Let's hope these good intentions aren't paving a road to hell.
Today's MeeGo Keynote was a strange thing. It opened with Doug Fisher, a VP for Intel, and Carsten Munk, a developer with an ARM focus, listing the five key points behind MeeGo's development.
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"We are trying to do something never before done...develop a new OS completely in the open. This is not easy, but it is important. First and foremost we are developing a new way of working."
INCLUSION: In order to succeed MeeGo needs to have the broadest potential for adoption possible. That means ARM and Intel. It also means supporting developers who use a variety of languages, supporting developers who use OS X and bringing as many manufacturers and software providers into the fold as possible.
TRANSPARENCY: Munk described it this way, "I can see everything in the MeeGo world and everyone can see my contributions." Which feeds right into...
MERITOCRACY: This goes beyond just taking good ideas. The Linux Foundation has plans to provide free devices to developers with interesting ideas. They're fostering communication via forums and mailing lists and nearly begging users to come and give their opinions.
UPSTREAM 1st: "Consistency through compliance"- as Orwellian as that sounds, it is all about giving developers a single environment to work in. Imad Sousou, the "father of MeeGo", added this:
"When you have something that is not upstream, it makes things difficult for people building products."
Manufacturers love open source platforms because it reduces the cost of development greatly. But if you have to worry about coding for each of the twenty slightly different versions of that open source OS, expenses start to rise again. There are some issues with enforcing this consistency, but the folks behind MeeGo see the slog as worthwhile.
"If we weren't doing it this way, there wouldn't be 200 people in this room" Imad said.
On paper, this is a solid plan. Up to this point, only iOS and BlackBerry and other "closed" ecosystems have managed to achieve wide success without heavy fragmentation. Open Source solutions tend to be rather anarchic by nature. Developers and manufacturers love to twist and tweak a little too much sometimes.
MeeGo may be the first open source platform to succeed without splintering. But that is far from a given. As committed as everyone today was to "UPSTREAM FIRST", that is exactly the sort of thing that will be ditched first if the platform has issues selling. Once (and IF) that happens, MeeGo will be little more than an Android knock-off.
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Studying MeeGo right now is frustrating, because so much of its future success or failure hinges on the hardware. The first tiny trickle of MeeGo devices need to sell well enough to drive further investment in the platform. Otherwise, all the high ideals in the world won't save MeeGo from becoming another sad footnote in computing history.