can do it".

    Since then, a lot of things have changed. Already in 1997 (when I left Nokia) the processes had taken over the innovation and inspiration.

    About the Nokia-Microsoft deal, well - things remain to be seen. My biggest worry is the collision of two totally different cultures, which typically lead to nowhere in technology business.