It’s been a little while since Intel and Nokia came together to merge Moblin and Maemo together to create the MeeGo project. Moblin started out as a project by Intel and the Linux Foundation to produce a Linux-based OS, interface and application stack for mobile internet devices. In February of 2009, they merged with the Maemo project that was used by Nokia in the Nseries tablets like the N770, N800, N810 and the N900 smartphone. Intel was nice enough to send me a Lenovo S10-3t convertible netbook with MeeGo preloaded so I could get a look at the state of MeeGo in version 1.1. MeeGo has 4 different user experiences they are targeting: Netbook/Tablet, Handset, ConnectedTV and In-Vehicle Infotainment. This review will cover the Netbook User Experience.
MeeGo boots up in about 30 seconds to the main MeeGo Myzone screen. This screen’s main area is dominated with a section that once configured, is dominated by updates from Twitter and recent web pages you have visited. Along the left hand side of the interface is a section for seeing your most recent calendar events and tasks, a e-mail notifier and a favorites menu. Across the top are multiple tabs that are somewhat configurable. By default they have a tab for Zones, Applications, Status, People, Internet, Media, Devices and Bluetooth. You can delete the Status, People, Internet, Media or Bluetooth tabs and replace them with a Pasteboard tab or a Gadget tab or rearrange them how you’d like. On the far right is Networks, the clock and battery indicators. This iteration looks like it is still pretty much an updated version of Moblin with no sense of any Maemo code being used.
The Zones tab is sort of a combination of virtual desktops plus application switching. When new apps are launched they are placed in their own zone. You can drag an app from one Zone to another by dragging it from one zone to another with the touchscreen or other pointing device. Zones with multiple apps will let you rearrange the apps as if they were in a window. You can use a touchscreen or mouse to do this. It’s a little touchy doing this though so I usually just keep everything full screen and an app in each zone.
The next tab is pretty straight forward and it’s the application tab. From here you can launch apps and add them to your favorites so the will show up in the main My Zone page.
The next tab is the Status tab. From here you can read and send tweets and get updates from other social networks. For now, the only two here that are supported are Twitter and Last.fm.
The next tab is the People tab. This tab is primarily for chats and IM’s to your friends. It uses the Empathy application that is currently supported by the Gnome project. Because of this, it will support any IM or chat program Empathy supports. This includes Gtalk and Facebook. To start a chat or IM, you can simple tap on anyone who is available on the “Me and my people” box.
The Internet tab is a simple tab. All it does is show your current tabs in the included Chromium browser and your most often visited web pages. You can also initiate a search from this screens search box. It uses Google for its searches.
The Media tab is another interface for the included media player Banshee. One handy feature with MeeGo is even if you start playing in the full Banshee Media Player application, you can return to the Media tab and stop, fast forward, rewind or skip tracks as well as search through your media. A very nifty feature. One downside to this tab and the included Banshee application is if you just copied music to your Music folder via a file explorer or command line, you won’t be able to see it in Banshee until you have it rescan your folder. This is a little annoying but not something I am opposed to do.
The Devices tab is where you go to find out information about your computer and external storage devices. It does have device information like battery status, how full your hard drive is, the volume and screen brightness, but on the right hand side of the “Your computer” screen it has icons for Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Videos and Trash folders. If you plug-in a thumb drive or other USB mass storage device like an iPod, it will show up here on this tab. One feature I really like on this screen is the import media button. It helps you import the media on that external device right onto the netbook. Using this method of importing media not only copies the music to the netbook but also imports it right into Banshee. One downside to this import button is there does not seem to be an indicator on how long it will take to import the music or when it’s done.
The Networks tab is where you go to connect to wi-fi networks or Ethernet. You can also switch all radios off here and go into an offline or airplane mode.
Tapping on the clock brings up a screen that gives you another place to look at your appointments, tasks and also have clocks for different timezones.
Tapping on the battery icon only brings up your battery’s status.
On a touch screen device you would expect to have some sort of virtual keyboard. This is especially true on a device like this IdeaPad. The idea is you could flip the screen over the keyboard and use it in a pad/slate mode. MeeGo has no virtual keyboard by default and when you go to install one, you quickly find out that the one virtual keyboard that works is very annoying. It doesn’t even have a enter key in the default lay out. When you hit the Symbol button, you see the Enter key, but it will not work when using the keyboard to enter a URL into Chromium. There is also no way to turn this virtual keyboard off when in regular netbook mode.
