Despite some severe setbacks, the MeeGo project continues to develop its
platform. The software is getting better, and we are starting to see a few
places where it can be had on real hardware. Unfortunately, MeeGo has just
run into another snag involving the hosting of a proposed third-party
application repository. The project can survive this rough patch too -
without even all that much bother - but only if the participants can
gain a better understanding of what is going on. What may look like a
serious community disconnect is really a simpler story which has been
muddied by poor communication.
Some developers within the MeeGo project have been working for a while on
intended to be a repository for open-source MeeGo applications written by
individual developers. Plans include a vetting process to ensure the
quality and benign nature of applications to be hosted there. Things were
getting closer to being ready for deployment when the process ground to a
halt. David Greaves described the problem this way:
The Linux Foundation have told us in private conversations that
they will not permit apps.meego.com to be served from the MeeGo.com
infrastructure hosted by them. They do not have the resource at
this time to provide a statement giving their reasons. We can not
assess what other services may be impacted in the future.
The Linux Foundation is in a position to make this decision because it is
the nominal owner of the MeeGo project, the MeeGo trademark, and the
meego.com domain name. One of the parent projects - Moblin - was handed
over to the Foundation in 2009 as a way to establish it as a free and
independent project; when Maemo was merged with Moblin to create MeeGo, the
combination remained under the Foundation's management. The intent was to
ensure that MeeGo was not driven by the needs of any one specific company,
but, instead, to help it be a fully independent project.
In a separate "problem
statement," David says that, in private communications, he has been
told that patent worries are behind this decision. In the absence of an
official statement from the Linux Foundation, David's statement has shaped
the public discussion. LWN was able to get some more information by
talking to a Linux Foundation VP Amanda McPherson and from an
IRC conversation held on August 9. As one might expect, the full
story is more complicated - but also more simple.
Patents - or something else?
The legal concerns are a good place to start, though. The Linux Foundation
does a lot of work that is not related to MeeGo at all. It hosts
Linux-related conferences around the world (and funds developer travel to
those events), runs a growing training operation, helps companies join the
contributor community, promotes various standards activities, provides a
vendor-neutral paycheck for Linus Torvalds, and more. One could reasonably
argue that putting all of those activities at risk for a MeeGo-related
application repository would be an irresponsible thing for the Foundation's
management to do. It is also possible to argue that this risk is not zero;
there are organizations which might see value in disrupting the
Foundation's operations. The risk of simple patent trolls is also,
clearly, something that must be kept in mind.
So it is not possible to immediately conclude that the Linux Foundation's
refusal to support apps.meego.com is unreasonable or improper, even if
legal worries were the only consideration. There may indeed be real
concerns that apps.meego.com could lead to collateral damage far beyond the
MeeGo project itself. It would be a shame to see Linus on the street with
a "will pull git trees for food" sign, so this is an outcome that is well
worth avoiding. But, the Linux Foundation says, legal concerns are only a
part of what is going on here.
The real issue, according to Amanda, is simply a matter of resources.
Setting up this repository would require comprehensive legal review,
certainly, but it also requires system administrator time, trademark and
branding attention, and little things like user support. Even if the
repository has big warnings to the effect that applications are unsupported
and guaranteed to set devices on fire, there will still be a stream of
users with battery life problems contacting the Foundation for support.
The Linux Foundation is a small operation lacking much in the way of spare
staff time; it simply felt that the resources required to establish and
operate this repository were not available.
Beyond that, it seems, plans for MeeGo never called for a central "app
store." Instead, MeeGo is meant to be the upstream for vendors to use in
the creation of their products; it was assumed that those vendors (or their
users) would set up multiple application repositories as they saw fit. A
central application repository blessed and operated by the MeeGo project
could be seen as competing with (and discouraging) those efforts.
Questions and the way forward
All told, it seems like a reasonable explanation for what has happened
here. That said, there are some questions that arise from this incident.
First among those is: why was the Foundation so secretive about its
decision? Somebody clearly took the time to think the problem through,
but, somehow, they could not find the time to explain - in a public setting -
the conclusion that they came to. This time of year, allowances need to be
made for vacations and frantic preparations for LinuxCon, but it still
should have been possible to avoid being completely silent on the issue.
Silence is, at best, unfair to the developers who have been working to make
apps.meego.com a reality. At worst, it feeds doubts about the Foundation's
motivations and allows other mysteries to endure. For example, why is
distribution of MeeGo applications via the project's open build server
(something which has been going on for a year) less worrisome? We are told
that the Foundation will have an official statement out in the near future;
hopefully that will clarify things.
A more important question, though, might be: is the Linux Foundation the
right home for the MeeGo project? If the Foundation's concerns and
limitations get in the way of what the MeeGo project wants to do, it might
be time to ask if MeeGo needs to find a home more suitable to the
activities it is trying to pursue. Thus far, it must be said, the number
of people asking that question in public is quite small.
Then, of course, there is the most relevant question of all: what should the
MeeGo project do now? The above-linked problem statement offers three
- Keep the apps.meego.com plan as-is under the assumption that somehow
the Linux Foundation's resistance will go away. This seems like an
- Move the application repository to a new domain outside the control of
the Linux Foundation - probably apps.formeego.com. Everything else
would remain where it is now with the possible exception of the build
- Move everything away from the Linux Foundation and place it under the
control of a separate non-profit organization. The Foundation would
retain the MeeGo trademark and compliance process; everything else
would happen elsewhere.
One does not have to read too deeply between the lines of the problem
statement to get the sense that David favors the final option listed
above. But David (whose job is "MeeGo devices build systems architect" at
Nokia) is not in a position to make that decision. Some other
participants in the MeeGo community have called for the project to become
more independent, but, if there is truly a groundswell in favor of that
idea among serious MeeGo developers and the companies with stakes in MeeGo,
it has not yet become apparent in the public forums. There does not appear
to be any widespread desire for a new home - or a fork - in this community.
So what is almost certainly going to happen is that apps.formeego.com will
be set up, probably on servers installed in Europe, and third-party
applications will find a home there. The use of that domain
name has already
been approved, so there need be no fear of repeat of the Smeegol incident in this case.
It also seems that linking to apps.formeego.com from meego.com sites will
not be a problem; linking to external repositories was always in the plans.
This should be a solution that works for everybody involved, even if some
participants would rather have seen the repository live within the
meego.com domain. The biggest failure in this story is not, as it might
have initially seemed, one of project governance; it's really just a
problem of communications. That particular failure will, with luck, be
remedied soon. The project will get its repository, and everybody can go
back to the real problem: getting interesting MeeGo-based devices into the
market where the rest of us can actually get our hands on them.
[Update: the Linux Foundation's Brian Warner posted
an update on the apps.meego.com decision shortly after this article was
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