An Interview with Dr. Ari Jaaksi of Nokia
The first day of the recent LinuxWorld Summit in New York City was a busy one for Dr. Ari Jaaksi of Nokia. He fielded questions throughout the day, following the press conference that introduced the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. This handheld device induces double-takes from potential users and offers impressive Wi-Fi capabilities. Plus, it is an open-source success story, demonstrating a successful collaboration between a large manufacturer and the Open Source community.
Nokia is encouraging external development for the 770 with the release of the maemo platform. Furthermore, the company actively is supporting mainstream open-source applications, while encouraging maemo developers not to fork from these foundational applications.
Shortly after he delivered his afternoon conference session, "Give and Take: An Open Source Play for a Major Telecom Manufacturer," I sat down with Dr. Jaaksi to discuss aspects of the 770.
Linux Journal: Nokia is known for phones. VoIP is scheduled as an upgrade to the 770 next year. What considerations led to the decision to release the 770 without phone capabilities?
Ari Jaaksi: Phones are Nokia's bread and butter. We got it right. Why would we do it again? We are interested in expanding our reach into new markets. While watching the fast adoption of broadband plus Wi-Fi, we decided that this is a space where we want to play.
LJ: The decision to consider desktop Linux and the open-source application community as sources for the 770 software, was that an easy decision to make within Nokia or did it require a lot of discussion?
AJ: There was a lot of discussion about it. The thinking went as follows: go to where the technology is most mature for the maximum benefit. In my opinion, the current embedded distros need much more work. Also, given our in-house expertise, it takes surprisingly little work to get the kernel from kernel.org working on the 770 hardware.
LJ: Given all of the various distributions available, what led Nokia to select Debian as the Linux distribution for the 770?
AJ: To be exact, we get our kernel from kernel.org. The processes and package management [come] from Debian. We consider Debian to be the most advanced and most alive, truly open-source distribution.
It is important that Linux for the 770 is not controlled by any company. We go straight to the source. None of the distros were ready for Nokia hardware anyway, and we have internal expertise, so why go through a commercial vendor?
We are in this for the long run. Too many middle men is not a good strategy.
LJ: The 770 is targeted explicitly at the consumer market, but do you envision the hacker community adopting this device as well as its derivatives and hacking them for different purposes?
AJ: Why not? The communities will need to find the way to do that.
LJ: Nokia has stated that the Internet Tablet platform is not intended to compete with the TabletPC. However, is there any R&D you can discuss that could drive your Internet Tablet into larger form factors that could be used for networked applications in a corporate setting?
AJ: We don't have those plans. That's not in our thinking right now.
LJ: Handwriting recognition is quite a difficult application. How committed is Nokia to furthering the state of that art?
AJ: For a device such as the 770, one is concerned with the input and the output. The output is beautiful. We have the challenge to improve the input. For the 770 we actually use the same handwriting recognition engine as in our telephones that support it. We are working closely with the innovators. Handwriting recognition is only one input option. There is also the virtual keyboard.
LJ: Apple routinely comes under fire for storage and battery subsystems in its smallest devices that cannot be replaced or upgraded by the owner. How easy is it for a 770 owner to manage storage and battery upgrades?
AJ: [He quickly popped out the battery and the memory card.] Extremely easy! The 770 battery is the same as in Nokia phones. The card is an MMC card. We don't restrict the users.
LJ: Given the proclivities of the Linux community, it has to be asked: will Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora be supported on the 770?
AJ: There's nothing technical that prevents it. However, the 770 is a consumer device. The challenge is that there is not much [Ogg Vorbis and Ogg Theora] content right now.
LJ: The 770 is slated to be available in Q3 of this year. Where will we be able to purchase them?
AJ: In the US there will be various Web channels. We are working now to develop other channels.