Maemo + Moblin = MeeGo
When it comes to distributions, many or few is an eternal debate within the Linux community. While that debate will likely continue as long as Linux does, the balance in the mobile market has swung just a bit with the announcement that the Maemo and Moblin projects will unite to become MeeGo.
Of the two, Maemo has the longer history, having appeared in the marketplace in November 2005 as part of the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet. Intel's Moblin came much later — three years, to be exact — first shipping on devices in November 2008. The latter project was turned over to the Linux Foundation in April of last year, and has continued development since then as an Open Source project under the Moblin Steering Committee.
The Linux Foundation will host the new project, providing a neutral environment that will allow MeeGo to "use standard open source ingredients, like the Linux kernel, to optimize adoption by their many partners, and will encourage participation in its development efforts." A Technical Steering Group will oversee the project — according to the MeeGo site, the TSG "sets the direction, tone, and vision for MeeGo, speaks on behalf of the project, and is responsible for project level decisions and overall leadership." Imad Sousou of Intel and Nokia's Valtteri Halla will serve as "benevolent dictators" to step in "where no agreement gets reached otherwise."
Participation, however, will be open to all interested parties, with committer, maintainer, and other general leadership duties distributed based on the merit system commonly-encountered in Open Source projects. A number of working groups will be formed to oversee specific areas of development, and guidelines for contributing to MeeGo are currently being drafted.
According to Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin, the merger of Moblin and Maemo will "create one open source uber-platform for the next generation of computing devices: tablets, pocketable computers, netbooks, automotive IVI and more." Calling it the "second 'IBM moment' for Linux," he went on to outline four "key advantages":
- MeeGo was built for powerful next generation devices from the ground up; instead of a cell phone system trying to work in netbooks or a desktop system trying to work on phones, MeeGo has powerful computing in its DNA and will take advantage of new hardware form factors the industry hasn’t even dreamed up.
- It’s truly open, meaning it’s aligned with upstream components (like the Linux kernel, X.org, D-BUS, tracker, GStreamer, Pulseaudio and more) and takes full advantage of the open model. This reduces fragmentation and complexity for ecosystem partners and will make Linux as a whole stronger.
- Qt and application portability. Developers can target multiple platforms (Windows, Mac, Symbian, etc) and devices with a consistent application API and have them run across a broad range of devices. Consumers will want to access the same apps on various devices. Qt and MeeGo make that possible. Because it already reaches so many platforms, Qt is a safe bet for developers. Because it is already well used, it will make it easy to bring many apps from Windows and the Mac over to Linux.
- Cross-device support. Closed platforms (like Apple’s iPad) drive up costs for consumers and limit hardware choice. MeeGo is multi-architecture and can power a broad range of devices from your TV to your car to your pocketable computer to your phone. Consumers can keep their apps and use different devices from different producers.
"Second moment" or not, the way forward is hardly likely to be an easy one. No merger goes smoothly — just ask Oracle and Sun — and the two projects diverge in a number of ways that will have to be overcome. To begin with, Maemo is a Debian-based distribution, and while Moblin claims it is not based on any other distribution, Fedora begs to differ. Regardless, it is RPM-based, and Maemo certainly is not.
Both Maemo and Moblin originally used the GTK+ toolkit, however, Maemo announced the intention to drop GTK+ in favor of Nokia's Qt library as the official toolkit for Maemo 6, and it has been announced that MeeGo will utilize Qt. Moblin is "really open source" and does not include any proprietary components by default, though they can be added in third-party distributions. Maemo, on the other hand, does include some proprietary elements. There are a number of other significant differences in the applications and elements used by the systems which presumably will have to be resolved before attaining the level of "uber-platform."
It remains to be seen how well the two projects will merge together, and how long it will take. Bumpy roads aside, however, it is refreshing to see two major projects come together to pool their resources for the benefit of "the Linux platform, the Linux Foundation’s members, community developers and users who wish to take full advantage of the next generation of computing devices."
Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.
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