Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/28/meego_1_review/
First MeeGo Linux needs love and scrub up
Fiddly, slow, but pleasing
Review MeeGo is a big deal. Devices plus cloud is the big trend right now and MeeGo has seen two industry giants - Intel and Nokia - combine efforts to create a Linux offering capable of competing with Windows on netbooks, Apple and Google on phones and tablets, and embedded operating systems on just about anything else from TVs to cars.
Despite the potential hype a first version of MeeGo should have received, version 1.0 experienced a relatively low-key release.
The reason was because MeeGo 1.0 is aimed at developers and device manufacturers - actual MeeGo netbooks are not expected until later this year.
Further, this MeeGo release is only for netbooks. MeeGo 1.1 for handhelds and other touch-based devices such as tablets is promised in October, though Nokia's Valtteri Halla has said that "a kind of pre-alpha release" of the handset software is set for June 30 Nokia has recently announced that its high-end N Series will move from Symbian to MeeGo in future editions.
Install pre-configured applications with MeeGo Garage
Rather than a Linux distribution, MeeGo is a platform built on Linux. It offers a user interface built with Qt, a cross-platform GUI and application framework acquired by Nokia when it took over Trolltech in 2008, as well as a standard set of services for Internet, communications, media, graphics and data.
The developer story is based on Qt, though Adobe Flash and AIR will also be supported, and supposedly Microsoft's Silverlight though this aspect has gone strangely quiet since Intel and Microsoft announced it for Moblin in September 2009. There will be app stores including Intel's AppUp Center, Nokia's Ovi, and carrier-specific stores.
So how does it stack up? I installed MeeGo 1.0 on a Toshiba NB300 notebook with 2GB RAM, which is listed as a tested device. Pretty much everything worked, including Wi-Fi and the install was hassle-free.
That said, there are niggles. A cold boot takes just over two minutes, slow for a Linux netbook, and resume from sleep gives a blank screen with no way out other than power off. The trackpad works, but the irritating tap-to-click feature, which causes unexpected clicks, cannot be disabled through the GUI.
MeeGo's "Netbook UX" is based on a toolbar whose icons represent panels. The home panel is a kind of portal to current activities, showing current appointments and tasks, favourite applications, and status updates from social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
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.
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. ®