When Canonical announced its Ubuntu Light platform for netbooks and platforms Monday morning, a lot of fuss was made about the new Unity interface, the capability of Ubuntu Light to act as an instant-on environment for users of these devices who just want to surf, and the general coolness of the plan.
Now that the dust has settled, here's a question: where does this leave the Ubuntu Moblin Remix?
The answer, apparently, is nowhere.
That's the word from Gerry Carr, Marketing Manager for Canonical, when asked about the status of Ubuntu Moblin (now MeeGo) Remix now that Ubuntu Light has come out.
Carr's reply was simple and direct: "We are not planning another version of Ubuntu Moblin Remix."
This is significant for a variety of reasons. Just last September, Dell launched a Moblin 2-based product, the Mini 10n, though it was explicit in cautioning users that this was still an experimental platform, meant for developers and experienced users. Not exactly a hard sell. It seems likely that Canonical will be asking Dell to sell its Ubuntu Light platform instead, once it's fully baked, though Canonical did not comment on this conjecture when asked.
Of course, Moblin isn't "Moblin" anymore, not after Intel joined the project with Nokia's Maemo operating system in February of this year and renamed the project to MeeGo. The MeeGo project is stewarded by the Linux Foundation, which began to steward the Moblin project in April 2009.
Initially designed for handheld mobile Internet devices (MIDs), Moblin-turned-MeeGo development has focused on being a netbook OS, likely because MID sales aren't exactly booming, and Atom-based netbooks are comparatively doing much better. Beyond the Dell Mini 10n option, still available on the Dell website, there aren't exactly a lot of Moblin devices on the market yet. Foxcomm announced a Linpus Lite Moblin V2 netbook in May 2009, and MSI may beat Dell to market with their U135 netbook offering.
But industry support for Moblin, or MeeGo, has not been widespread. At CES in January, Intel CEO Paul Otellini demoed the LG GW990, a smartphone running Moblin on a Moorestown processor, which generated significant buzz at the time. But at the end of April, Engadget confirmed the GW990 "has been wiped off the product roadmap"--a mere three months after the smartphone was announced.
Did the Moblin/Maemo merger to MeeGo have something to do with this decision? Engadget thinks it might, and it's hard to ignore that conclusion. Indeed, it may be why Ubuntu decided to move forward with its homegrown Unity interface instead of Moblin/MeeGo's GUI. Are vendors losing confidence in MeeGo now that it has effectively gone back to the drawing board?
Whatever the reasons for these shifts in direction, the effect on MeeGo is significant: not only has MeeGo lost a partner/outlet in Canonical, but it potentially has lost a big hardware outlet for future MeeGo installs, too.
Intel (and now Nokia and other partners in the MeeGo project) have a serious challenge ahead of them, and they don't need MeeGo partners and sales channels shrinking now--they need them growing. And, more significantly, there needs to be a MeeGo product out and soon.
Why? When Android was first announced, there was a long lag-time for the platform to hit the market, and a lot of industry observers were wondering if it could remotely challenge the then-dominance of the iPhone. But it did, and quite well too.
That was then, and this is now. I was discussing this topic with a friend of mine today, and he pointed out that the market was just iPhone vs. Android when Android finally showed up to play. When MeeGo gets out into the marketplace, its going to be MeeGo vs. Android vs. iPhone vs. (now) HP's WebOS. If MeeGo is targeted at the smartphone arena, this is a very crowded field. It won't be as bad in the tablet space: MeeGo would have to seriously contend with just the iPad and whatever Android-based tablet Google and Verizon cook up.
And that's the real question: where will MeeGo find the best platform to get a foothold? A continuation of it's netbook-centric development seems logical, despite Canonical's recent move away from MeeGo. There are no indications that Novell is planning on changing the status of the SUSE MeeGo platform and obviously the same holds true for MeeGo within the Fedora Project, since Moblin was originally based on Fedora. There's a catch, though: neither Novell or the Fedora Project have historically shown much interest in or success with, respectively, working with OEM partners to deliver pre-loaded devices to end users.
Ultimately, it will be up to hardware vendors to decide if they want to use MeeGo, and how. To date, there seems to be only one firm product in the pipeline: "a MeeGo powered Moorestown mobile phone on sale in the UK by the end of 2010," according to Pocket-lint. The vendor will be Nokia, no surprise there. But there must be more MeeGo devices for MeeGo to make a dent in the embedded market.
If MeeGo delivers a crazy-good platform, then users will flock to it for its goodness alone. But for consumers to use the MeeGo platform, someone's going to have to sell the MeeGo platform. For now, that won't be Dell or Canonical.