MeeGo Community Dynamics: The Battle for the Third Estate of Mobile Devices

Ever since the announcement that Moblin and Maemo would be merging into MeeGo, there has been a raging discussion about whether rpm or deb packages should be used. At times, this has led to some good discussions about the technical merits of different packaging and distribution systems and the package formats they support. However, more often, it seems to be a heated exchange of religious viewpoints. Initially, I thought this was simply a traditional open source religious feud, but I’m beginning to think that it is much more than that. I now believe it is a battle for the third estate of mobile devices.

It seems as if the mindshare battles over mobile operating systems have settled down to iPhone versus Android. Yes, there are lot smartphones out there with their proprietary operating systems, and new ones coming every day. But it seems like iPhone and Android have captured the attention of most. They are, in the mobile world, the new Mac and PC. Sorry, Microsoft, I just don’t see the Windows Mobile stuff lasting. Like the desktop and laptop world where people argue about Mac or Windows, and there is a third estate of various forms of Linux, it seems like the same is happening in the mobile world. Two of the most credible Linux efforts in the mobile world seem to be Moblin and Maemo. The merger of the two seems like a good thing for the future of the Linux third estate in mobile devices.

Yet when any two communities merge, there are interesting dynamics. Over on the Nokia side, people seem to believe that Maemo Harmattan will be the first version of MeeGo. People argue whether or not this will run on the N900. These are the two topics in what is now called the MeeGo / Harmattan thread in the OS /Platform section of the Maemo Talk system.

Meanwhile, LG is trying to position their Intel Moorestown powered LG GW 990 as one of the first Meego based mobile devices. This is be based on the Intel Moblin platform. One Moblin developer has written How to build Meego images (a.k.a moblin 2.2) and another has information on updating the Broadcom drivers for running Moblin on a Dell Mini.

In a related post, he writes,

Nokia, in my opinion, have decided to abandon the Maemo platform and move their application stack over to Moblin. This was obviously bound to cause uproar in the maemo community. So in my opinion the MeeGo project and the portrayal as a merger is a PR stunt to try and save Nokia some face.

Based on the discussions on the Nokia based forums, this does not seem to be the case, but it does, perhaps illustrate the real reason for all the heat in the deb versus rpm debates. The MeeGo community will be made up of people paid by Intel and Nokia as well as enthusiasts for both the Moblin and MeeGo platforms. People are fighting for turf. They are fighting to feel not abandoned.

I would also suggest that they are fighting based on a narrow view of MeeGo. MeeGo’s website tries to position it as the platform for Netbooks, Pocketables, In-Vehicle, Connected TVs as well as ‘media phones’. As people fight for their little bit of mobile Linux turf, they are missing the bigger picture.

What might it be like to have the same operating system on the screen in the back of the minivan, on the navigation display on the dashboard, on the cable set top box, on the Blu Ray DVD player, on the Digital TV, on a netbook, an eReader, and a smartphone? Each of these devices have different user interface requirements, different connectivity requirements, different location requirements and other differences affecting what the operating system presents to the user. As an example, I don’t need GPS on my Blu Ray player, but I would really like to be able to download videos off the Internet that I could record to Blu Ray, play on my TV, my smartphone or the screen in the back of the minivan.

Likewise, different devices might want Bluetooth connectivity, wired internet connectivity, WiFi internet connectivity, 3G data connectivity, or different types of cable data (DOCSIS) connectivity. Some may provide for lots of data storage, some for much less.

Can MeeGo deliver an Operating System that will nicely meet all these needs? An open source Operating System that will get other smartphone manufacturers to use MeeGo instead of Android? Get in-vehicle manufacturers and various television manufacturers to use MeeGo? If so, MeeGo has a very interesting future. On the other hand, it might just get derailed by people more concerned about whether MeeGo looks similar enough to their current Moblin or Maemo operating system. I hope this won’t be the case.

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