Interview: Jolla talks Sailfish OS: why it can do what Nokia couldn’t

Interview: Jolla talks Sailfish OS: why it can do what Nokia couldn't

All of a sudden, we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to Linux-based smart phones. Sailfish OS, a derivative of Meego, is one of the new options we’re excited about.

It promises to bring a sleek Qt experience to phones in a way Nokia never quite managed, but its facing tough competition from Mozilla and Ubuntu who are both launching their own phones. Which will reign supreme in this highly competitive field?

The first Sailfish OS phone is due to go on sale by the end of 2013 and our sister magazine Linux Format caught up with community chief Carol Chen at Jolla, the Finnish company making Sailfish OS happen, to find out the behind-the-scenes news.

Linux Format: You’re community chief – Is there much community involvement at the moment?

Carol Chen: We are still in the process of building the community, and we want to be as open as possible. We have a lot of support from people who were working on Meego. So we have already the base community there who are happy to support us …

One of our markets is in China so I’ve been going to Beijing and Taiwan and discussing with the open source communities there hoping to get even more involvement. In Europe open source is very familiar and popular and people know what it’s all about, but in some parts of the world, not so much. We hope to generate more excitement and passion for that and, hopefully, get more contributions and work on Sailfish OS together.

LXF: Android development is quite closed and lead by Google. It sounds like you’re not going down that road.

CC: No. We don’t want to go down that road. We understand that Android is a good platform and is very popular but as you mentioned, it’s controlled by the company and most of the development is done behind closed doors even though it is open source. We want to have open development, open source and open communication.

LXF: Does that mean there’ll be a public source tree?

CC: There will be certain components that we want to protect, but the open parts will be in the public. We’ll be contributing upstream. You’ll be able to grab the code and start using it. We’ll have IRC channels.

LXF: Jolla has split off from Nokia. How has that affected the people in it?

CC: Most of the people are from Meego background, but we aren’t a spin off from Nokia. We’re not a subsidiary. Personally, my background in Nokia is Symbian, not Meego. When I was in Nokia, I was working on the video engine which is based on the open source Helix video engine, and I got really interested in open source so I got to know the people in Meego really well. When I left Nokia, it was kind of natural for me to talk with the people I used to hang around with in Meego.

Carol Chen

LXF: There was always an impression outside of Nokia that it had a wonderful system in Meego, but Nokia never quite made the most of it.

CC: I was in Nokia myself for eight years and it was good to me, but big companies have problems and I think that’s why some of us wanted to form a small company. To do what we really wanted to do and not have to worry about too much of the bureaucracy…

We are very agile, we make decisions without taking ten meetings to reach an agreement. There’s no waiting around for five layers of management to see what happens. I like that.

LXF: There’s been a lot of talk of Sailfish on Phones. Are you planning on developing on tablets as well?

CC: We’re focused on smartphones. However, Sailfish is very flexible, and it can run on a wide range of hardware. We’re creating the Sailfish Alliance which we welcome partners to join and people are welcome to develop Sailfish OS for their own hardware. This could be tablets or some smart TV etc. We’ve already tried running Sailfish on a variety of hardware, and there are sometimes tweaks and modifications needed, but, it’s really easy to make it work. We can help our Sailfish Alliance partners to work on configurations.

LXF: Over the last year, we’ve heard of three Open Source phones (Ubuntu, Firefox OS and Sailfish). How do you see Sailfish fitting in to that?

CC: I think we are one of the very viable alternatives. I’m very happy to see these, I won’t call them competitors, but different solutions that people can choose. When we talk to the different operators, they are a bit tired of just having Android…

We can offer them different software to match their solution. Actually, the Ubuntu phone has a very similar software stack because they’re both based on Linux and they also use the Qt framework. We’re happy to have discussions to work together to get things in common with Qt, so if you write an app in Qt it works on an Ubuntu and Sailfish phone. We want to make collaboration easy, but we also have to differentiate. We’re focused on the OS but we also want to bring the best of Sailfish and put it on our phone and make really good hardware.

LXF: How receptive have hardware manufacturers and carriers been?

CC: We’ve had really good feedback. I hope that once we get more confirmation of who our partners are, we can make more announcements. Right now we’re still in discussions with a lot of companies.