Monday, September 24, 2012

Remember Vivaldi and Plasma Active?

Aaron Seigo, one of the masterminds behind KDE in recent years decided not long ago that it was time for a change. He envisioned an end to end project for an entirely open source experience, from hardware to OS and GUI, a project in which all ends would be tightly tied together. The end user would be in control all the way, using Linux on a fully open sourced device and with PLASMA ACTIVE taking GUI duties. Certainly a noble idea that got lots of people interested earlier in the year, but sadly one that has slowly lost momentum.


I was one of those pre-ordering the device, but after a few weeks during which things were happening at a reasonable pace, it all went pitch black and quiet. It's been months during which information has been scarce at best, most often made of personal blog posts by Aaron.

THIS POST from Mr. Seigo does a very good job at summing up what happened in recent weeks and months, and why we are still waiting for a release date. I guess anybody, even without the technical understanding can get an idea of just how challenging the work these guys are doing must be.


Despite all those challenges, I must admit I am disappointed at how things have unfolded. I understand all the setbacks, but I simply think there is a big gap here in terms of focus, both business and customer-wise.

Creating a free, open-source, I-code-when-time-allows piece of software is one thing, a realm in which things like understanding that those behind the project are volunteers and can only do so much does fly most of the time. When the project is about a device that has a price tag, the story changes dramatically. However, when it comes to this project, I have the feeling it suffers from that same open source approach, when it really should not.

When the intent is to sell the end result of a project, one has to be extremely conscious about raising the right expectations and delivering accordingly. If that does not happen, at the very least, a very proactive and transparent communication must take place. To this day, the MAKE PLAY LIVE site has not been updated, and having to chase Aaron to his blog to find out what happened is simply unacceptable customer service.


The idea of an entirely open source tablet is certainly appealing, but the competition is fierce, specially as months pass and Vivaldi is still in the works. When it was first announced, the specs, price tag and even the format and screen resolution were relevant and interesting. However, the technology World moves incredibly fast and Vivaldi might already be obsolete, even before being released.

With contenders like Google releasing things like the Google Nexus 7, sporting an extremely optimized Android system sitting on top of very powerful hardware, all for just $199, Vivaldi simply pales in comparison. Let's not forget that Android is Linux too, but unlike the Vivaldi project, it is backed by a zillion users, apps, services, etc. Given the same price tag, who would favor a Vivaldi tablet, clearly less powerful in specs and with software that is still very much in development? (The video below shows the new notifications system in Plasma Active, which certainly looks similar to Android's, only more primitive).


The answer is not entirely clear, I can imagine many reasons why an entirely open sourced project like this one would be attractive, probably more on the hardware side, but I can't see regular end users at the customer end, not anymore. The amount of alternatives grows by the minute, with very appealing combinations of hardware and software like the already mentioned Google Nexus 7, the Kindle Fire HD, etc., all at extremely competitive prices.

The amount of services, applications, support, not to mention the incredible marketing power behind giants like Google and Amazon, all pose strong challenges to Vivaldi. Unfortunately, the strongest ones come within the project itself. First off, the hardware specs are already rusty, but they can hopefully get updated before release date. Even if they are, though, the software is still very immature compared to the competition, plus the amount of applications, services, stores, etc., are insignificant.

Despite all challenges, though, Vivaldi can break the ice for bigger things to come. All the hard work behind it surely is not wasted time and, even if it does not live up to its original expectations, maybe it can play the role of the first move, the first step towards the introduction of fully open sourced devices in the market.


While I can certainly see myself supporting a project of this kind in the future, I must admit I was disenchanted by how things were managed in this case. I understand the enormous complexity of what they are trying to achieve with Vivaldi, but my feeling is that the project leaders didn't. It is alright to go through a learning curve, even if it is steep, but it is a must to assess risks correctly and set the right expectations with your customers, specially in a market as competitive as the tablet one. Unexpected turns are everywhere, shit happens all the time, and that is precisely why a project aiming at selling a device cannot go silent for months, leaving potential customers in the dark, save for a few posts in Aaron's personal blog (come on, really?...).

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