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Intel looks beyond Nokia for new MeeGo markets

In-car systems and set-top boxes will be key for the OS, as Microsoft promises its new friend 500 updates to WP7


Published: 24 May, 2011

READ MORE: Intel | OS | MeeGo | Windows Phone

As Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer woos the Nokia base with promises of "500 updates" in the next release of WP7, Intel is luring developers to the operating system Nokia spurned, MeeGo. Now that Nokia has put MeeGo on the back burner, Intel is looking beyond handsets and positioning the OS for next generation, cloud oriented devices such as in-car systems, cloudbooks and set-top boxes.

This could play to the open, browser-focused strengths of MeeGo, which was created by merging Intel's and Nokia's respective Linux platforms, Moblin and Maemo, in 2010. It will allow Intel to build an ecosystem outside the handset world, rather than engaging in a David and Goliath battle with Android.

The only sector where MeeGo is almost certain to succeed is in the connected car, where it already has a strong position, and this application took center stage at Intel's developer conference for the platform, held in San Francisco on Monday. The event attracted a larger number of developers than the previous year's session, and the program was looking resolutely beyond Nokia. Although the Finnish giant promises to launch a MeeGo device this year, and may resurrect the platform for future cloud products, it has made WP7 its primary OS.

Jim Zemlin, head of the Linux Foundation, which hosts MeeGo, said the OS was already commercial in embedded systems such as cars, and in the WeTab tablet from German vendor 4titoo. Zemlin said MeeGo could have the same disruptive effect on emerging device formats that other Linux variants had on servers, shifting the focus and economics towards the open source community. "We're really in the first five minutes of a very long game with MeeGo," Zemlin said.

In the auto market, Nissan Motor is working on MeeGo-based in-car entertainment systems and other electronics. Nissan said it favored an open source platform because it reduced cost and allowed third party apps to be easily incorporated. And Amino Communications is using MeeGo for a set-top box for Telecom Italia, which combines conventional and web TV. Intel is also pushing MeeGo into low cost laptops for deprived communities, under the One Laptop Per Child initiative.

However, Dawn Foster, a MeeGo community organizer at Intel, sounded a note of caution, saying it was an "awkward time" because the market was waiting for the devices that would prove the OS's viability. "A lot of companies are working on bringing devices to market, but they are not willing to talk about them yet," she said in her address. "People aren't willing to spend a lot of time learning a new SDK and APIs when there aren't a lot of devices in the market."

Meanwhile, the attentions of the Nokia developer base have been forcibly switched towards WP7, and Microsoft is holding its official announcement of the Mango upgrade today in New York. Ballmer has already given some hints, promising at a speech at the Microsoft Dev Forum in Japan that there will be "over 500 new features" added to WP7. More details later today.

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