Windows Phone 7: A Mobile Game-Changer?

MeeGo: Should Anyone Care?

Nokia has been sleepwalking for years when it comes to smartphones. Sure, Nokia is the largest cell phone vendor in the world, but its phones aren't that smart. They're roughly equivalent to RIM's BlackBerry, with a clunky Windows 3.1-style UI, limited Web capabilities, few apps, and not much to offer for music, video, or gaming aficionados. And for business users, Nokia's manageability and security capabilities are weak.

Last year, Nokia announced it was relegating its Symbian OS to lower-end "feature phones," mobiles that offer one or two smart capabilities in a proprietary, awkward package. You don't see th

ese devices show up at all in app store market share or Web usage statistics. At best their owners use them as cheap MP3 players when they're not talking or texting, and convince themselves that the touchscreen or YouTube player makes them "smart."

A new operating system called Maemo, to be released on Nokia smartphones in the next few years, was to take the Symbian OS's place as Nokia's platform for entering the real smartphone market. An open source Linux-based platform, Maemo is very much like desktop Linux in that it uses common Linux frameworks such as the Linux kernel, Debian, and Gnome, with drivers for various Nokia devices (a series of Nokia "Internet tablets" that debuted in 2005). That was Nokia's slow-motion strategy in 2009.

Intel's Moblin Project

At the same time, Intel has been stumbling about with Moblin, an open source Linux-derived operating system, for a couple years. The idea was to create a mobile Linux that could run on a variety of devices, such as netbooks, smartphones, and vehicle entertainment systems. It's enjoyed the same success as desktop Linux -- not much.

Although there's a common Linux core to Moblin, developers quickly have to specialize their Moblin efforts to a specific driver/UI combination chosen for each device. Thus, it's less of a platform than a common technology stack approach. Much of the focus at the Moblin community -- such as it is -- has been on netbook development, not smartphones. In fact, there are no real smartphones based on Moblin, and very few Moblin netbooks (MSI has one) or Moblin apps.

Someone forget to ask why Moblin was necessary in the first place, other than to give Intel a "me too" message about being in the mobile space. And Moblin devices are just as anti-user as desktop Linux implementations. You have to know how to use sudo, for example -- just what you want on a smartphone!

MeeGo's Angle

MeeGo takes two desktop Linux-like projects that have made almost no headway after several years and combined them. Nokia's prominence in the smartphone market might make you think that MeeGo has a chance of being adopted -- and I have no doubt that Nokia will include it on some devices. But no one else so far has stepped up to MeeGo, and almost no one has embraced Moblin or Maemo either.

There's a basic unanswered question: What's the point of MeeGo that customers would care about? The slo-mo progress of these two platforms, the lack of hardware vendor or carrier buy-in, and the lack of any useful or interesting differentiation from the iPhone, BlackBerry, WebOS, Android OS, or Windows Mobile family all point to the same result: nothing.

If Nokia and Intel were serious about building a mobile platform, they would do so. Instead, they're punting to the desktop Linux community. Repackaging desktop Linux and relying on a community of hobbyists has even less chance of success in the mobile context than in the desktop context. There's too much directed innovation and experimentation among the major mobile platforms for a programmer's-toy operating system to matter.

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This article, "Do Windows Phone 7 and MeeGo change the mobile game?," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments on mobile computing at InfoWorld.com.

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