Until a week ago, I knew virtually nothing about MeeGo. I had known it was an attempt by Nokia and Intel at creating a new OS for Nokia's smartphone line, and that was about it.

This week I attended MeeGoConf on a whim, as it was being hosted in Dublin so I wouldn't have to go out of my way to attend. As a direct result, I have been bitten by the MeeGo bug; there is so much potential here that I never would have expected given its heritage.

MeeGo is less about Nokia trying to be relevant, and more about the open source community creating the future Linux OS for embedded devices (smartphones, tablets, netbooks, in-vehicle entertainment and television). It's a full Linux distribution, a MeeGo 'Core'. For each device platform, there's a corresponding 'UX' (User eXperience); if you install the netbook version of MeeGo you're seeing the 'Netbook UX'. Evolved from Moblin, the Netbook UX is the most far-along and usable of the UXes.

Intel went out of their way at this conference to prove MeeGo to the attendees; what better way to convince someone something is worthwhile than to provide them with it for free and let them just use it themselves? Intel did just that, giving each of the ~700 third-party attendees a free Lenovo IdeaPad tablet netbook running MeeGo (to satisfy the nerdy body of attendees, everyone had to install the OS themselves from provided USB keys; the choice at collection was 'Broadcom' WiFi driver or 'open source' one :o) ).

MeeGo's Netbook UX is really well suited to touchscreen devices, and I was blown away by how smooth and responsive input was (stark contrast to Windows 7 on a touchscreen). I knew this was just the tip of the iceberg however, and I wanted to get the Handset (smartphone) UX up on running on my new tablet. A bit of massaging later (I lie, a *lot* of massaging - I now have the entire filesystem memorized) and I had my IdeaPad set up so I can switch between Netbook and Handset UX at a whim.

I went on a hacking spree after that, forcibly installing MeeGo on both my N900 and Nexus One. Right now, the Handset UX isn't usable for anything. It's just a pre-alpha glimpse of something with great potential. My N900 had previously convinced me that maybe Nokia wasn't going to wither into irrelevance after all (the OS, Maemo, that preceded MeeGo is very slick, and a stark contrast to Symbian S60), but now I'm downright excited to get my hands on a real MeeGo device, like the forthcoming N9.

MeeGo looks like it has legs, and is a distinct, user-friendly OS. But, influenced by the N900 that came before it, MeeGo is also a hacker's dream. A fully open-source OS that has a full Fedora-based Linux distribution under the hood and can potentially run desktop apps without issue (MeeGo's Netbook UX is a better Chrome OS than Chrome OS itself!). There's definitely another 6-8 months work before consumers can be entrusted with it, but from listening to the sessions all week it's clear that the people in charge are on the right track and know what they need to do to match the competition in the user experience space. I only hope that, like the N900, MeeGo handsets retain the Terminal app on the homescreen and the built-in SSH server. :-)

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