And Two Things that could Kill It
I flew out to Dublin at the start of this week for a three day summit on the MeeGo operating system. Nokia and Intel pulled out every stop to impress the 750 journalists, developers and representatives from across the tech industry. They fed us, gave us an open bar every night, rented out the Guinness Storehouse for a giant party and gave everyone a Lenovo IdeaPad S-10 running MeeGo. (Which I've reviewed here.)
The pampering was nice, but I couldn't help but feel that some of the flash was there to obscure an uncomfortable truth. MeeGo is still a largely unproven operating-system. The one commercial product running it (the WePad) is so heavily customized it bears almost no resemblance to stock 1.1.
I've spent the last day going over my notes, playing with my "tablet" and trying to cut out the Bull. Here are five reasons MeeGo might rule.
Open: MeeGo is incredibly open. Pretty much all development takes place "in public", revealed in a series of forums and mailing lists. Nokia and Intel have taken great pains to show that a bias for their products will not enter into MeeGo's development.
MeeGo offers carriers an open-source option that isn't from Google. And since Google's dream seems to involve turning carriers into dumb pipes, they may decide that MeeGo is worth a try.
Continuous Computing: During the keynote we were shown a brief demo video of the MeeGo OS. It showed someone watching a movie on his TV, pausing it, hopping into his car and playing the same movie from the point he left off at.
Intel envisions a future where people are constantly surrounded by and interacting with computers. Device communication will be very important. Android's fragmentation make 'sharing apps' across devices rather troublesome. But that shouldn't be an issue with MeeGo, because...
All APIs Are Standard across MeeGo devices. Even the sceptical developers (most of the audience) were happy to hear this. You can program for one MeeGo gadget as easily as another. We were also promised that the sort of "update lag" we see with Android devices would not be as much of an issue.
There are Big Players behind MeeGo: Any platform that has Intel, Nokia and ARM backing it bears watching it. An executive from ARM even came up on stage (next to an Intel VP) to promise their support and enthusiasm. Advertising, bribing developers with treats, none of this is cheap.
But Nokia needs MeeGo, and they know it. This is the company that has dominated mobile phones since the industries first days. They have the dominant brand, worldwide and the distribution network to get MeeGo devices out to the wide world.
MeeGo Itself is a pretty damn good operating system. It is definitely unfinished, but what exists as of 1.1 is a wonderful compromise between speed and control. Social media and chat integration- some of the best things about Maemo, has made it over in fine form. MeeGo scales well from 'shallow' use of surface applications to file management, browsing and system controls.
Two Big Hairy Butts:
1. Where are the Apps? Developers want money more than 'open', and MeeGo still has no framework for a profitable app store. Microsoft worked themselves into a frenzy making deals and paying devs to get 1600 apps ready for WP7 at launch. We've seen no signs of an equivalent push from Nokia or Intel.
2. Why should I buy this? Or, specifically, why should I buy this over Android? If I'm going for something besides iOS, what does MeeGo have that Android and Windows Phone 7 lack? The idea of having all your devices freely sharing apps and content is great, and MeeGo is being built well for that sort of a world.
But that isn't the world we live in today, and MeeGo will enter the market in just a few more months. They don't have many apps, a network of developers or any exciting hardware (that we know of) on the immediate horizon. There's not much buzz around MeeGo.
Folks were interested to read new Windows Phone 7 OS and device leaks. Every blurry cellphone snapshot was met by slurry of blog posts and excited comments. But MeeGo is still just "the Open Source OS that isn't Android". As much as I enjoy using it, I'm worried that MeeGo's "best case" scenario may be ending up shackled to some manufacturer, ala HP and webOS.