MeeGo conference eyes uses beyond phones

With Nokia moving to Windows Phone 7, the focus is on tablets, cars, TVs and more

Supporters of the MeeGo open-source platform put tablets, in-car systems and TV in the spotlight at a conference in San Francisco on Monday, saying the technology had broad potential while downplaying its role in smartphones.

The MeeGo Conference drew more developers than a similar meeting last November in Dublin, Ireland, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which manages the MeeGo project. Though he didn't mention Nokia by name, the biggest change to rock MeeGo since the Dublin meeting was Nokia's decision in February to drop most of its use of the platform in smartphones. Perhaps not surprisingly, the focus Monday was on non-mobile uses of MeeGo.

MeeGo was launched in February 2010 as a merger of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo mobile platforms. It represented a possible platform for both companies to take on a smartphone industry that had already begun to coalesce around Apple iOS and Google Android, and which is heavily geared toward ARM, a rival chip architecture to Intel's. But a year later, Nokia announced it would use Microsoft Windows Phone 7 as the foundation of its smartphone lineup, only committing to one phone based on MeeGo. (It continues to contribute to MeeGo in some other areas.) That shift set back Intel's ambitions to get its chips into smartphones

On Monday, Zemlin and guest speakers on stage emphasized MeeGo's potential in embedded systems and in tablets, one of which is being sold already in Germany. Raising the rallying cry of open source, Zemlin said MeeGo could do for other types of devices what Linux did for servers and supercomputers. As with Linux, MeeGo is free and its development is carried out by a community whose work is simply orchestrated by working groups. Last week, version 1.2 of the platform was released.

"We're really in the first five minutes of a very long game with MeeGo," Zemlin said. Open-source software has fundamental advantages over proprietary platforms in keeping device costs low, getting products out to the market quickly and letting developers control their own destiny, he said.

During the keynote session, 4tiitoo founder and CEO Tore Meyer demonstrated his company's WeTab, which runs an operating system based on MeeGo and is commercially available in Germany. The WeTab's touchscreen features small navigation spaces on either edge of the screen for users to move around Web pages, slideshows and other content with their thumbs. The tablet is a platform for showing off 4tiitoo's user interface, which it hopes to extend to a broad range of devices including smartphones and set-top boxes in the future, he said.

An executive of Nissan Motor said his company has been working with MeeGo to build car-based entertainment systems and other electronics. Nissan said MeeGo saves the company the trouble of developing its software from scratch and allows it to incorporate third-party software modules. Amino Communications, which develops IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) services for carriers, said in a video message that MeeGo had allowed it to combine conventional and Web-based TV on the same set-top box for Telecom Italia. That development took only about 10 months, according to Amino.

Intel now often hears about new uses of MeeGo indirectly, a demonstration of how open the ecosystem is, said Imad Sousou, director of Intel's open-source technology center. But Intel is more closely involved in some other projects using the platform, such as a development center it has set up with Chinese Internet giant TenCent.

Though Nokia's departure introduced some uncertainty about MeeGo, conference attendees seem more committed to the platform now than at the November meeting in Dublin, said Jeff Tranter, a consulting manager at ICS, which provides software development teams and consulting for projects using MeeGo and other platforms. ICS is a sponsor of this week's event.

Before Nokia shifted its handset focus to Windows Phone 7, other potential uses of MeeGo were somewhat overshadowed by questions about its role in the mobile OS battle, said Dustin Kassman, an engineering manager at ICS. In that sense, the bad news had a silver lining.

"It really helped to highlight the other areas where MeeGo is being used," Kassman said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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Stephen Lawson

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