Mer – again!

Remember Mer? That attempt to build a free Maemo distribution by replacing the closed source parts of Maemo (yes, there were some), which was halted when MeeGo was introduced? Remember that Mer stood for “Maemo Reconstructed? Well, if you don´t remember that, I didn´t remember the second part, either.

Now that MeeGo is, say, abandoned, Mer is live again.

It´s a little complicated to understand all this. First of all, there wasn´t just one “MeeGo” distribution, there were at least two – the open source project, Nokias MeeGo (Harmattan (N9, N950)) and so on. Talking of releases, this becomes a mess, so I don´t want to go into detail.

Now that Intel, The Linux Foundation and the LiMo Foundation (that backed the MeeGo competitor “LiMo” before, which is better defined as a set of technologies or a middleware than as a mobile OS (unlike Android, ..)) moved on to build something new again, which they call “Tizen”, there are (naturally) some MeeGo developers – or to put it differently – some parts of the MeeGo community, that don´t really like this move (towards HTML5, towards yet another platform initiative) and want to go on with MeeGo. For all these people, Mer is a vehicle.

As I may be not all correct with this post, I highly recommend you to read Carsten Munks Mailing List post.

Make sure to check out this Mer blog, too.

Breaking news: TIZEN is LiMo+MeeGo+HTML5

It´s a nice day, the weather in Munich is awesome, but I am staying in during lunch break to write this article on what just happened today.

Today Tizen was announced. Tizen is yet another Linux based operating system, which replaces (read: probably merges) LiMo and MeeGo into one common platform which is supposed to be optimized for HTML5 apps.

While MeeGo relying pretty heavily on Qt and LiMo was known for it´s use of GTK+ (in its fourth release GTK+ was joined by EFL, but as there are no known devices build around the LiMo r4 platform, let´s forget this here ;) ), this is a change to, let´s call it “Linux + Something (doesn´t really matter, as all of the afore mentioned Toolkits/Frameworks include their own flavour of WebKit) + WebKit.

The first release of Tizen, which is backed by Intel, Samsung, The Linux Foundation and most likely other players is going to be released alongside an SDK in the first quarter of 2012. Tizen is meant to run on a variety of different classes of devices, namely Smartphones, Tablets, Netbooks, In-Vehicle Infotainment Systems and Smart TVs.

Comment

I am not really sure what to make out of all this. It feels like an insane stunt. While it certainly makes sense to merge two foundering platforms, the HTML5 move seems odd and nothing else, considering that webOS, which was build using these exact technologies, is dying, partly because of its extensive use of these technologies which simply aren´t that mature yet (webOS always had speed issues). There is one more concern: Is there the room for yet another platform? With Windows 8 coming to ARM, Android being really huge and still growing (despite all the issues it is facing), there is not that much room for another player, as Apple has a large share of the market, too.And then there is Chrome OS, which is basically a glorified web browser, a competitor which may be (when first mass market aimed Tizen devices will surface, it will likely be late 2012 or 2013) different and stronger than we expect it to be right now.

However, I wish the new Tizen project the very best luck and success, because I believe that the market and the users need a truly open alternative. Tizen could fill this vacancy, let´s hope it will do!

SOURCE: Tizen.org, MeeGo, LiMo

Comment: Why HP should send a huge Thank You to S. Elop

Let´s face it: Many people like the Nokia MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan / Maemo 6 presented on the Nokia N9 – if you read the negative comments, these show concerns about buying a device which is abandoned on release, they dislike the last years Hardware platform or ask the “What about apps?” question – if Nokia hadn´t discontinued the MeeGo platform, one of these negative points wouldn´t be there, and the other two would be addressed by future devices over time (I think I read once that OMAP4 is pin compatible to OMAP3).

One of too many webOS 2.1.0 bugs (Device: Palm Pre Plus)

But let´s think about to whom the the Nokia MeeGo platform would have been a strong competitor. Many of you may think Android, and while this absolutely right in the long term, in short and mid term Nokias Meego platform would have been more of a competitor to the smaller smartphone operating systems / ecosystems, such as Windows Phone 7 or HP webOS, which are chosen by their loyals because of their usability, which is less flawed than Androids (menu button, multi tasking).

