We are just at the beginning of a massive change in the way we use
computers, and traditional desktops and laptops will be giving way to more
and more internet-connected devices—that's the vision presented in
two keynotes at the first ever MeeGo conference. But in order for that
vision to come about, there needs to be an open environment, where both
hardware and software developers can create new devices and applications,
without the innovation being controlled—often stifled—by a
single vendor's wishes. Doug Fisher, Intel's VP of the Software and
Services Group, and Nokia's Alberto Torres, Executive VP for MeeGo
Computers, took different approaches to delivering that message, but their
talks were promoting the same theme.
The conference was held November
15-17 at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland and hosted many more developers
than conference organizers originally expected. It was very well put on,
and at an eye-opening venue, which bodes well for future conferences. One
that is more industry-focused is currently planned for May in San
Francisco, while another developer-focused event is tentatively scheduled
for November 2011 for somewhere other than the US.
"Strategic Freedom with MeeGo"
After an introduction by conference program committee chair Dirk Hohndel,
Fisher kicked off his talk with a rueful reminiscence of his talk at the
2005 Ottawa Linux Symposium, where the person running the slide deck exited
his presentation at the end, which put up a Windows desktop on the screen.
That wasn't particularly popular with the assembled Linux crowd, so he was
careful to show that he was presenting his slides using OpenOffice.org Impress
on MeeGo this time.
Over the next few years, there will be one billion new internet-connected users
and 15 billion connected devices, Fisher said. Intel and MeeGo want to ensure
that they meet the needs of that growing market. It is these new devices that
will be the main mechanism for connecting with the internet. They will
"surpass the traditional way you interact with the internet".
And we are "just at the beginning of where this device environment is
going to go".
There are two models that are being proposed for this new environment, one that
is controlled versus one that is open. The controlled environment is one
where a "single vendor provides the whole solution". But lots
of people that want to innovate are outside of the box that the vendor has
set up. In these closed environments, business models and the implementation of
business models are controlled.
But, "the only way you can scale to all of those devices is to have an
open environment", Fisher said. In the book Where Good Ideas Come From, author Steven Johnson "debunks the myth that great ideas come
from a single person". Instead, it is a "social process as much
as a technology process" to come up with these great ideas. Because
we don't have any time to waste to build this new device environment, "we
have to be able to work together".
"A controlled environment with a box around it will not be able to
scale", to the vast array of devices and device types that are coming.
But, Fisher cautioned, an open environment should not lead to fragmentation.
There is a responsibility to make the platform consistent, so that companies
can depend on it and make investments in it.
That is why MeeGo was moved under the Linux Foundation (LF), so that the LF
can be "the steward of MeeGo". The governance of MeeGo is modeled
after how Linux is governed; there is no membership required and it is
architected in an open way. Both Intel and ARM chips are supported, and MeeGo
is constructed to "ensure we meet the needs of a broad type of
Inclusion, meritocracy, transparency, and upstream first
Fisher then turned the stage over to Carsten Munk, who is
known for his work on Nokia's Maemo and on the MeeGo N900 port.
MeeGo "is trying to do something that has never been done before",
and there are four key elements to making it work: inclusion, meritocracy,
transparency, and upstream first. The inclusive nature of MeeGo was embodied
in the fact that he was on-stage with an Intel executive, as an independent
developer who works on MeeGo ARM. "The MeeGo way is to include
people", he said.
When asked by Fisher if the project had been living up to the four ideals,
Munk said that it was "getting better over the last 8-9 months",
but that "not everything is perfect". There have been arguments
over governance and the like over that time, but the community is still
figuring things out. In addition to developing
MeeGo as an OS and MeeGo applications, the project is developing
"the MeeGo way of working".
The upstream-first policy is "really important to avoid
fragmentation", Fisher said after Munk left the stage. Avoiding
fragmentation is critical
for users and developers. Users want to be able to run their applications
consistently on multiple devices, while developers want to be sure they can
move to different vendors without rewriting their applications.
MeeGo is an OS that vendors can take and do what they want with it, but in
order to call it MeeGo, it must be compliant with the
MeeGo requirements. That
ensures there is a single environment for developers. They can move their
code from vendor to vendor, while avoiding the rework and revalidation that
currently is required for embedded and other applications.
Intel wants to deliver the best operating environment for MeeGo, and power
the best devices, which is why it has invested in the low-power Atom chip.
As an example, he pointed to netbooks that are just getting better, some of
which have MeeGo on them. There will be more and more of those in 2011 and
2012, Fisher said. In addition, Intel worked closely with Amino
Communications on a
MeeGo-based television set top box. What would normally take Amino 18 months to
deliver was done in six using MeeGo.
One of the strengths of MeeGo is that in addition to allowing multiple
vendors to use it, it also enables multiple device types. Intel was
involved in helping with the MeeGo netbooks and set-top box that he
mentioned, but he also listed two other vendors using MeeGo, where Intel
wasn't involved at all. A German company that made a MeeGo-based tablet as
well as a company in China doing in-vehicle-infotainment (IVI) systems in
cars that are shipping now are examples of the "power of open
source", he said. They took the code and made it work for their
devices and customers without having to ask for permission. The MeeGo
community is going to be
responsible for keeping that kind of innovation happening, he said.
