The operating system scene is bubbling with Windows 7 being the clear winner and early builds of Windows 8 being made available to public. In this chaos, there are a few other platforms based on Linux being designed specifically for small screen devices, such as tablets and netbooks. One of these talked about OS' is MeeGo. MeeGo was designed to be an operating system for mobile phones, tablets and netbooks. It has been around for a while in different forms. We reviewed the ASUS X101H, a netbook that comes bundled with MeeGo. There a couple of other netbooks by other manufacturers that come with MeeGo instead of the usual Windows 7.
Operating systems designed for netbooks aren’t a new phenomenon and there’s a ton happening on that front. Google, for example have their Chromebooks, which run a bare bone operating system with a variant of the Chrome browser. Dependence on web-based services is high. Google isn’t the only one to take this approach, there are other netbook operating systems, such as Ubuntu Netbook Edition and Jolicloud.
The main screen – high on social networking content
MeeGo’s popularity on the netbooks is slowly increasing, so it’s time we look to see how good or easy the experience is. We used the ASUS X101H that came preinstalled with the MeeGo operating system. You don’t need to buy a MeeGo netbook to experience it, though. If you have a netbook and want it to give it a run, head over to MeeGo’s site. There are disc images available for download. The latest stable build was version was 1.2.
The user interface is unique and different from most other operating systems designed for netbooks. The interface looks simple enough, and this particular build on the X101h has the Asus branding on it. Apart from that, the interface is identical to any other MeeGo build. Of course, mobile versions of MeeGo designed to run on ARM devices, such as the Nokia N900 have a different user interface.
As netbooks have limited resolution displays, workspace is also limited. The interface uses large colourful icons. While this might look pretty, it’s not the most efficient use of space. Smaller icons and text could’ve been better. There’s a chance of losing the elegance and simplicity of the design, though.
Calender and Tasks application for MeeGo
The top of the interface has a bar that contains key applications. The main screen is lined with social networking widgets for Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. The left panel has a list of applications and other modules that belong in a personal information manager software. For example, you can set appointments and maintain a list of tasks through the interface. You’re then taken to a separate application, which is isolated from the main user interface. Once the entries are made, they appear in the side menu. The same is the case with the appointments feature. The bulk of the applications that don’t show up in the top menu can be found under the Applications menu. Like on any other operating system, all of the applications are sorted. Most of the apps are Linux software that run in a full screen environment.
Click on the Internet tab and it opens up the Chromium browser window. The browser behaves more or less the same way as it does on other operating systems.
The integrated browser view
New tabs open within the window, but if you open up a new window, it spawns as a separate instance. Multitasking is then done by pressing Alt-Tab and you can return to the main screen using the Windows key.
At its core, MeeGo looks and feels like any other Linux distribution. It becomes even more obvious when you enable the instant messenger built into MeeGo. Empathy is an all-in-one messenger client that supports everything from IRC to Facebook Chat. Once setup, all conversations and instant messengers appear in the People module of the interface. It’s a slightly different approach to using programs like you normally would on a mainstream OS such as Windows.
MeeGo isn’t all about instant messengers, browsers and media playback. It also comes bundled with the OpenOffice office suite. Like all of the other software on it, this too runs in full-screen mode.
Office suites visible in the detailed application list
Unlike tablets, where data can’t be saved very easily to a local storage, on netbooks this isn’t a problem. This makes MeeGo really versatile.
MeeGo was designed to run low-power hardware such as netbooks. It’s not particularly fast from what we’ve seen. Bootup, for example takes 38 seconds on an Intel Atom based netbook, which isn’t too fast. Shutdown is relatively quicker – it happens in approximately 8 seconds. There’s also a somewhat sluggish feel to the interface as menus and applications take a little long to load. So, while it’s simple to use and practical to a fair extent, it’s not made for power users who want to quickly jump between applications very often.
A simplified version of the Control Panel
MeeGo is a very laid back operating system. It doesn’t try to be very geek-friendly. The interface design has similarities to the mobile version. The interface lends itself to a touchscreen enabled device, too. MeeGo does come across as a more advanced version of Moblin, something Intel was solely working on for a while, in the past. MeeGo is more mature, more usable and possibly more compatible with most of the netbooks out there. There’s potential and you could surely live with MeeGo.
Future of MeeGo
MeeGo’s future is uncertain on the phone. After Nokia decided to go the Windows Phone 7 way, there’s speculation whether the platform will survive on mobiles. Intel continues to support MeeGo and Tizen will be MeeGo’s future face. It’s being taken care of by the Linux Foundation and LiMo Foundation, alongwith help from MeeGo developers from Intel and Samsung.