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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Playing with MeeGo 1.0 []

Playing with MeeGo 1.0

By Jonathan Corbet
June 7, 2010
The MeeGo project - the result of the merger between Moblin and Maemo - released version 1.0 of its core platform on May 25, accompanied by the first iteration of its "Netbook user experience." Your editor, who happens to have a netbook system sitting around, decided to give this release a try to see what has happened since the Moblin review written last November. While the overall feel of the system is quite similar, there has also been some real progress; MeeGo feels more like a finished product than Moblin did.

[Home screen] The overall user interface concepts laid out by Moblin have not changed much in the merger with Maemo. There is still a home screen meant to provide access to recently-used activities, be they web pages or communications with others. The line of icons at the top still shows what the MeeGo developers think people will want to do with netbooks: talk to people, browse web pages, play music, etc. The quality of the graphics and animation have improved somewhat, but the basic interaction model is what Moblin had before.

There is an interesting distinction between running an activity from the top icon bar and running an application. Applications run in "zones," which are essentially virtual desktops which hold one window each. Moving between zones is done quickly enough by putting the pointer at the top of the screen, selecting the zones icon (yielding a display of the active zones), then picking the new destination; it's an experience similar to holding down the "home" key on an Android system. But an application run from the top bar (the music player, say, or the web browser) is treated differently; it has no zone and cannot be jumped into and out of that way. Your editor finds this to be a bit of a confusing inconsistency.

Speaking of web browsers, MeeGo now uses Chrome (or Chromium, one can choose at download time) for web access. Chrome is, of course, a reasonably mature and quite functional browser. The "Mozilla headless" mechanism used with the Moblin browser worked, but not all users were happy with the experience; Chrome, perhaps, will be better received.

While most things work nicely, one occasionally encounters a rough edge. Your editor was able to crash the desktop by playing with an external monitor. MeeGo lets the user choose between the built-in or an external monitor, but does not want to run both at the same time - not even in [Slider]mirrored mode. One other thing that has jumped out is that options which are toggles are controlled by a widget which looks like a sliding switch. There are no labels, though, so it's not always obvious whether the option is enabled or not.

The big sliders are typical of the way the MeeGo interface looks, though; buttons and such are big. Netbooks tend not to have touchscreens, but this user interface is clearly headed in the direction where everything has to be finger-sized. The interface is also still very much GNOME-based, despite MeeGo's plan to move over to Qt. Mail is handled by Evolution, the media player is Banshee, etc. Perhaps that will change over time; evidently the tablet user experience is more Qt-heavy.



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