MeeGo: The Linux iPad?

It sounds like something a child would say, or the name of a baby’s toy, but MeeGo has much bigger aspirations in mind. For those that weren’t completely sucked into the Mobile World Congress last week, and consequently missed the announcement, MeeGo is the name of a new – yes another – mobile phone operating system launched at the conference. In truth it’s not really so much new as being a new collaboration. In this case between Intel and Nokia and their respective Moblin and Maemo operating systems.

Both of these operating systems are based on Linux and would appear to have huge potential but have had limited uptake. Intel’s Moblin is a custom OS designed around the newer Atom processor platform which is fast becoming the de-facto standard in netbooks and smartbooks because of its low power consumption and impressive boot speeds.

Nokia’s Maemo is also based on Linux – Debian in this case – and is designed with smartphones and Internet Tablets in mind although to date it has been limited to hardware such as the N900. Unlike Moblin’s x86 processor focus, Maemo is strongly focused on the ARM architecture, a strong contender for the title of next-big-thing in the world of mobile computing.

The coming together of these two projects – under the auspices of the Linux Foundation – is an interesting proposition as it brings together two of the world’s most important mobile vendors around a single platform for everything from mobile phones to smartbooks to a new generation of internet tablets.

It’s tempting to say that MeeGo is just another name in the growing ranks of mobile phone operating systems but, apart from the backing of Intel and Nokia, MeeGo also brings to the table a real Linux operating system for mobile phones. Maemo, for example, draws extensively on existing Gnome and Linux libraries for building its interface. Moblin is the same, running a Linux kernel under the hood. Which means that because these two environments use standard Linux libraries and system calls, existing Linux applications can be ported relatively quickly to the MeeGo platform.

The obvious advantage of this, if MeeGo gets it right, is a new generation of smartphones, netbooks and internet tablets all running a version of MeeGo. And all of them could be running the same applications. So users will have no need to switch from one application to another to do the same task on different platforms.

Kai Oistano, executive vice president of devices for Nokia, puts it this way: “MeeGo can run on many different devices, [so] people will be able to keep their favourite applications whenever they change their devices.

Applications will not be locked into one company’s devices or a walled garden. Rather, we see the MeeGo ecosystem as an open frontier – no walls, no fences.”

The challenge that faces MeeGo, however, is that the mobile phone market is already crowded and, like Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7, it has come to the party late. Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry, Google’s Android and the newly open-sourced Symbian operating system, have already stamped their authority on the market and have a good headstart.

MeeGo will have a stiff battle ahead of it but, if it is able to get developers onboard in short order, it could prove to be a real challenger in the mobile space. After all, a single OS that can be run on notebooks, netbooks, smartphones and any manner of internet-connected device is an appealing offering. The pieces are in place and now MeeGo has to hope that developers see the potential it is offering.

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MeeGo: The Linux iPad?