Nokias MeeGo platform is as it is (in its nearly abandoned state) already a strong competitor to what HP webOS is like – both systems are all about gesture powered multitasking. Let´s look deeper. HP webOS is – and I am sorry to say that – is flawed by the web technologies it´s using – JavaScript still is not running as fast as seasoned programming languages, and besides that, there will be some work necessary to speed up system services – just compare the HP TouchPads Sun Spider benchmark scores – the TouchPad is the most advanced version of webOS and surely requires some more polishing, as this is the first public release we are dealing with here (and no, it´s not the hardware´s fault, I´ve seen benchmarks were the Qualcomm platform smoked the Tegra2 used in most Android tablets out there).

MeeGo, as being a still rather new development on top of very seasoned technologies, performs a lot better (which has a huge impact, you have to consider that these devices are mobile, and less CPU usage is automatically connected with better battery life..), and as Nokia´s MeeGo UI is more than competitive, this platform with Nokia’s experience in the mobile sector (which while HP / Palm have some too should be superior) could have easily made it to the third position on the market, with a huge gap to Android and iOS still, but better than the rest. Nokia opted against a clear MeeGo push though, so this is all theory (most likely they would have stuck to the way inferior Symbian too much, anyway) – thanks to S. Elop,HP has another chance.

Success, however, is something that requires more than just good ideas, even more than astonishing products (that HP doesn´t have yet, the TouchPad, Veer and Pre³ are in many ways inferior). An alliance with Samsung (that build smartphones with Android, Windows Phone 7, Bada and LiMo already) could help with great hardware, but possibly killed HPs own margins and besides that, it´s the software which until now still isn´t more than a set of brilliant usability concepts that is sort of usable. HP has the chance to fix their issues, which are many – as Elop gave them some more time.

Computex 2011 – A Round Up / The Highlights

This years Computex is almost over, but I still haven´t posted anything about it. (I didn´t finish my post on Google I/O as well, but that´s another story.)

I think I am able to sum up the whole Computex 2011 up in one post, though. There weren´t many highlights that fit into a blog that is about Linux on mobile devices in my humble opinion. Android tablets have been available for months, dual core smartphones are in the electronic stores as well – and the next mayor iteration of Google Android, “Ice Cream Sandwhich” which will unite smartphones and tablets again, is still to far away to see any devices on a consumer electronics tradeshow (leaks may happen soon).

Hardware:
Intel
The Intel vs. ARM (including SoC manufaturers like nVidia, Samsung, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm and many others) battle continues. Intel and partners showed off many new netbooks built around the newest Atom platform “Cedar Trail”, which will be slightly more performant and much less power hungry. The real interesting thing that Intel introduced is a new category of ultra mobile powerhouses built around Intels “Sandy Bridge” and  (later) “Ivy Bridge” platforms – devices only slightly larger than netbooks while being a lot thinner and powerful than your average netbook. Intel call these devices Ultrabooks and I´ve started a blog specifically on this new category of devices: Ultrabooknews.net

Intel was rather silent, and I didn´t stumble on any news of new Intel powered smartphones. Apparently Intel has nothing to offer that could beat the new ARM dual core superphones, “Medfield” isn´t ready yet, and “Moorestown” was spotted in some new tablets, just like “Oak Trail”.

Let´s get back to netbooks: MeeGo will run on some extra cheap netbooks like the ASUS EeePC X101 – featuring a new “Pine Trail” version, the N435 running at 1,33 GHz – and while I love the fact that MeeGo will come preinstalled on netbooks, I can´t recommend these devices: They are underpowered and most likely aren´t that much cheaper (than standard netbooks) that they´re worth buying.

ARM
Quadcores are coming and Cortex A15 designs as well – all in 2011. Graphics are one key differentiator between all these upcoming SoCs – and I actually recommend those featuring ARM Mali Graphics, if they aren´t too inferior in performance:  ARM is more likely to offer open graphic drivers than Imagination Technologies (PowerVR SGX family), nVidia or Qualcomm and have one other differentiating feature: OpenCL. Let´s get back to Computex, though.

Software:
MeeGo
MeeGo 1.2 is getting ready to roll out on netbooks. Tablets (or even smartphones) on MeeGo 1.2 will be relatively rare things, though, as at least the OpenSource UIs simply need some more time to mature (not to speak of real MeeGo apps).

On webOS and Android there were even less news at Computex, and it´s not necessary to mention that there were plenty of new not exactly Android devices on display at the tradeshow.


Competition:
Microsofts next OS, Windows 8, will, as you should already know, support the ARM platform as well. Microsoft showed off some UI teasers, which while close to Windows Phone 7´s popular “Metro UI” really looks very promising and sounds great technically (HTML5 instead of Silverlight), so promising that I am really exited about it and hope for Open Source platforms to adopt some of the features of it, e.g. the two apps aside thing. Of course “old style” apps will be supported as well on the – it´s going to run on everything.
It´s the first time ever that MSFT managed to get me really exited about their stuff.