One of the visions for MeeGo devices that was presented in a video at the
beginning of the talk was the ability to move audio and video content
devices. The idea is that someone can be watching a movie or listening to
some music and move it to other devices, share it with their friends, and
so on. Fisher had someone from Intel demonstrate a prototype of that
functionality, where a video was paused on a netbook, restarted on a TV,
then moved from there to a tablet.
That is an example of "the kind of innovation we need to drive into
MeeGo", Fisher said. It's not just something that is unique and
innovative on a single device but, because it is MeeGo, it can move between
various devices from multiple vendors. It is a "compelling and
challenging opportunity". Though it is an exciting vision for the
future, there is still a potentially insurmountable challenge which Fisher
left unsaid: finding a way to get the content industries on board with that
kind of ubiquitous playback and sharing.
It turned out that the MeeGo tablet used in the demo was a
Lenovo IdeaPad—an Atom-powered tablet/netbook. Fisher said that one
lucky developer in
attendance would be receiving one. When the envelope was opened, though,
the name on the inside was "Everyone", so Intel would be giving each
conference attendee an IdeaPad. He left
it to Hohndel to later deliver the bad news to the roughly 200 Intel and Nokia
employees in attendance; there would be no tablets for those folks.
"MeeGo Momentum and the Qt App Advantage"
Torres started his talk by "dispelling rumors" that Nokia
might not be committed to MeeGo. He pointed to comments made by new CEO
Stephen Elop that reiterated Nokia's commitment. Nokia plans to deliver a
"new user experience" using MeeGo, Torres said. Furthermore,
he believes that we are "redefining the future of computing"
with the advent of widespread internet-connected mobile devices, and MeeGo
has all the
elements to foster that redefinition.
He looked back at some of the history of computers, noting that in the
Thomas Watson suggested there was a total worldwide market for five
computers. Since that time, the market has grown a bit, but that the
command line limited the use of computers to fairly technical users. In
the 1970s, when Xerox PARC adopted the mouse and an interface with windows
and icons, that really changed things. That interface is a far more human way
to interact with a computer, and it is largely the same interface that we
Moving away from the command line meant that you didn't have to be an
expert to use a computer and got people "starting to think about
every home having a computer". Today, almost every home in the
developed world does have a computer. Beyond that, smartphones are
computers in our pockets, which allows computers to go places they never
went before. But we haven't figured out major new ways to interact with
those devices. That is good, because it allows us to define it, he said.
There are advances being made in touch devices using gestures and in
motion-sensing gaming interfaces, both of which are more natural to use.
He said that his daughter, who is not yet 2 years old, can do things with
his smartphone, like use the photo gallery application. Gestures are
"bringing computing to a level that is far more intuitive",
which is leading to the idea of even more computers in the home. We may
not call them computers, he said, but instead they will be called cars or TVs.
All of these different devices need to work together in an integrated way, with
interfaces that work in a "human way". One of the strengths
of MeeGo is that
it was created from the start to go on all of these different kinds of
devices. He believes we are going to see a proliferation of devices with
MeeGo, and with many different interaction models: driving a car,
playing a game or video in the back of the car, at home watching TV, and so
Qt for application development
Torres then shifted gears a bit to talk about Qt. It is much more than
just a library, he said, it is a development platform incorporating things
like database access, network connectivity, inter-object communication,
WebKit integration, and more. He said that Qt enables C++ programmers to be four times
more productive in developing code, and he expects the addition of Qt
Declarative UI to increase that, perhaps as far as a 10x productivity
Qt is also multi-platform and is used "everywhere". It
started out as a desktop platform, but is on "all kinds of devices
today". As an example of that, he had another Nokia employee
demonstrate the same application running on MeeGo, Windows, Symbian, and
embedded Linux. The animated photo browsing application was developed
using Qt Quick, and
could be run, unmodified, on each of the platforms. A Qt Quick application
can be placed on a USB stick and moved between the various devices.
Nokia is a company that makes devices, and it "wants to put devices
into people's hands that they fall in love with". MeeGo offers them
a great opportunity to do that because of its "unique innovation
model", which includes both openness and differentiation. Companies
like Nokia, mobile phone carriers, TV makers, and so on can add things on
top of the MeeGo platform to make themselves stand out. It might be a
different user experience or add-on services that are added to
differentiate the device, but that can be done on top of a non-fragmented
platform with stable APIs. This allows those companies to express their
creativity and brand without fragmentation.
The plan for Nokia is to provide "delicious hardware", with
great connectivity, and a "fantastic user experience" on top.
He again noted Nokia CEO Elop's statement that Nokia would be delivering a
new standard for user experience on mobile devices. There are those who
think that the user experience for devices has already been decided, but he
pointed out that it took decades to decide on the standard interface for
driving a car—"and we may not be done", noting that
alternatives for car interfaces may be on the horizon.
"Creating a set of devices that are so cool that developers want to
develop for them" is the approach Nokia and others are taking with
MeeGo, Torres said. Some of those devices will be announced by Nokia in
2011. Given the growth in the MeeGo community, Torres joked that next
year's MeeGo developer conference might need to use the outdoor part of the
stadium to hold all of the attendees.
While there was much of interest in the visions presented, it is still
an open question how many hackable MeeGo devices will become available.
There wasn't anything said in the keynotes about devices that can be
altered by users with their own ideas of how their MeeGo device should
work. Instead, the focus was clearly on the kinds of things that MeeGo
enables device manufacturers to do, without any real nod toward user
freedoms. With luck, there will be some device makers who recognize the
importance of free devices and will deliver some with MeeGo.
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