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.
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.