Devices
My two favorite devices of this years Computex were shown by ASUS: The “Ultrabook” UX21 and the PadFone (which is exactly what its name suggests: A phone with a Pad Dock, much like the Motorola Atrix, only better.

Now it´s time for the most important part of this roundup:
The Video linklist:

Windows 8 for Tablets – detailed demonstration (Netbooknews.com)
Malata Cedar Trail netbooks (Canoe Lake and a convertible Key Lake) (Netbooknews.com)
Acer M500 MeeGo Tablet (Netbooknews.com)
ASUS UX21 Hands On by Netbooknews.com
ASUS PadFone Hands On + Details (Netbooknews.com)
ASUS EeePad MeMO (3D) Hands On (now with Honeycomb) (Netbooknews.com)
ZTE Light  2Tablet with 7” PixelQi screen (ARMdevices.net)
Solar powered PixelQi Tablet (ARMdevices.net)

Samsung GT-i8320 – Impressions of the LiMo compliant Vodafone 360 OS

Of course I didn´t get the Samsung H1 / GT-i8320 to use it with the preinstalled system, a LiMo compliant system made customized for the 360 service of Vodafone (an european operator), I bought one to play with the original software, bought it to try MeeGo, Android, SHR and other software on this. But right now I am using it with the original LiMo compliant software – features like FM Radio or the quite ok camera don´t work on Android yet (H1droid, which, btw, was sluggish from time to time (not due to Ram shortage)) and they are nice to have.



In fact, the original OS on the H1 is not too bad. Its UI is certainly not for business use, rather for the young, social animal. Nontheless the Facebook application for the 360 platform is disappointing, and I didn´t find a twitter client (and there won´t be one, as the 360 platform has been discontinued by Vodafone).
It´s not the first time that I want to write: “Good ideas poorly carried out.” In a way this is different though. As there is no public SDK for native software (only a SDK for widgets), you don´t find much software – some doesn´t work (I tried to run a chinese FBreader port, which didn´t install).. nontheless, out there are tons of applications that could run on this LiMo r2 compliant software platform, as it is build around GTK+ and clutter. And that´s not all: Some J2ME apps don´t run well, permission settings for these are crippled and makes using some of these painful (read: those requiring permissions, e.g. for web access).
Think of Abiword embedded, fbreader-gtk, pidgin or gwibber or the GPE PIM apps – great opportunities missed due to the closed nature of a platform, that was sold as a smartphone platform, but in reality, as it exists, offers no more than a feature phone platform would. 

As you may have guessed already, I will spend my free time (as soon as I will have free time again) to try porting those FOSS applications to the LiMo compliant 360 OS.

If you love videos, I recommend this video review by phonearena.com.

LiMo R4 announced, devices to come?

When LiMo 3 was released, nobody was really excited – it was last year in february, and at that time Intel and Nokia got all the attention for their MeeGo announcement, and besides that, Android was becoming huge at that time. Now, with MeeGo being pretty much dead in the handheld / smartphone form factor, this may change. While there wasn´t much reaction on the announcement of  LiMo 4 during MWC this might change as soon as devices will be out (there is not a single LiMo 3 device available in Europe, btw).

When you look at the LiMo platform architecture overview, and you know what this looked like before, you notice that there is a new UI stack: EFL – Enlightenment Foundation Librarys. In fact, this is a contribution by Samsung, who hired Carsten Haitzler, BDFL of this project, a while ago.

At CeBIT 2011 I had the chance to talk to C. Haitzler for about half an hour, and he told me that “there will be something in the future” – of course he can´t talk about anything, but with Samsung investing in EFL to get a faster UI stack into LiMo, it´s likely that there will be Samsung LiMo based device later this year (he also told me that there is no EFL inside Bada), I guess that there will be an announcement in summer. I´ll not speculate just quote a few lines he wrote in his blog:

Samsung is putting real resources behind EFL and using it to make a production-ready OS. The OS not only is Linux based, It uses all the other infrastructure from Linux (DBus, Glibc, Xorg, and much much much more). It is also going to be Open Source (GPL, LGPL etc.) and with Opensource upstream gaining contributions back from Samsung.

