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Mobile Linux, reebooted

First, there's the fact MeeGo is just the latest in a line of efforts in Linux profiles for mobile, each with differing and overlapping members. The Linux Phone Standard Forum (LiPS), whose members included chipmakers and operators, joined the existing Linux Mobile Foundation (LiMo), home to handset and equipment makers and telcos. We've had Intel's former solo mobile effort Moblin rebooted from Ubuntu to Fedora between versions one and two, and then handed to the Linux Foundation for stewardship - the Foundation is also home to MeeGo. Nokia, meanwhile, already has a mobile open source effort underway with Symbian, which talks big but seems to operate as an adjunct to the Nokia's main corporate structure.

Open sourcers would no doubt justify this confusion as choice and diversity, and you just can't keep a good kernel down.

Jaaksi promised that MeeGo is here to stay and neither Intel nor Nokia are going to abandon it: "It won't happen easily that we'd forget about that and walk away... we are going to invest a lot and we see others starting on participation and development. I believe [MeeGo] is here to stay. It's going to evolve - there will be a revolution."

Assuming MeeGo does survive what could best be described as a "fluid" situation, MeeGo must convince developers to commit in a world where the iPhone and Android have the pull. Jaaksi reckons MeeGo's advantage is choice: writing applications using JavaScript and HTML or using Nokia's Qt framework and tools to build C++.

This means you can write at a high, web level, building web services for the phone - although you can also do that on the iPhone - or go deep into hardware acceleration for gaming.

"MeeGo devices will follow the same strategy with N900," Jaaksi said. "It's an open platform, so you as a developer can really go deep - they will be able to use graphical accelerators, going close to the metal and all kinds of capabilities."

C++, meanwhile, could tempt Linux and Windows programmers because Android requires knowledge of Java and virtual machines (VMs) as it uses the Dalvik VM for mobile.

Your input is not wanted

As for Apple and those other mobile Linux efforts, there's the openness play. According to Jaaksi, anybody can contribute to MeeGo as its governance is simple and is hosted by the Linux Foundation. Good luck inputting to the iPhone SDK roadmap unless you're the US Government.

Nokia's MeeGo man is optimistic. And arguably he should be: unlike PCs, mobile has an inherent inclination towards more, not fewer, platforms, so MeeGo's chances are at least good on paper. He promised the first MeeGo-based devices by the end of 2010 with updates to MeeGo every six months, and MeeGo running on ARM and Intel's Atom architectures.

Assuming MeeGo gets traction, the big unanswered question will then be how far it's allowed to run before patent holders come knocking, or whether they will be held at bay.

If all else fails, Jaaksi reckons that sheer numbers will defeat the lawyers and suits - the ubiquity of Linux on an ever-growing pool of devices. "It's going to get harder and harder each day to prevent that," he said. "It's a tidal wave that's going to be difficult for anyone to do anything about it."

Maybe, but as Microsoft proved when HTC agreed to pay it for each Android device it ships: if Microsoft and others can't dam the tidal wave, they could make money by surfing it. ®

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