Friday, April 15, 2011

Is MeeGo dead or alive?

Yesterday I received a call from a banker asking a very specific question: "is MeeGo dead or alive?". That made me think.

If you do not know MeeGo, it is an open source mobile operating system. It was originated by the merger of Maemo (supported by Nokia) and Moblin (supported by Intel), and it is managed by the Linux Foundation.

I tried MeeGo on a laptop some time ago and I was very impressed. Great UI, playful, very interesting metaphors. I had good hopes for the OS because Intel was behind it, and I assumed the big gorilla (Nokia, funny how they are not considered one anymore...) would push great devices on it.

When Nokia announced their move to Windows Phone 7 before MWC, it was clear they decided to abandon MeeGo. Their slide, depicted below, did not leave many questions. MeeGo was not even illustrated ;-) while Symbian was going to die (an horrible marketing mistake, in my opinion).

That leaves Intel as the only sponsor. And they have not been able to produce a mobile device yet...

If you look at the mobile OS market, there are two clear leaders: Android and iOS. Is there room for a third OS? Yes, I think so.

Who are the competitors? Windows Phone, BlackBerry, Palm WebOS and MeeGo.

If you have to put them in a sequence, which one would you pick? Hard to tell, but MeeGo is probably between #3 and #4, because Microsoft is betting their life on Windows Phone (and they have tons of money) and RIM is still a formidable player (at least in emerging markets). I think MeeGo can beat WebOS, but is there room for five mobile OSs? I do not think so. I hardly see room for four, honestly.

That would mean MeeGo is going to die. Unless they find a home for it. Let me try to see if there is one.

Android is not really open source anymore. It is hardly open. The rest of the pack are closed OSs. MeeGo is the only pure open source play remaining. This is a big differentiation. At the end of the day, if Android stumbles (there are many reasons to believe it could happen, from lawsuits to fragmentation), MeeGo could be a great option for device manufacturers and carriers.

In particular, I have a feeling MeeGo has a chance on connected devices, beside mobile. The world out there is in need of a true open source OS, built for low power consumption and great interactivity. Something you can use for machine to machine (M2M) communication. It could work on cars, digital frames, microwaves, and a lot of more devices. We are talking trillions here. With Intel behind it, providing the chips.

That might be it. Grow in connected devices, hope for Android to stumble and maybe eventually make it back into mobile or even tablets and laptops.

I have great faith in the Linux Foundation and I think they can pull it off. Android destroyed MeeGo momentum and Nokia stubbed them in the back. You could conclude they should be dead by now. However, we know open source does not die, it grows and grows. Sometimes under the radar, but it does not stop.

If you look at the news, you can see some signs of it. LG is looking at MeeGo. Many others could follow, and in many different markets. Android is giving device manufacturers some worries, and they like to maintain their options open (and keep vendors - like Google - honest). There is life here.

Not in great health but not dead for sure. We'll hear about it for a long time, I believe.