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Android Rival Collects Some Well-Heeled Friends

The operating system, which is looking to clean up in China, is kind of a known entity

Android will be getting competition from an open source operating system that's coming to market backed by a Hong Kong-based ecosystem alliance of still unnamed chipset vendors, OEM and ODM manufacturers, operators and retailers willing to pour €200 million into it and that, folks, is nearly $260 million.

The operating system, which is looking to clean up in China, is kind of a known entity. It's a new and improved version of MeeGo, the merger of Nokia's Maemo Linux and Intel's Moblin Linux, which Nokia was going to use to replace its old flagship Symbian operating system before Microsoft sweet-talked Nokia into using Windows.

Abandoned by Nokia, MeeGo has been kept alive by a bunch of ex-Nokia engineers at a Finnish start-up called Jolla Ltd - who were encouraged by Nokia and expect to license the widgetry to device makers, design houses and service companies come the spring.

There's no telling who all could join the budding ecosystem because of the mounting evidence that Android infringes other people's IP, a patent situation that's made mobile device vendors edgy and reportedly restless for an alternative.

Jolla, which claims to have picked up leading players in the industry and is confident enough in the plan to sink €10 million of its own money into it, says it doesn't have a patent problem.

It also says it's got a fully productized mobile operating system codenamed Sailfish that builds on and contributes to existing open source projects such as the Qt Project and MeeGo fork Mer core and is "ready to go." It plans to show it off next month.

Apparently the base Sunfish code - which according to Wikipedia is based on the MeeGo API and the core OS from Mer - will be free, and Jolla figures to make money licensing Jolla-developed software features and IP related to the user interface.

The OS also uses Qt, QML and HTML5 and one might count on native multitasking, application integration and data integration.

Jolla CEO Jussi Hurmola said in a statement Tuesday that "China is a game changer in the technology industry. The next big mobile change will come from China and Jolla wants to be enabling it. There are massive resources and competence to transport the whole industry."

It appears then that Jolla and its friends, who include D.Phone, one of the biggest Chinese phone retailers with around 2,000 retail stores and a strategic partner in China Telecom, is hoping to play in the country's massive mass market with a low-end smartphone, potentially dimming whatever Chinese ambitions Android, Apple and Microsoft harbor.

It reportedly got a sales contract from D.Phone this summer.

The OS, however, isn't just for low-end phones. The OS and UX are reportedly highly scalable and will also support tablets, televisions, automotive and other device classes. The kernel, Jussi says on Twitter, depends on the hardware. The user experience is supposed to be different from either Android or Apple and doesn't require users to open and shut apps.

Hurmola has previously said, "With Android we can only copy but with MeeGo we can introduce something brand new to the market. We want to lead in technology and lead in UI, that's our business."

To support its initial moves into the market Jolla is setting up R&D operations in Hong Kong and Mainland China to lead the development of the alliance and a community-based ecosystem.

MeeGo will need apps and there's reportedly a version of Angry Birds for it, but there's been no talk of an SDK, only an Application Compatibility Layer that will let it run unmodified Android software, a situation Oracle may not care much for because it leverages the Android runtime environment and the Dalvik VM.

The Sailfish alliance data center will be hosted by Cyberport Hong Kong, which has Internet backbones going to China, Europe and the US. It will host Sailfish's infrastructure, data, productization facilities and collaboration services. Cyberport will also provide the ecosystem's upcoming cloud services.

The Wall Street Journal says Jolla will need to raise another €50 million in equity funding this spring and may quickly go public to raise financing.

By the way, Jolla is Finnish for dinghy, a skiff small enough for a sailfish to swamp.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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