This is a real effort and not just some research experiment. Stay tuned. Things will only improve from here. If you were hoping for a slew of MeeGo handsets, then maybe you should also keep an eye out for something from Samsung (actual product details not available yet – if it be a tablet, handset or TV or anything else for that matter).

Many of you will ask: Why LiMo? This question has to be asked, I totally agree. The great thing about LiMo is that it builds on “real GNU/Linux” – Android doesn´t, it just uses the kernel and some more small parts, but it has it´s own framebuffer UI stack (no X), its own C library “bionic” (no (e)glibc) and so on. Still, opensource people haven´t been exactly exited about LiMo – LiMo phones aren´t hackable (LiMo2 phones like the Samsung GT-i8320 (sold as Vodafone 360 H1 in Europe) have non writeable rootfs (cramfs) and locked bootloaders, and there were open alternatives like Openmoko. With Openmoko no more in the smartphone market, and it´s dated at release hardware aging even more, this issue is partly solved – while contribution and hacking on LiMo still will be difficult with LiMo being a middleware and an IP pool. Consumers didn´t really like LiMo phones, either – LiMo based deviceslacked an ecosystem in the past, there were few native applications and no free SDK. But these issues are addressable, and with EFL, next generation LiMo based phones will have a blazing fast UI which certainly will be fascinating, and feel more fluid than comparable Android devices. There might be a comeback.

A day at CeBIT. Again.

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I am starting this very subjective write up sitting on a chair in the Webciety’s Bloggers Lounge and I feel pretty tired and exhausted – it‘s just as it has been the years before. You walk around all day and spend time out there, go hands on with the few devices you are interested here, talk to booth people… There are great moments and less great – this time there were few less great ones, even the sun was shining all the time, which I never experienced in CeBIT seasons Hannover.

After having strolled around many booths in many halls,  I visited a place that is a must for a guy writing about Linux, the Open Source park, which is a rather small area full of people that show off their more or less popular projects. Among many business related projects (including some I´ ve never heard of, as I am a little bit ashamed to admit) and more popular ones like Firefox 4 and LibreOffice I stumbled on a small Enlightenment corner and there on Carsten „raster“ Haitzler, who, as some of you may remember, was once involved into the Openmoko project. I talked to him for quite some time, first in german (as his father´s german) then in english about Linux, Android, toolkits on mobile devices. As you can read on his website as well, he´s with Samsung now, who are investing heavily into Enlightenment to build a platform on – which will actually be LiMo r4 compliant (there is EFL in LiMo r4, not only GTK+, cairo, clutter and so on). He showed me some EFL demos on an obviously Samsung built device on par with Galaxy S (using Hummingbird and an (approx.) 3.7“ WVGA screen) – most likely a developer model of the never released Samsung H2 / GT-i8330 hardware, which was supposed to be released during last summer, but didn´t make it (at least on Vodafone in Europe). I think I will write a dedicated article about what we talked about as soon as possible, because it really was great to talk about the downfall of MeeGo (back to Moblin, mostly – a fact he wasn´t too unhappy about, working on LiMo, which is certainly a rival to MeeGo on handsets.

Besides that, I didn´t hang out for too long in CeBIT´s OpenSource paradise (it was so crowded!) and headed on to webciety to get a little rest while listening to some panels I didn´t plan to listen too (at the one I had on my schedule, one about tablets with the MeetMobility guys + 2 others (a Qualcomm representive + @petweetpetweet) I arrived late, just to get a rest after all these tablet hands ons (in fact I used my partly broken (headset jack) Palm Pre to capture a hands on with the Hanvon A116 tablet, but I will have to edit it before uploading, so don´t expect that before saturday) and walking (I liked both ASUS Android tablets I wrote about recently (the MeMO and the Transformer, of which the latter really features amazing build quality and a really great finish), and then went on to have a look at some more devices before coming back late to the panel I just mentioned. After that, I managed to talk to @sascha_p for a few minutes, exchange business cards and head on to Huawei, were I had a look at their Android devices, entry level and up before „winning“ a Vodafone 246 dumb phone at the stand of a popular german PC magazine, which was about the last thing I did before heading out to catch my train.

If you want to, have a look at the photos I took.

The Nokia WP7 announcement: A late comment.

While everybody else is preparing for CeBIT, which I will attend, too (though just for one day) I want to spend some time on pointing out my opinion on Nokia´s WP7 deal.

