Last week’s release of MeeGo v1 is an effort by US chip maker Intel and European cellular giant Nokia to enter the mobile OS arena. Will it be able to compete? While Apple and Google vie for market dominance, MeeGo offers itself as a 3rd choice with strong Linux roots.
Merged Linux Projects
MeeGo is a combination of Intel’s Moblin project and Nokia’s Maemo 5, both of which aimed to create friendly Linux-based mobile systems.
Maemo was created in 2005 as Nokia’s attempt at a modern smartphone OS. Though its Symbian OS still holds about 50% of the global mobile OS share, begun nearly 30 years ago, the system is showing its age.
Maemo has so far proven popular with developers due to its Debian Linux roots. Because availabilty has been limited to only a handful of Nokia devices, though, it has so far not been allowed to grow outside its niche technical user group.
The Moblin project, which drew heavily from the Red Hat family of Linux, has already been adopted by a handful of device manufacturers, though has also remained relatively low-key.
As isolated projects both of these operating systems lost ground to Android and the iPhoneOS.
MeeGo hopes to spark interest with a largely pure Linux kernel at its core and a range of developers and manufacturers will be encouraged to create apps and a community around the OS much like a typical Linux distribution.
Android, Google’s freely usable and Linux-based smartphone OS, still contains restricted features and 3rd-party software that hold it back from being a fully open and interoperable platform. The iPhoneOS, has also much received criticism for being too tightly controlled by Apple.
Hardware and Software
Maemo made large strides in usability, but the Moblin project brings its optimization for Intel’s Atom low-energy processors to MeeGo.
Many manufacturers have already started incorporating the Atom chips into mobile devices, but both Asus and Nokia are expected to release a line of next-generation netbooks and Internet tablets paired with both Atom processors and the MeeGo OS.
Though MeeGo will be able to combine the best parts from both projects, this has already caused a rift in the community. Former Maemo project and application developers are timid to fully embrace MeeGo, mainly because the newer system has chosen to use Moblin’s Red Hat-derived RPM package manager over the Maemo Debian apt-get software manager.
Apt-get application packages will still be installable in the RPM environment, but the fear is that the move will cause the large Debian-family development community to lose interest in the MeeGo project.
What Matters The Most
Though both containing a multitude of new apps, Apple’s and Google’s app stores leave something to be desired. Apple is at times too controlling, and Android’s app store has been called “the wild west”, where developers can expect regulations and compatibilities to change at any moment.
MeeGo’s focus on a wide range of devices will mean that users could be given a choice in sources for applications: netbook users will likely use Intel’s AppUp store while mobile phone MeeGo systems will use Nokia’s Ovi marketplace. Each of these marketplaces offer device-specialized applications.
Early-bird consumers should be cautious not to expect a large offering of applications for MeeGo just yet. While the system promises to be a stable developing environment, neither the Maemo nor the Moblin project had large app stores to begin with.
It is be possible translate vast amounts of native Linux applications to run on MeeGo, but this will take time.
Will it successfully maneuver to become a third choice, or will it end up content in 3rd place? Only time will tell if MeeGo can mature responsively enough to compete globally as a leading mobile device operating system.