The interface generally works ok on a touch screen, but it still needs some more work. It’s not nearly as good as it could be, but it would not take much work to make this easier on a touchscreen device. Browser tweaks are needed as are tweaks to some of the other built-in apps. There also needs to be a way to rotate the screen to portrait mode on this device and others like it.
The Status tab only supports Twitter and Last.fm. What about Facebook? What about Identi.ca or Status.net servers? Nope! Not there. This is something that the developers need to work on for future versions. They should look at incorporating some of the work done by the community on Gwibber or Pino if possible.
The application selection in the included Maemo Garage app is paltry compared to almost every other Linux distro there is. If you know what you are doing and are comfortable with the command line, you can find community repos to add popular software like Gpodder, Open Office, Xchat and others but for a normal end-user this would be a bit much. Java is also missing from MeeGo in its current iteration which means if you use some websites which require it, they will not work on MeeGo out of the box. I am sure it’s possible to get Java working on MeeGo, but it should either ship with it or be easily installable. There also aren’t too many apps that are specific to the MeeGo environment. Most of these started out on Linux, but there’s nothing in it that I couldn’t install on any other Linux distribution. Intel gave these to developers at their conference not too long ago, but there’s nothing in MeeGo that I can’t find elsewhere. I hope theprogram will spur some development on this platform.
The codec and multimedia support isn’t there by default in MeeGo either. You cannot play MP3′s by default and unlike Ubuntu and other Linux distributions, there isn’t an easy way to install the support. It’s possible, but again you will have to get comfortable with the command line. It should be possible to install codec support as easily as you can on Ubuntu. Also, when trying to play flash video, it would play the lower resolution Hulu streams ok, but when you’d tap on the full screen button, all you get is a white screen.
Finally there is an issue with the file systems they chose to support. By default, they chose to use btrfs for formatting of the internal drive. That’s a relatively new file system, but that really isn’t the issue I have. The issue is it does not ship with support for ext4, the default file system on almost every other Linux. This means if you have a disk formatted in ext4, MeeGo can’t read it. You have to compile a kernel module to even get support for it which is not for mere mortals. This probably is not an issue for first time Linux users, but it is indeed an issue for people like myself who have used Linux for many years.
What is there to like?
The interface is very pretty to look at and fairly simple to use. You don’t even have to install an app if all you want to do is use the web, read e-mail or sync your calendar with Google and you definitely don’t have to touch the command line. Once problems like the virtual keyboard and some hardware support is sorted out, MeeGo should be a great interface for people who haven’t used Linux before. With that said, if you are a Linux power user you should love playing around with it as well. You can tweak it to your hearts desire.
It’s blazing fast. This has to be one of the fastest Linux distros I have tried on a netbook. Some of this may have to do with the filesystem and very minimum kernel that they chose for MeeGo. Shutdown happens in less than 5 seconds and start-up is about 30. Switch to an SSD and you should have a system that is ready in less than 5 seconds.
I like what Intel is doing so far. Some hard-core Linux people may not like it, but I think it’s great that someone is trying to push the envelope of system design. Intel and the MeeGo community are trying to do something different from Ubuntu, Fedora and others are doing. They are trying to make Linux more friendly and usable by mere mortals. That’s a very good thing and something I look forward to seeing more of in the future.
MeeGo is also gaining notice by others in the community. Fedora has a MeeGo Spin in the works and companies are even starting to use it with Indamixx using it for their audio production gear. While I have not seen or heard much from Nokia on the handset builds, I believe MeeGo can build a niche in netbooks and tablets. Only time will tell if MeeGo can stick around long enough to survive.
What I liked: Easy to use interface. Very fast and slick.
What needs improvement: Needs to be able to play common codecs out of the box or with in a few minutes of the first boot up. Also needs a virtual keyboard for tablet mode devices.
Please note, that in accordance to the FTC Guidelines and Intel Corporation has covered Judie’s travel, accommodations and costs related to her visit to MWC 2011., we are disclosing that