Knowing not too much about Symbian (I actually never head a Symbian cell phone / smart phone), but having watched the evolvement of mobile platforms during the past years, this announcement saddened me when I heard of it. Not just because I dislike Microsoft (I admire them for their success, but believe that their market domination is not a good thing), much more because I am supportive of open source software.

While Nokia´s previous MeeGo / Symbian strategy had a common factor (Qt) and, as now leaked out, were to get about the same user interface / UX, which meant a huge commitment to opensource software due to the opensourced nature of Symbian and the fact that MeeGo is Linux based and Qt is an opensource toolkit, originally developed by a company called Trolltech, this announcement put an end to this, as Nokia officials stated that Qt wouldn´t be ported over to WP7 and as Microsoft doesn´t allow GPLv3 (or similar) licensed software on its relatively new (and thus relatively immature) mobile platform, this meant a slap in the face of the open source community. Nokia will release a developer aimed follow up to the Maemo5 running N900 this year though, most likely this phone will be called N950 and be a keyboardless, touchscreen only device, running MeeGo – probably on silicon by Intel (Medfield).

The move towards WP7, including the dumping of Symbian and making MeeGo a “playground for future research”, didn’t come as too much of a surprise. Nokia´s smartphone smartphone sales continued to drop down, and a while ago the MeeGo lead at Nokia, Ari Jaaski, left after a new CEO was in charge: Steven Elop, who had worked at Microsoft before. Then, only a few days before Nokia announced its new partnership, Symbian^4 was canceled with Nokia saying, that they would stop the versioning of Symbian (which isn´t the worst idea ever, especially if you failed to fulfill reviewers expectations before, as major releases raise expectations) – it all sounded strange, and the WP7 rumors became more and more powerful.

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Eldar Murtazin, editor in chief of mobile-review.com, a russia-based website which has been reviewing mobile phones (smartphone and “normal ones”) for ages (in a very good and detailed way, better than all german magazines on this very topic I ever sneaked a look at), has written a few very interesting articles about this move (which he doesn´t consider a wise one) which features data that is quite interesting: The numbers of employees at Nokia and what they are assigned to.  Looking at these numbers, 6200 people working on Symbian (kernel + UI / UX) in comparison to what reviewers voices were makes you think: Now what do all these girls and guys do?

Actually, it might just be a slow release schedule that makes all these employees seem so lazy, as there will be one more mayor UI/UX overhaul for Symbian later this year – if you wonder, why Nokia does this, just look at the scheduled release of their first WP7 phone: It won´t be on the market that soon (christmas?), so Nokia has to keep Symbian alive to sell at least some handsets – and they do so without too many tears and crying, as Symbian development is being generously supported by the European Union (when I read about this for the first time, I only thought: What the h***?).

Many people have been asking what will happen to Qt when Nokia has killed (the previously tax payer funded) Symbian in 2013 or 2014 and MeeGo just remains a playground for R&D and a few others at Nokia – I don´t know the answer, but as this is a widely successful technology, I doubt that Nokia will dump it to the trash bin – they´ll much rather try to sell it, as this transition will be a costly process – and I am sure they will find a buyer, maybe Intel, as MeeGo relies on Qt quite heavily. 

All in all, this seems to be a sad move away from what sounded to be a promising idea: Symbian and MeeGo based smartphones with alike Qt based UI/UX – it´ s a move that happens before delivery. Nokia will face hard times with WP7 just as it would have with MeeGo/Symbian, it´s doubtable whether this move helps Nokia to bring down cost as they will have to pay a few US$ for each and every license. The winner of this move is Microsoft, as Nokia becomes the most committed WP7 handset manufacturer, and they gain access to Nokia´s OviMaps (some people bought Symbian phones just because of the free offline navigation Nokia offers) – Nokia remains struggling, just as it has been before.

Qt for Android

With Nokia dropping its great sounding, not too well delivered platform strategy which was heavily Qt (a software that was called a toolkit years ago and now is more than this) based in favour of Windows Phone 7, there were lots of people asking what would be the future of Qt now. With Intel continuing to support MeeGo and the fact that Qt is a great platform to create software that works natively on Mac OS X, Windows and Linux – and we shouldn´ t forget about the K Desktop Environment here – there is one more indicator that makes a survival of Qt within or without Nokia more likely, no matter what happens to the Qt unit within Microsoft´s new puppet: An enthusiast, Bogdan Vatra, announced a Qt port to todays dominating mobile platform, Android. It´s named Necessitas Suite.

Necessitas at sourceforge

Annoucement in the Android-Qt google group

Via: Slashdot: First alpha of Qt for Android released