Monday, April 18, 2011

Finding a Middle Ground

With all of the interface changes happening in Linux we're at a bit of a crossroad.

So in my last post I had described some disappointment with the Google Cr-48. You can extend that disappointment to Google Chrome OS as well. I got a half decent look at it today and couldn't believe what I was seeing. It's not so much a Operating System (as it doesn't even attempt to interface the user to the computer) as much as it's a platform to run Google Chrome Browser on. That's it. Nothing else.

So the whole system is a bar at the top which shows you the network status and the time. And the rest of it is a web browser. What I found especially disappointing was that the terminal didn't seem to be any sort of shell I've ever come across. Typing help threw up just over a screen of odd commands for very specific things. There was nothing there for exploring the file system for example. Any hopes of being able to customize it to your own needs is dead in the water.

So the middle ground... I had a look at Meego 1.1 today. Meego is a Linux distribution which is an amalgamation of Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo - given to the Linux Foundation to manage. While I don't think it's ready for prime time it certainly looks promising. Running off a usb stick, it was snappy and quick. By default it comes with Chrome or Chromium (the open source version of Google Chrome). What's more, it had loads of bling.

In the back end of things, it's an rpm based distribution. For network connections it doesn't use network manager and it's gui for network connections was a bit touchy. For example, when a connection failed, you couldn't get it to try again - rather I found I had to reset it by disabling the wireless and enabling it again.

I loved the music that was included as a sample - an entire album of jazz. I liked it so much in fact that I went to plug in some speakers only to find that the single audio port on the Asus eee 1001px wouldn't work. This isn't terribly surprising as the hda-intel alsa modules seem to be in a constant state of flux. This probably wouldn't be terribly hard to fix - update the modules.

And that's the HUGE advantage Meego has over Google Chrome OS. It allows people like myself to get in there and have a go at fixing things. It's Linuxy goodness! It doesn't treat the computer like some smelly kid who, although it gives you candy, should be consigned to a little dark corner.

So things I would change? Meego displays a bluetooth tab by default. It would be great if it only showed the bluetooth tab if it actually found a bluetooth device. I've never been a fan of integrating social networking into the desktop. Given the age restrictions on a lot of these services, I think it would be much better to provide the option of hiding that part of things.

The interface does seem to be a little more confused than absolutely necessary. For example, it has this whole idea of "zones". It appears to open up a zone for every application you run. The zones are little more than virtual desktops with multiple applications being able to occupy a single zone. I don't think this is going to take off. It's a nice thought but it just doesn't really fit into most people's work flow.

Despite my various little criticisms I am so much more enthusiastic over Meego (despite it's stupid name) than Google Chrome OS.

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