This week Intel and Nokia announcement the merge of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo platforms into MeeGo, a single platform for mobile computing. This is a great announcement for a number of reasons.
Nokia demonstrated it's ability to participate within active open source communities as it developed and launched the N770 tablet as a consumer device and maemo as a computing platform several years ago. (The N770 pre-dates the iPhone.) This wasn't a cut and run on the Linux kernel to grab a fork then forever be stuck supporting it. This was an excellent demonstration to themselves that they could use an active royalty free OS and continue to share the development costs. Ari Jaaksi's report on the experience is enlightening. Nokia has since acquired TrollTech, released the Qt tool kit appropriately, (and then acquired Symbian Ltd. and released its handset OS software assets into the open source wild through the Symbian Foundation).
Intel developed and released Moblin over the past few years as a Linux distro for mobile computing. They carefully positioned it NOT for handsets, but for all the other cool mobile Internet devices in your life like tablets and in-vehicle systems. They could do lots of interesting device related work on the Linux kernel for things in which the mainstream Linux wasn't interested and still get the cost advantages from shared development for the platform as a whole. In a very short time it has become one of the more interesting Linux distributions from a hardware innovation perspective.
The positioning is key here. By focusing this on "mobile Internet devices" they avoid the whole iPhone versus Android debate, Windows Mobile has no comment to make, LiMo is still wandering in the wilderness, and Symbian isn't in a position to comment. All of those are thought of as handset operating systems. This is future forward and about the mobile Internet. And don't just think iTouch and tablets in the coffee shop. Think of your home as a wifi space. Microsoft and Apple continue to demonstrate that people DON'T want another PC in the living room for media management. So what are all the other devices you can imagine in your home that are NOT "computers" that could become the synchronization hub of your world's information and media.
- What about a wifi device suctioned to my refrigerator door where the shopping lists are kept and the family calendar at a glance (with reminders),
- or a device that looks like a VoIP phone with a wireless handset in a stand that also has the family phone book(s) in it, but synchronizes with your mobile phone handsets for calendars and contacts,
- or what if my "media centre" didn't look like a media centre at all, but was a tablet that talked to a black box shoved out of site behind the couch, but would also sync my mobile phone or Kindle or Nokia N900 Internet Tablet,
- or there was a small charging pad on the kitchen counter where keys and mobile phones and personal media players are dropped to sync across family calendars, contacts, and the latest episode of a show I'll watch or listen to on tomorrow's commute (while inductively charging my phone).
- What if all these devices could communicate with one another?
All of these imaginings will need an operating system. Microsoft may have made computing in the home ubiquitous in a PC-centric world, but no consumer OEM or ODM today will want to repeat history and watch all high margin profits go to a single software company via royalties. Maintaining individual forks of Linux isn't cost effective either. But sharing the value creation of a robust complete applications platform in an open source project free to all would certainly answer the call.