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Fiddly, slow, but pleasing

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Social media is quite a theme, with a panel for status updates, and wide-ranging instant messaging support using the Telepathy/Empathy Project. Email is handled by Novell's Evolution. The Zones panel lets you switch between workspaces, where each workspace or zone normally contains a single application but can have more. The Applications panel lets you run installed applications, or find more through the MeeGo Garage.

There is an Internet panel which is either Google Chrome or Chromium, depending on whether you want a pure open source browser. A multimedia panel is based on Banshee, the open source media player. You can devote a panel to Google desktop gadgets, while another panel handles devices, giving access to a settings menu for configuring MeeGo.

Zones in MeeGo 1.0

Switch between workspaces using MeeGo Zones

Early versions of Moblin - Intel's predecessor to MeeGo - were unbearably cutesy. MeeGo is more restrained and its chunky user interface is pleasant enough. Most application run full-screen, which is fair enough on a device with a small screen, though switching applications can be fiddly.

I found the old alt-tab routine the best way, though you can also move your mouse to the top of the screen to display the toolbar, select the Zones panel, and click the zone you want.

Moblin 1.0 does not bundle OpenOffice, though there are ways to install it, but offers the lighter-weight AbiWord word processor and Gnumeric spreadsheet instead. I noticed that fonts in AbiWord looked worse than they do in Windows on the same machine.

MeeGo Garage is a user-friendly way to find and install applications, but for me it did not work initially, giving me "error resolving" messages. After I resorted to the command line yum tool instead, the Garage also mysteriously sprang into life.

I also had problems with Evolution when configured as an IMAP client for Microsoft Exchange, with the application appearing to hang. It is just as well MeeGo 1.0 is not out on real devices yet; by the time it is, these and other flaws should be resolved.

Despite such issues, which are to be expected at this stage, the MeeGo team has come up with a decent UI that is simple, optimised for devices, and mostly fun to use. That is a significant achievement.

The wider question though is how MeeGo will fare in this crowded space, despite its powerful parents. Apple is not going away, neither is Google Android, and Microsoft will do its own thing with Windows while Intel and Nokia have so far not succeeded in nurturing a strong community around MeeGo.

All this will change if the first devices are sufficiently delightful, but MeeGo needs more love and it is unclear where it will find it. ®

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