At the recent MeeGo conference in San Francisco, the questions came thick and fast during the Q & A after the “Where Do We Go From Here?” conference closer. This session laid out Intel’s roadmap for the MeeGo platform.
Many of the developers in the room had serious questions about Intel’s plans for competition against Android, and their policies on open hardware and open-source hardware, as did I.
One of the first questions asked was about the main differences between MeeGo and the ever-popular Android platform.
Arjan van de Ven, a Senior Engineer at Intel’s Open Source Technology Center, who ran the session, told the developers, “Try making an Android device – all of the paperwork and contracts between multiple hardware vendors, it’s very hard to figure out. With MeeGo, you don’t have to think about that – it just happens. There’s complete access to the Intel hardware reference platform to developers outside of Intel. We don’t even know who’s making this stuff – when the new WeTab tablet came out, we only found out after we read about it in magazines and on websites.”
“As opposed to Android, MeeGo is a business and professional platform, designed to scale across multiple devices. Right now, Android is basically for phones and tablets.”
Another topic was Intel’s position on transparency for software development. A commenter was concerned that Intel could keep whatever part of the OS it wanted to out of the hands of developers.
Van de Ven said, “We had to look at this carefully. Originally the MeeGo OS was closed, but now it’s open. I prefer not to do it that way again. The problem we had was that early OS development versions have a tendency to look unfinished. We didn’t want bad screenshots of it appearing in magazines and influencing people’s perceptions of MeeGo.”
This smacks of a near-totalitarian capacity on the part of Intel to control the OS based on faulty assumptions within the company. Keeping software closed and out of the hands of developers for months because you don’t want bad press? That’s not right.
Van de Ven countered with “Believe me, I want the OS to be open, and we’re taking steps at Intel to make sure it’s open and in the hands of developers.”
He also told developers that Intel had to create an open architecture plan. “This is hard for us to do. We’re struggling with it. Internally, there’s lots of opposition from inside Intel. But we’re working on it. Currently, you have to submit an architecture proposal and do the development work yourself. But we’re committed to support that work as it connects to MeeGo.”
Confused yet? This is almost as confusing as how van de Ven described the Android hardware development process.
To try to clarify Intel’s open architecture plans for MeeGo, I met with van de Ven after the presentation and asked a series of hardware-related questions.
Q. It seems as if MeeGo has features of a “closed” hardware platform, like Apple, but with open-source software as its base. How does that compete with Android, running open-source software on processors from multiple vendors?
A. MeeGo supports other hardware architectures – for example, it can run on AMD.
Q. But Intel won’t develop that support itself?
A. No, we won’t. Inside Intel, they’re still our competitors. But from a MeeGo standpoint, we will support developers for AMD. And they can build on other developers’ efforts through open-source software and reuse that code.
Q. How does Intel plan to meet the challenge of MeeGo’s rapid-release capabilities, where a product like the WeTab comes to market in five months? Are there plans to meet this rate of development for your hardware?
A. Intel releases new hardware all the time, with new capabilities and feature sets. And this goes into the MeeGo reference platform directly, so that developers can access it.
It remains to be seen if Intel can navigate the open-source waters with the MeeGo project. They’ve made a good bit of progress on the open-source software side, but the open-architecture hardware side leaves a lot to be desired.
How open is a hardware platform if developers have to get a proposal approved by Intel to develop it? Not very. As long as Intel is the only one making the decisions whether to support an outside hardware project, that’s about as closed as it can get. And that can strangle innovation, which is one clear way to lose the tablet wars.