MeeGo: My new netbook OS

My trusty Acer Aspire One has yet again  become the test bed for a new Linux distribution I want to try and this time it’s the turn of “MeeGo”, a project especially made for netbooks and smartphones that is getting a fair bit of buzz around itself.

MeeGo is focused on online content and despite some installation issues (a few notes on that below) it is a nice experience. A lot of online functionality, such as IM, twitter and email, is built into tabs on  the main UI and definitely makes me use my netbook more as it was intended- as a quick, lightly powered way of viewing online content, instead of the full Ubuntu install I’ve previously tried to use for coding and reading.

Whilst the online integration is very slick, MeeGo is currently a little light on the services it does this with. All of the main IM services are available (MeeGo uses Empathy for IM) and email is taken for granted, MeeGo only really supports Twitter and in any especially meaningful way. I’m sure this will expand, though it may be a long wait with MeeGo subscribing to the model of putting out new versions every 6 months.

One thing that seems mostly finished already is the UI design. MeeGo certainly has a strong identity: it is colourful and cartoony but not over-the-top. I really like the design- playful but functional and relatively minimal. The main UI is based on a customisable row of icons which open tabs into the integration functions, such as a slick settings tab, application menu and a number of tabs for using online services.

The “main” (well, first) tab is the MyZone homepage which aggregates online events from Twitter and into a wall of what you’re friends are up to and displays this along with your calendar appointments, tasks, email notifications and quck launch icons for your favourite apps. However, straying off the main tabs into software you may have installed (like Skype), or even the default media client, see you dropped off the crisp and slick design and into a plain, grey application window. This could (and probably will) be solved with some nicer looking frames but for now it just looks a bit ugly, especially in contrast to how nice everything else looks.

All in all, I really quite like MeeGo and I won’t be rushing back to Ubuntu netbook remix any time soon; not because Ubuntu NBR is bad (far from it!) but more because MeeGo is a bit faster and really provides the features best suited to the device in a useful way. It’s worth trying if you have a slightly neglected netbook and I’m sure the next couple of versions will see it really come into its own, especially as more and more device manufacturers (including Nokia, so far behind in the device OS stakes that its not even funny) are announcing MeeGo as the OS for their next waves of devices.

Installation Notes

If I’ve (hopefully) inspired you to give MeeGo a try, here are a couple of things I got caught up on:

  1. The MeeGo netbook binary image comes as a .img file, as opposed to .iso which must be copied byte-wise to a USB stick. I usually use the awesome unetbootin to make bootable USB sticks but it is not capable of doing this with an img file…despite not explicitly warning you of this and even appearing to succeed. To make a working bootable usb stick from the img file, use either dd on Linux or Win32diskimager on Windows.
  2. There is a known issue with setting DNS servers in MeeGo on some hardware. This meant I could connect to WiFi networks but the OS had no idea where to go for DNS stuff, so it constantly timed out when trying to view pages and sign in to accounts. A fix is incomming, but in the mean time you can use the terminal to add the DNS server address to /etc/resolv.conf manually. There is a useful thread on the MeeGo forums here.
  3. A must for any mobile device I wield is the ability to use Skype. Again, the MeeGo forum has a quick tutorial for anyone not used to installing software via Yum.

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