The MeeGo project was formed only eight months ago, when Intel and Nokia announced that they were merging their two portable device distributions, Moblin and Maemo, into a single, unified “MeeGo Core” on top of which companies can built embedded Linux devices. As recently as this summer, there was still trepidation among development community members about how that merger would go — combining two code bases is never easy, much less two user and developer communities and two corporate projects. Nevertheless, when the first MeeGo Conference opened its doors in Dublin, Ireland on Monday, there were nearly 1200 attendees — double the original estimate.
The MeeGo Conference takes the place of Nokia’s Maemo Summits the previous two years, preserving the format, but expanding the scope of the projects and sessions. The main event is three days longs, preceded by weekend “early bird” events and hacking time. The first half of day one was occupied by a series of short keynote talks in front of the entire attendee audience. These included updates from Intel and Nokia, plus a Q&A session led by the Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin with the MeeGo Technical Steering Group’s Imad Sousou (of Intel) and Valtteri Halla (of Nokia). Also among the keynote speakers was Dominique Le Foll of Amino Communication, a UK-based company that is already building MeeGo-based set-top boxes for cable and satellite TV service providers in Europe and North America. He spoke about the cost- and time-savings Amino enjoys by working with a full-blown Linux distribution like MeeGo instead of a striped-down, embedded distro.
The “connected TV” platform used by Amino is one of MeeGo’s newly targeted user-experiences (UX), along with in-vehicle infotainment (IVI). But the netbook and handheld UXes still took center stage for the event, with 70 sessions and birds-of-a-feather (BOF) meetings spread out over the next day and a half. Development took up many slots, from Qt training to working with the MeeGo APIs and SDK, to building on specific hardware devices. Not all of the developer-centric talks were MeeGo-specific, either — most of the MeeGo software stack is shared with typical Linux desktop distributions, so projects such as Telepathy, Zeitgeist, and Zypp had representation as well.
But there were plenty of talks for the non-technical attendees as well, including a full-track’s worth of sessions on the open source community and its processes. There were presentations on bug triage, localization, and community metrics, plus sessions that might appeal to managers and marketing teams interacting with the open source way for the first time. In spite of the potential for MeeGo Conference to become a Qt-heavy event (due to Nokia’s sponsorship), there were plenty of presentations from the GNOME side of the fence as well, including a large turnout for Dave Neary’s talk on resolving open source community “anti-patterns” (e.g., problematic behavior or miscommunications).
The final day of the event was reserved for unconference sessions, planned and led in the meeting rooms by the participants themselves. All three days tried to accommodate the “hallway track” ethos by providing plenty of meet-up space, followed up at the hotels by 24-hour “hacker lounge” rooms.
From the business side of the conference, the big news was undoubtedly Monday’s announcement that chipmaker AMD was joining the MeeGo project. AMD’s Operating System Research Center Director Chris Schlaeger appeared onstage during the Q&A session, joking that it was a marvel he was within a few feet of an executive from rival silicon vendor Intel without a swarm of lawyers surrounding them both. Of course, AMD’s involvement not only increases the possibilities for MeeGo to build and be tested on a wider range of processors, but bodes well for its GPU support, too. Two of the three mainline graphics chip makers are now participating in the project, with only NVIDIA holding out.
For most of the attendees, however, the bigger news was that Intel, the Linux Foundation, and Nokia had combined forces to provide a free MeeGo-powered Lenovo ideapad to each participant (excepting Intel and Nokia employees, who numbered a few hundred out of the overall audience). Beyond the appeal of shiny-new-hardware on its own, the netbook giveaway is a way to seed independent development on MeeGo. One of the project’s common refrains is that compliance testing and API stability ensure that an application written for MeeGo will run the same on any MeeGo-powered UX: netbook, handheld, or other. Nokia provided pre-release N900s to several hundred developers at 2009’s Maemo Summit, and that hardware has been one on the very short list of supported devices for this year’s official MeeGo releases. With many of the same community members now able to test on the larger, touch-screen netbook, the promise of run-everywhere applications will get a much needed stress-test.
An interesting side-note to the netbook giveaway is that Lenovo actually makes two variants using different WiFi chip sets: one with available open source Atheros drivers supported by MeeGo, and one with only closed source Broadcom drivers available. The conference was unable to get sufficient volume of the Atheros-based netbooks for the giveaway, so it offered a choice to the developers receiving the Broadcom version: MeeGo builds were provided that included the binary-only Broadcom drivers, and builds were provided that contained free software only. As the speaker put it, “you can take the one that works as-is, or you can take the one that allows you to write a driver.”
Compliance and “upstream first”
The compliance message is one of the MeeGo project’s cornerstones. Time and time again over the course of the event, a speaker would mention casually that developing for MeeGo is a safe bet. The project refers to its compliance program as “stack based,” meaning that a device that ships with MeeGo uses the complete MeeGo code base, and that any vendor applied patches do not break API or ABI compatibility. Thus, a software component that is developed for MeeGo will work on a handset, a netbook, or an embedded device — at least for a particular MeeGo release; forward-compatibility is difficult to guarantee. The message is one that OEMs and device makers need to hear — everyone plays by the same rules, and as a result, everyone gets a stable and dependable base platform.
Hand in hand with it, though, was the message that MeeGo is full-fledged, “upstream first” distribution project compatible with the current releases of all of the same components that comprise Fedora, Ubuntu, openSUSE, Gentoo, Debian, or any other Linux desktop. The same kernel, libraries, graphics stack, audio layer, network tools; even the same core applications. Device makers and commercial application vendors are sure to love the “no fragmentation” promise inherent there, but other Linux developers ought to like it for another reason: ultimately it’s just another Linux distribution, not a fork or a “special” case. And that means the development community gets to focus on what it does best: creating applications.