MeeGo: the premise and promise

The shock of the Maemo + Moblin = MeeGo development has subsided and I think I’m now ready to offer some analysis as I see it.

Religious battles over application packaging aside, much of the conversation has centered on what this melding means for cell phones… dragging in Apple’s now-venerable iPhone and Google’s up-and-coming Android operating system for contrast and comparison.

But in poring over the OS framework (below) tonight it hit me harder than ever that mobile computing really isn’t just a buzz phrase for Nokia– it’s the real deal.

MeeGo Software Architecture Overview

Nokia and Intel are now better poised to do together with MeeGo what they had struggled separately to accomplish via Maemo and Moblin: free a desktop operating system (Linux) from its traditional roost and truly change– and own– the mobile landscape.

In other words, they’re facilitating Phase 2 of the original 1980s PC revolution.

Purists have been arguing that Android, despite its Linux underpinnings and carefully-crafted publicity, isn’t really doing this due to the higher degree of control Google maintains.  True, it’s on a growing number of devices, but it remains to be seen how ultimately sustainable its Linux-under-wraps approach will be.

IBM misjudged the desktop PC market even after it introduced what became a major enduring standard in technology.  Ironically, the company did not originally set out to create what amounted to an open source hardware paradigm and ultimately begged out of that business completely by 2004.  Monumental mistakes such as allowing Microsoft to retain the rights to the DOS operating system proved over time to be a poison pill.

Nokia seemed to be wanting the open computing experience with its internet tablets but without the poison.  Their cautious approach indicated they were wary of recreating IBM’s self-inflicted misfortune.  There is surely much more money to be made in mobile computing, but given the faster rate of technological and sociological change now as compared to the 1980s it makes sense to develop a well-considered plan.

There have been numerous rumors dogging the Maemo devices line that Nokia would easily abandon what was essentially a skunkworks project, and some moves (like lengthy gaps between device releases) often supported such speculation.  But this new marriage with Intel indicates, at least to me, that both companies are serious about being leaders– and survivors– in a mostly-open, truly flexible computing ecosystem.

Linux has long been maligned by spreaders of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt as a hacker’s toy OS and maybe that’s why Google is so willing to distance its brand wrapper from its core.  Despite traction gained by popular desktop incarnations such as Ubuntu, it’s never managed to inflict serious harm on Microsoft’s PC OS market share and seems to be content running the lion’s share of web servers instead.

However, the resources now in play with MeeGo have the clout, together, to change that public perception.  In spite of its childish name, MeeGo may well represent the ultimate maturing of caterpillar Linux into a butterfly form with which closed mobile operating systems cannot long compete.


21 responses to “MeeGo: the premise and promise

  1. Excellent post. I do think Linux is one damn ugly caterpillar when it comes to mobile computing. I think Apple realized this with OSX as well, prompting the iPhone and now iPad OS. Problem with that is how locked down it is and how Apple slowly trickles in features. Hopefully, I’ll be able to say “Buy a MeeGo” to all my friends soon! 😛

  2. Excellent post. I think you capture the real goals here. The litmus test will now be the ability to create compelling devices with an exciting user experience and a strong application ecosystem while maintaining the openness of the software platform.

    And that’s not easy.

  3. I stumbled onto your blog and read a few post. I like your style of writing.

  4. do you really think this is part of a planned nokia strategy??

    i truly believe (much to my dismay) that nokia are flapping around like a fish out of water looking for a way to get back to being relevant in the mobile space

    they are used to being the big cahuna that drove a large part of the market … now nobody really cares about what they offer and rightly so until they get something launched and stick with it til it works

    look at apple … one device and one operating system and they keep updating it to make it better

    android … same story

    microsoft (god help us all) … same story finally

    nokia? launch a device with all the fanfare of “the next big thing” and 2 months later move on to something else stranding the buyers with firmware so buggy that it renders the devices unfit for most of the purposes they were sold

    i have no faith in their commitment to a platform or them as a company who cares about its customers anymore

    with all due respect i think you are making excuses for a company who has no direction or loyalty and i think such passions as yours and others are wastd on them right now

    • Well, we’re each entitled to our individual opinions. I think you’re being overly cynical just as you seem to think I’m overly optimistic.

      I do think there’s a strategy, but a conservative and adaptable one. And no, I make no excuses for Nokia. I refer you to my 2 recent articles on the Micro USB disengagement issue as an example.

  5. I think this must be the most insightful comment/blog about the Nokia and Intel motivations I have so far seen during this whole 10 year effort (And I saw Dirk H commenting too so this must not be a coincidence 🙂 . Of course, whenever a company is concerned there is never just one motive. A company after all in many ways is what the word itself implies: a bundle of individual motivations coming together. But the way you put together the large arch of themes of computing, software and smartphones, all the way back from the 80’s and bring in the protagonists like IBM, Microsoft, Google etc is quite insightful. And the arch extends even further in the history – and to the future.

    Reading your post reminded me of having read the book “Blue magic” about IBM PC some 10 years ago, and Tracy Kidder’s “The spirit of the new machine” maybe 20 years ago. Probably you have read them too. Anyway, I really recommend these to anyone into this genre. Evolution of computing actually is a very real phenomenon and thanks to wonderful books like these its ‘genome’ is also well documented.

    Also, your text resonated with something I wrote few years ago and I thought of sharing this with you. I guess is a glimpse into the personal motivations of just one of the individuals in the merry company behind the Nokia side of this story. Please take a look:

    Many thanks!


  6. I think you and I have very similar views, just from different vantage points. I’ve got to remember to come over here and read before penning my own pieces. Then again, I see sustainable computing as a matter of hardware designed from the outset to grow with mature software and software users, so maybe I’ll keep writing – and visiting 😉

  7. Pingback: Mobile Quickies v2 « – Temp V.1

  8. Pingback: Nokia rediscovers America « Tabula Crypticum

  9. I just needed to say that I found your site via Goolge and I am glad I did. Keep up the good work and I will make sure to bookmark you for when I have more free time away from the books. Thanks again!

  10. I trust you would not mind if I placed a part of this site on my univeristy blog?

  11. Pingback: Transitioning to MeeGo « Tabula Crypticum

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