The MeeGo project - the result of the merger between Moblin and Maemo -
version 1.0 of its core platform on May 25, accompanied by the first
iteration of its "Netbook user experience." Your editor, who happens to
have a netbook system sitting around, decided to give this release a try to
see what has happened since the
written last November. While the overall feel of the
system is quite similar, there has also been some real progress; MeeGo
feels more like a finished product than Moblin did.
The overall user interface concepts laid out by Moblin have not changed
much in the merger with Maemo. There is still a home screen meant to
provide access to recently-used activities, be they web pages or
communications with others. The line of icons at the top still shows what
the MeeGo developers think people will want to do with netbooks: talk to
people, browse web pages, play music, etc. The quality of the graphics and
animation have improved somewhat, but the basic interaction model is what
Moblin had before.
There is an interesting distinction between running an activity from the
top icon bar and running an application. Applications run in "zones,"
which are essentially virtual desktops which hold one window each. Moving
between zones is done quickly enough by putting the pointer at the top of
the screen, selecting the zones icon (yielding a display of the active
zones), then picking the new destination;
it's an experience similar to holding down the "home" key on an Android
system. But an application run from the top bar (the music player, say, or
the web browser) is treated differently; it has no zone and cannot be
jumped into and out of that way. Your editor finds this to be a bit of a
Speaking of web browsers, MeeGo now uses Chrome (or Chromium, one can
choose at download time) for web access. Chrome is, of course, a
reasonably mature and quite functional browser. The "Mozilla headless"
mechanism used with the Moblin browser worked, but not all users were happy
with the experience; Chrome, perhaps, will be better received.
While most things work nicely, one occasionally encounters a rough edge.
Your editor was able to crash the desktop by playing with an external
monitor. MeeGo lets the user choose between the built-in or an external
monitor, but does not want to run both at the same time - not even in
mirrored mode. One other thing that has jumped out is that options which
are toggles are controlled by a widget which looks like a sliding switch.
There are no labels, though, so it's not always obvious whether the option
is enabled or not.
The big sliders are typical of the way the MeeGo interface looks, though;
buttons and such are big. Netbooks tend not to have touchscreens, but this
user interface is clearly headed in the direction where everything has to
The interface is also still very much GNOME-based, despite MeeGo's plan to
move over to Qt. Mail is handled by Evolution, the media player is
Banshee, etc. Perhaps that will change over time; evidently the tablet
user experience is more Qt-heavy.
While exploring options for customizing the top icon bar, your editor
stumbled across "gadgets," a relatively hidden feature that, perhaps, shows
where the MeeGo developers plan to go. Gadgets are little applications
which can be placed on a special screen; there are weather monitors, silly
games, slideshow applications, etc. The interface for choosing them is
awkward (browse through all 1000 of them in some strange order, four at a
time) and there doesn't seem to be a way to place them somewhere useful, like
the home "MyZone" screen. But it has the look of the beginnings of some
sort of "application store" mechanism which is separate from the normal
package management system used by MeeGo.
There is one other difference between Moblin and MeeGo that your editor has
noticed: Moblin was a multi-user system with the ability to set up multiple
independent accounts. MeeGo, instead, has a single account (called "meego,"
but one has to look hard to find that out) and no provision for creating
or logging into any others. MeeGo devices, it seems, will be more like
phones than Linux computers; they are highly personal devices that one does
not ordinarily share.
Perhaps that is the future of Linux on the desktop - at least, Linux on the
relatively small desktop. Like Android, it's not the sort of Linux
experience that we are used to, though MeeGo is far closer to "traditional"
Linux than Android is. But perhaps it's an experience that will bring in a
new set of users; once they get used to this environment, the full Linux
experience will be there for them to discover. That should be a good
First, though, MeeGo needs to get out there on devices and into the hands
of users. Evidently a number of MeeGo-based devices were on display at
Computex, which is a start, but there are not a whole lot of deployed systems
out there. So MeeGo is far behind other systems, including Android, which
are aiming for very similar markets (though it is ahead of ChromeOS,
which won't have a stable release for a few more months). Coming from
behind in a highly competitive market is a hard thing to do, even when the
market is expanding. But MeeGo has a lot of resources behind it and a lot
of thought going into its design. Even if it's a bit of a dark horse, it's
worth keeping an eye on.
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