Intel and Nokia have announced what seems to be an extremely odd partnership: They're melding Intel's Moblin mobile device OS with Nokia's Maemo into a new Linux affair called MeeGo. Odd? Yes. But it might just work.
The companies' joint press release to announce the news starts out, with no messing around, by drawing out the goals of the new venture—and they're impressive: MeeGo, a "Linux-based software platform" will support "multiple hardware architectures across the broadest range of device segments" which includes "pocketable mobile computers, netbooks, tablets, mediaphones, connected TVs, and in-vehicle infotainment systems."
That's an extremely huge target to hit, and it's an impressive goal. Intel's open-source Moblin (short for Mobile Linux) OS has been around for a while, and the latest announcement for version 2.1 back in September 2009 at the Intel Developer Forum revealed that Intel was already targeting a variety of platforms like those intended for MeeGo. Nokia's largely open-source Maemo is also not a new system, but its latest incarnation Maemo 5 impressed some industry pundits who were concerned about Nokia's smartphone future. Since both OS's are based on a Linux core, melding them together into one entity is technically feasible. But why on earth are these two giants trying this endeavor in the first place?
It's probably partly due to fortuitous timing. Nokia isn't making much headway in the smartphone market, and though Intel's chips are inside many netbooks and future CULV notebook machines, the company's silicon isn't going inside many next-gen smartphones (even Apple's shunning Intel chips for the iPad). With Microsoft's Windows 7 newly on sale, a new Windows Phone 7 OS on the horizon, a hoard of Android smartphones gaining market share, and the next wonder-smartphone from Apple just four or so months away, Nokia and Intel have probably done the math and realized that if they are to make a splash of any size in the smartphone/netbook/smartbook market they need to act right now as a combined force.
More intriguing is the intention to get MeeGo inside other devices apart from the traditional portable and desktop computing gizmos. This too is a tactical move—we know that Net connectivity and enhanced user interaction is coming to a broader range of devices, like TVs and in-car entertainment systems. This trend is only going to accelerate in our ever-more-connected world, and Intel and Nokia think that the Moblin core code and Maemo's UI make a great combo to go inside the circuitry of these future devices. Currently the most popular embedded OS for this sort of task is Microsoft's Windows CE for devices—but like its WinMo cousin, it's getting very long in the tooth, and MeeGo offers benefits like ARM an Intel compatibility and even the potential for device-specific, and cross-platform apps.
The question is can MeeGo really thrive on "multiple hardware platforms" and achieve "through open innovation" an "ecosystem that is second to none, drawing in players from different industries" as Nokia's CEO Olli-Pekka Kallsuvo puts it. Or will the extraordinarily diverse range of target devices be a barrier to MeeGo's chances to excel on a particular platform? With Intel's might behind the tech, the enterprise has at least a fighting chance of breaking into markets dominate by Microsoft. Ultimately, of course, it'll depend on how well the consumer takes to the new operating system.