MeeGo – Born On Death Row?

It's the only phone in the world to be made entirely out of licorice

A few days ago I suggested that Nokia’s lovely N9 might be the last as well as the first phone to use the MeeGo operating system. Now it would seem that speculation is confirmed. Well, it is if you want to go by a single short article in a Finnish daily paper, but that’s the sort of scrap of information people are grabbing at – particularly people in the MeeGo development community, who of course are desperately invested in this.

It isn’t true. Not on a literal level at least, because there are in fact two MeeGo phones. And though the N950 will be available to developers only and not the general public, why would they be releasing a phone to help people develop apps if they don’t plan to have anything to run them on? I think CEO Stephen Elop means only to counter the opposite rumours – that the good reception the N9 received was going to make Nokia switch back to MeeGo as its main strategy. That was only ever a fantasy.

I strongly suspect however that Nokia plan to keep MeeGo going as a little back-burner project – much as it was until quite recently. Remember, MeeGo is not a new thing but just the latest in a line of semi-experimental products based on Linux: the 770, N800, N810 and N900. These were never big sellers either, but Nokia is a company that has done well in the past by fielding a range of niche products.

Is there any point in buying one though when, no matter how good the hardware is, it lacks the ingredient that makes or breaks a phone in the world today; If MeeGo isn’t going to be a commercial product, who’s going to make apps for it?

Well they don’t necessarily have to. Don’t forget that all software for Symbian phones – which are going to be with us for some years yet – is actually built for Nokia’s Qt framework, also used on MeeGo. Maybe Symbian apps haven’t exactly set the world on fire, but good recent phones like the N8 have revived them somewhat. Then of course, under the MeeGo skin the OS is basically Debian Linux. The Open Source community will be able to provide many heavy-duty applications, just as are currently available for Nokia’s earlier Linux devices.

And, it has Java. OK, big whoop. Java on phones has always been a should-have-been. Except… Android apps are basically Java, aren’t they? Running on a version of Linux too. With that similar basic structure, it should be fairly easy to port Android apps to MeeGo.

Easy, or even trivial – if an application that rejoices under the name of Alien Dalvik fulfils its promise. This is not an emulator; it allows Android apps to run natively under MeeGo. Now that would be something; the vast supply of Androids apps, on mobile Linux, on Nokia hardware. The user would have to assemble it themselves I guess, but they’d get a combination that could easily rival the official Windows product. The only question, I suppose, is whether it will be allowed to happen.

8 replies on “MeeGo – Born On Death Row?”

There are a couple of additional MeeGo complications.

The first is probably help keeping it afloat, at least as alive as it is now: remember that MeeGo is a cooperative effort between Nokia, bringer of the Maemo half, and Intel, bringer of the Moblin half. Intel’s been holding MeeGo developer initiatives all across the US, and likely beyond, trying to drum up interest in the platform and getting devs to at least semi-commit to building apps.

Intel is understandably freaked out by the rise of mobile devices — they’re not really even in the game right now and there’s little indication that anyone has plans to adopt future Intel processors — so they’re likely eager to ensure at least one mobile OS is well built for them. I imagine they’re pressuring Nokia (to the extent that they can) to keep MeeGo alive. It was quite a surprise to me that the N9 uses a TI processor.

The other complication is that Elop has solid reasons to kill MeeGo. He seems to have Microsoft blood in his veins, so WinMo 7’s ultimate fate is likely important to him. Add to that his public declaration of Nokia’s future and MeeGo can’t survive. My guess is the only reason the N9 made it to manufacturing is that the some portion of Nokia’s board insisted on it.

The N9 has a TI processor because Nokia haven’t gone even halfway to meeting Intel on MeeGo yet. The N9’s “instance of MeeGo” (to use the rather strange official description) is still built around the Debian Apt software install/update system, rather than Red Hat’s RPM like MeeGo is supposed to use. That’s pretty fundamental. That nice new interface with its curved screen and edge-to-edge swipe gesture is very much a handheld interface, clearly not compromised for tablets or in-car device.

MeeGo 1.x is really Maemo 6. It even runs happily on the N900! With the exception of using fewer closed-source components, Nokia have pretty much made the phone they were going to make anyway. A real MeeGo is still some way down the road.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: