Intel & Nokia Merge Maemo + Moblin to form MeeGo

In case you haven’t heard, Intel and Nokia are merging their respective Mobile Linux initiatives into a project called MeeGo (an unfortunate name, IMHO, but I guess that’s fairly common in the FLOSS world these days) that will be hosted by The Linux Foundation. From CNET:

Intel and Nokia are combining their respective Linux operating environments to power future smartphones and tablets, another step in a technology tie-up launched last year.

The technology merger will fuse Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo software to form a new operating environment dubbed MeeGo, which is expected to power a range of devices, including pocketable mobile computers, Netbooks, tablets, connected TVs, and in-vehicle infotainment systems.

Intel’s Moblin operating system has been offered on Netbooks from Dell, Acer, and Asus and made an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show on a future smartphone from LG Electronics. Nokia’s Maemo OS has powered its N900, a high-end smartphone that Nokia refers to as a “mobile computer”–a likely precursor for future MeeGo-based devices from the Finnish telecommunications giant.

The Intel-Nokia collaboration began in earnest in June when the two companies announced the beginning of a “long-term relationship,” focusing on developing new chip architectures, software, and a new class of Intel-based mobile computing devices. This move is part of a major shift for Intel–a giant in PC chips but not a player in cell phones.

The goal for MeeGo is to put more flesh on the bones of last year’s announcement. In short, to combine two disparate, unwieldy operating environments under one roof, said Renee J. James, a senior vice president at Intel. “Across a range of devices we’re looking to build a single Linux platform with a single developer environment and a merged API,” James said in an interview with CNET. An API, or application programming interface, is a way for a program to interact with other software.

Both companies stressed that applications that run on Moblin and Maemo will run on top of MeeGo.

Importantly, MeeGo will support equally ubiquitous ARM-architecture chips, in addition to Intel processors. “It’s going to be cross-platform. That means it supports both Intel and ARM,” James said. ARM processors are offered by Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung, and others, while Intel’s Atom processor powers Moblin-based devices today.

The official Linux Foundation page adds:

MeeGo is fully open software operating system for the next generation of computing devices. Formed by Intel and Nokia and hosted at The Linux Foundation, the MeeGo platform is set to revolutionize computing and be adopted widely by device manufacturers, network operators, software vendors and developers across multiple device types. We welcome participation in the workgroup, and encourage all ecosystem participants to join the Linux Foundation and participate more closely with the MeeGo project.

As usual, RedMonk has a very good Q & A post up. Here are a few salient bits:

Q: So this project is basically a consolidation of two projects that were competing, essentially, in the same space?
A: There was some minimal distance between the projects, actually: maemo, for example, was never aimed at the full fledged netbook market. When Nokia entered that market, remember, they went Windows 7, not maemo.

So there’s more differentiation between their target audiences than is commonly supposed. But to the point, yes: this can be considered market consolidation.

Q: Isn’t that a good thing?
A: It certainly can be. It is not clear, for example, that either project had sufficient oxygen to sustain itself indefinitely. So by joining forces, they have a better opportunity on paper.

Q: Why do you say on paper?
A: Because these are technologies that – apart from their shared kernel heritage – don’t really have all that much in common. The packaging systems are different, the UI frameworks are different, the applications are different, and so on. Meaning that not only is the merger likely to be complicated, both communities are likely to be significantly impacted.

Q: Can you give an example?
A: Consider the packaging format. Moblin, being Fedora based, uses .rpm, while maemo, being derived from Debian uses .deb. According to the FAQ, MeeGo is going to support only .rpm. In practical terms, then, all of the packages available for maemo will have to be repackaged.

Q: So they should have supported both?
A: No, that just makes things more complicated. That’s the approach they’re taking with the UI frameworks, and it’s probably not wise.

Q: How so? What’s the story with the UI frameworks?
A: Without rehashing a lot of unimportant history, let’s just say that there are two popular open source UI frameworks: GTK and Qt. Qt had generally been better thought of, technically, but until 2009 was more restrictively licensed. GTK, being more permissively licensed, was more widespread.

Both Moblin and maemo were, at their inception, GTK based, though Moblin also used Clutter, which we’ll come back to. Nokia, however, acquired in 2008 Trolltech, the vendor behind Qt. They asserted at the time that maemo would continue to be GTK, but a number of people – myself included – were skeptical. And sure enough, maemo subsequently transitioned to that UI toolkit.

Back to Clutter. A very cool OpenGL toolkit built in part by Intel acquisition OpenedHand, Clutter allows for hardware accelerated UIs via OpenGL and integrates well with GTK.

Complicated, no? The net is that there is considerable overlap between the UI technologies, but rather than annoint – or at least pick out of a hat – a winner, MeeGo is following in the footsteps of Linux desktops that preceded it, and intends to support all of the UI options.

Now, while it’s clear that Moblin and Maemo had an uphill battle ahead and long term viability was never guaranteed for either, I don’t know that it’s clear that MeeGo will fare much better. From Nokia’s statements it’s pretty clear they will be sticking with Symbian on all of their smartphones and will be putting MeeGo only on what they call “pocketable devices”. It seems unlikely then that others will attempt to use Meego on smartphones, which steers it clear of competition from Android, the iPhone and other more traditional phone OS’s. In the “pocketable devices” category though they already have competition from some established Linux distributions such as Ubuntu NetBook Remix, and ChromeOS will be ready soon. Add the soon to be released iPad to the mix and the space begins to look cluttered (zing) pretty quickly.

On the technical side, their is some compelling technology in both Maemo and Moblin. I’ve owned multiple Nokia Maemo devices and have really enjoyed them. Moblin boot times are looking extremely impressive. That being said, the two projects have some large technological differences (the RedMonk Q&A covers some of them, but think QT vs. GTK, RPM vs. deb… etc.) that will almost ensure that bits of both communities, which are fairly diminutive to begin with, will be alienated as part of the merge process. Will what remains be enough to fend off the well funded competition from Google, Apple and the others who may enter this up and coming product space? Only time will tell.

Additional Reading:
Thoughts about MeeGo
Ari Jaaksi – MeeGo time!
Official MeeGo site

–jeremy

Amazon Sells GNU/Linux down the River

From @glynmoody:

Here’s a particularly stupid move by Amazon:

Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has signed a patent cross-license agreement with Amazon.com Inc. The agreement provides each company with access to the other’s patent portfolio and covers a broad range of products and technology, including coverage for Amazon’s popular e-reading device, Kindle™, which employs both open source and Amazon’s proprietary software components, and Amazon’s use of Linux-based servers.

Microsoft has consistently refused to give any details of its absurd FUD about GNU/Linux infringing on its patents, which is not surprising, since they are likely to be completely bogus and/or trivial. So Amazon is showing real pusillanimity in making this unnecessary deal. Shame on you, Jeff.

The official press release is here. Is Microsoft out to once again start using FUD against Linux? The Financial Times seems to think it’s a possibility:

Late on Monday, it announced a patent cross-licensing deal with Amazon. Among other things, this will cover the e-commerce company’s use of Linux in its servers. That is a big deal: given Amazon’s ambitions to become one of the biggest operators of public computing “clouds”, this amounts to a major endorsement of Microsoft’s claims over some of the core IP in Linux.

There is a caveat, though: the announcement was short on detail. And that is sure to bring accusations that the software company is once again using FUD to scare other Linux users into submission.

It’s easy to predict how this will be received. Once again, Microsoft will be accused of using underhand methods to advance its claims against Linux. Remember the anger in open source circles when Linux distributor Novell reached its own deal with the devil? But the agreement still stands, and other big Linux users will be forced from now on to factor that in to their assessments of the IP risks of using the software.

As FT notes, details at this point are pretty scarce. Large companies enter into deals like this all the time though, and while it’s disappointing to see Amazon do this I can’t say it’s a huge surprise. What I do find surprising is that Microsoft decided to make a large press release about the deal. For its part, Amazon doesn’t seem to be releasing any additional comments. So is this a sign that Microsoft may once again try to get the patent FUD against Linux going? Will this force other companies to capitulate into signing similar deals? It’s too early to tell, but I hope not. I’m hoping additional details become available soon, which may help us glean some of the motivations behind the deal (which does specifically mention the Linux-based Kindle). As more details become available, I’ll post an update.

Additional Reading:
TechFlash
Financial Times
Jim Zemlin
Microsoft-Amazon IP deal dusts up old ‘target Linux’ story

–jeremy

75% of Linux code now written by paid developers

In what should come as no surprise to those who have been watching, 75% of Linux code is now written by paid developers. From the article:

Forget lofty ideals about the open-source community: most Linux kernel code is written by paid developers at major corporations.

The Linux world makes much of its community roots, but when it comes to developing the kernel of the operating system, it’s less a case of “volunteers ahoy!” and more a case of “where’s my pay?”

During a presentation at Linux.conf.au 2010 in Wellington, LWN.net founder and kernel contributor Jonathan Corbet offered an analysis of the code contributed to the Linux kernel between December 24 2008 and January 10 2010. (The kernel serves as a basis from which individual distributions such as Ubuntu, Debian or Red Hat are developed, though these will often add or remove specific features.)

A massive amount of coding went on in that period: 2.8 million lines of code and 55,000 major changes were contributed to the kernel, which evolved from version 2.6.28 to 2.6.32 over that time. “The development process is clearly quite alive and quite active,” Corbet said, noting that this amount to more than 7,000 lines of code added every day.

I’ve seen this presentation (well, an earlier version of this presentation – I was not at Linux.conf.au) by Jonathan before and I think the article changes the tone of it in an unintended way (specifically the “Forget lofty ideals about the open-source community” bit). First, Open Source has never been about unpaid labor. The fact that people conflated the meaning of free in “Free Software” long ago is something we’re still dealing with today unfortunately. Next, we’re talking about 25% of 2.8 million lines of code that were contributed by volunteers in a roughly one year span. That’s 700,000 lines of code. It’s not just a matter of how much it would have cost a company to write those lines of code, either. How many bugs fixed in those lines would never met a companies threshold for needing to be fixed? How many features added by those lines would have never made it past a managers cost-benefits analysis? In closed source software, a single unaffiliated person with extra time and the appropriate skills is never able to commit code to address these issues. That’s one reason Open Source software has been so successful.

There another point in the presentation though:

“75% of the code comes from people paid to do it,” Corbet said.

Within that field, Red Hat topped that chart with 12%, followed by Inte (sic) with 8%, IBM and Novell with 6% each, and Oracle 3%. Despite the clear commercial rivalry between those players, central kernel development worked well, Corbet noted.

So the top 5 companies, many of them direct competitors contributed 35% of the code. Unlike in some other competitive landscapes, when it comes to OSS people and companies can all be part of the same community or ecosystem. Yes, Red Hat and Novell have marketing materials and presentations on why you should choose their commercial offering. At the code level however we are all working toward the same goal… realizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. We’ve learned how damaging a monopoly can be in the software world. Having multiple viable companies with Linux offerings based on the same kernel should be seen as a strength; as a way to limit vendor lock-in. We’re far from perfect in this community, but forgetting our “lofty goals” isn’t something I think we should do just yet ;)

–jeremy

Happy New Year & Browser and OS stats for 2009

First, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year. 2009 was another great year for LQ and we have a ton in store for 2010. You may have noticed this blog has been quiescent lately. While I have been twittering regularly, the terse and off the cuff nature of twitter is markedly different than most blog entries here (the conference based live-blogging entries aside). I’d like to resume regular blogging in 2010, even if the frequency isn’t what it once was. 2010 looks to be another interesting year for Linux and Open Source, so finding material to blog about shouldn’t be too onerous.

I’ll finish this post off with the browser and OS statistics for the main LQ site for all of 2009, which I like to post after the conclusion of each year. Here’s the post from 2008, for comparison.

Browsers
Firefox 64.28%
Internet Explorer 18.23%
Mozilla 4.80%
Chrome 4.30%
Opera 3.75%
Safari 2.88%
Konqueror .98%

Note that Firefox is actually down .16% while Chrome passed Opera, Safari and Konqueror in its first year. Firefox versions are once again all over the map, with 3.0.10 being the only version above 10% of FF users at 10.70%. No version of 3.5 comes in the top five, but 3.5.3 is the most used in that branch at 6.48% (with 3.5.5 hot on its heels at 6.37%).

Operating Systems
Windows 52.73%
Linux 40.94%
Macintosh 5.43%

That’s right; both Windows and Linux are slightly down from last year, while Mac is slightly up. The most used mobile OS is the iPhone at .12%, with Android coming in at .02%.

–jeremy

LinuxCon: Beyond the Hype: The True Cost of Linux and Open Source (liveblog)

Moderator: Matt Asay
Panel: Noah Broadwater (Sesame Workshop), David Buckholtz (Sony Pictures), Anthony Roby (Accenture)

* Open Source was the number one answer for what kind of software executives are planning to implement in the next year
* roughly 4 of every 5 programmers have used some kind of Open Source. Even for .NET programmers, the number is 3 of every 5.
* Forrester has seen multiple demonstrable million plus dollar savings via Open Source implementations, including a 100M savings by Sabre.
* Accenture: Open Source allows you to tackle problems that were previously economically just not viable.
* Sesame moved to Open Source to reduce licensing costs and allow them to compete with companies like Disney while being a non-profit. They only have two developers since moving to Open Source; they previously had 10.
* Mid-sized shops that don’t look at development as a core competency is currently a place where Open Source is perceived as weak and can improve its uptake and success rates moving forward.

–jeremy

LinuxCon: Roundtable – The Linux Kernel: Straight from the Source (liveblog)

I’ll be liveblogging from LinuxCon here in Portland. I have not been posting as many traditional blog posts recently, something I’d like to remedy after LinuxCon. Stay tuned.

Panel: Bottomley (moderator), Jonathan Corbet, Greg KH, Linus Torvalds, Arjan van de Ven (detained in Holland – NP), Ted T’so and Chris Wright

Opinion on what’s the most innovative recent kernel feature:
Chris – virtualization
Jon – ftrace and performance counter framework
Greg – USB 3.0 (best thing to come out of staging: a working laptop for Linus)
Ted – expanded on Jon’s performance counters answer and then added kernel mode switching
Linus: his job has gotten much easier in the last 3 months. He really likes this… (added: “Xen will have a difficult time merging their tree into mainline as-is”)

Linus: Over the last 18 years, what has been the most inspiring or motivational aspect of the Linux kernel?
* started out being all about the technology, then become more about community and even the “fame”; these days it’s “all about the Linux kernel community”. “I really enjoy arguing”
* “The Linux kernel is a life-long calling for me”
Bottomley added: “Interestingly, the average age of kernel maintainers is continuing to rise. How do we guarantee kernel development continuity long term.
* Linus: There continues to be young people getting involved.
* Greg notes that in many cases, they don’t even know the age of maintainers
* Jon: “I don’t think we’ll lack for talent”
* Ted: roughly 50-60% of people going to the kernel summit are first timers. At the very top, however, people have remained fairly constant over time
* Chris: as we add more subsystem maintainers, people are getting more niche. It takes a fairly motivated person to get involved as a maintainer.

