Meego: And Then There Were Three

Moblin+Maemo, Putting Pressure on Android's Openness

Mobile World Congress 2010 is a milestone event. Android's momentum continues, with a range of new devices from stalwarts (HTC, Motorola) and newer entrants (Acer, Huwaei). Microsoft and RIM had major announcements for their respective mobile operating systems, and new options were announced. Some (e.g., Samsung's “bada”) seem...curious, while others, such as MeeGo, are intriguing to me.

MeeGo is the combination of Nokia's Maemo and Intel's Moblin, to be run as a project under the auspices of the Linux Foundation (the home of Moblin). It has potential to be the third major mobile-specific smartphone-and-up open source platform, after Android and Symbian, extending the reach of its Maemo predecessor.

On the surface, MeeGo is a bit lacking in the device support department — in the words of Gertrude Stein, “there's no there there”. Maemo has been on Nokia tablets for a few years, but there is only one current device using it (the Nokia N900) that I am aware of. Moblin's lineup of devices appears to be similarly scant. An operating system, open source or otherwise, is only as relevant as the devices it appears on.

However, the same can be said of the revamped Symbian, and the same certainly was said of Android for much of its early public life. In 12-24 months, it will be interesting to see where Symbian and MeeGo stack up, compared to Android, in terms of device availability.

More importantly, though, the addition of Meego adds yet another competitor on the “more open” side of Android. The MeeGo announcement took a swipe at Android, touting MeeGo's integration with Linux and other upstream projects, presumably as a counterpoint to Android's reimplementation of many components. As important, Maemo has a track record of allowing their devices to run replacement firmware, an issue that is confounding many who wish Android devices to do the same. If MeeGo, and perhaps Symbian, do a solid job of courting those who are interested in fully open platforms, it will steal some of Android's momentum.

Increasingly, it appears that Android is going to be established as a “middle ground” in the openness spectrum: more open than proprietary competitors (iPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry, WebOS, etc.) and possibly less open than others (MeeGo, Symbian). And, let's not forget that there's still some expected overlap in the markets for Android and the upcoming Chrome OS.

Overall, though, these are exciting times for proponents of open mobile platforms. Let's hope that the rest of 2010 keeps the momentum in favor of openness.

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