As the rate of kernel contributions increase and as the kernel becomes higher profile, is it getting more difficult to keep out malicious code?
* Greg: We do currently track regressions
* Linus: Our issues have never been intentionally malicious, they’ve been unintentional bugs. The only worry he’s had about malicious people, he addressed in git by cryptographically signing the public repos. This was a result of someone breaking into the bitkeeper repo years ago and being caught.
Follow up by Bottomly: as we add more code more quickly, performance has been going down 1-2% a release, with a 12% degradation in the recent past. How do we address this?
* Linus: “I’d like to tell you I had a plan”. Admits there is some bloat but says part of the issue is possibly unavoidable.

question about the state of the current sound subsystem
* Linus: “The sound subsystem isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be – don’t listen to the crazies on slashdot”.
* No sound maintainers on the panel. Dave Phillips would be a good person to ask.
* Jon: “Sound is a mess in a lot of ways. A lot of flux and professionals don’t like Pulseaudio. latency is an issue.” “I do think things are starting to get better”
* Greg: A lot of new mixing boards and actually now running embedded Linux

What would you like to see in the Linux kernel, but feel may not be feasible?
* Linus: “We’ve never hit a problem that we felt was impossible to implement and generally useful”
* Ted: “Speaking with the Microsoft NTFS team at Redmond, they have actually come up with a system remarkably close to the Linux kernel development model”

Note: 2 out of 5 of the panelists read “almost every message on LKML”. Linus was not one of them (Greg KH and Jon)

Will next year be the year of the Linux desktop?
* Ted: “Next year will be the year of the Linux desktop because ‘next year’ is always the year of the Linux desktop.”

–jeremy

Introducing the Google Chrome OS

After years of speculation, Google has officially announced its intentions for a “Google OS”. From the press release:

It’s been an exciting nine months since we launched the Google Chrome browser. Already, over 30 million people use it regularly. We designed Google Chrome for people who live on the web — searching for information, checking email, catching up on the news, shopping or just staying in touch with friends. However, the operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web. So today, we’re announcing a new project that’s a natural extension of Google Chrome — the Google Chrome Operating System. It’s our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be.

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we’re already talking to partners about the project, and we’ll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.

It basically sounds as though Chrome OS will be a very light weight Linux that can boot extremely quickly and is designed to run the Chrome browser quickly and efficiently. The details beyond that are unfortunately extremely light at this point. It’s a bit ironic that Chrome OS is based on Linux while Linux support in Chrome has considerably lagged Windows and OS X support thus far. My initial thought was, why Chrome OS in addition to Android. They touch on that in the press release:

Google Chrome OS is a new project, separate from Android. Android was designed from the beginning to work across a variety of devices from phones to set-top boxes to netbooks. Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems. While there are areas where Google Chrome OS and Android overlap, we believe choice will drive innovation for the benefit of everyone, including Google.

It seems to me there will be quite a bit of overlap, but we’ll have to see what direction Google takes both Chrome OS and Android before we can tell for sure. You have to assume that much of the Chrome OS experience will actually take place in the cloud, which could get interesting but poses a variety of stumbling points, of which privacy and security will be major ones. Another pain point is what the experience will be like when you go offline (which happens quite a bit, despite what some people attempt to tell you). Keep in mind that Chrome OS isn’t scheduled to launch for almost a full year. A lot can happen in that time, but this announcement should be seen as a bright spot for Linux in general. Google could have chosen anything to build this on top off. The fact that they continually build products on top of Open Source software should be seen as a testament to the quality of that software. Whether Google will be able to bring Linux to the masses where others have failed remains to be seen, but between Chrome OS and Android they’re certainly trying. Privacy issues (which far too many people ignore) aside, Chrome OS + Gears + HTML5 + Wave + whatever technology drops in the next 12 months certainly has the potential to be an extremely compelling combo. It’s certainly something I’ll be keeping my eye on.

–jeremy

Additional reading:

WSJ
TechDirt
NYT
TechCrunch
RedMonk