A changing PC usage model: Discussing market opportunities for MeeGo with Novell

   Date:2010/06/07     Source:

On June 1, Novell announced that it will release Suse MeeGo as a fully supported operating system (OS) for netbooks. MeeGo is built on the codestream from the MeeGo Project, the Linux-based OS established when Intel and Nokia agreed to combine their respective Moblin and Maemo Linux projects for mobile computers.

Novell said it expects Suse MeeGo to be pre-installed on a variety of devices from OEMs in the next twelve months. At the Computex Taipei 2010 show, Digitimes stopped by at the Novell booth and chatted with Markus Rex, senior vice president and general manager of the Novell Open Platform Solutions business unit, to find out more about Novell's plans in the market.

Q: Novell is historically known as a networking and enterprise software company, and you are also heavily involved in Linux. Can you give us a little background about you becoming involved in MeeGo?

A: Novell is a company that is traditionally known for infrastructure software, something we have been doing for over 20 years. We had our enterprise NetWare OS, system management software and collaboration solutions like GroupWise, which is an email and calendaring tool. But, with our acquisitions of Suse and Ximian several years ago, we have also been heavily involved with Linux development.

Suse and Ximian had an affinity for the desktop, so we quickly became one of the leading OS vendors in the enterprise Linux desktop market, as we also had extensive experience developing desktop solutions for the enterprise.

As for MeeGo, we were involved in the Moblin project very early on, because we are very excited about what we see as a new usage opportunity.

If you look at the mature PC markets worldwide, it has been very difficult for anyone to compete with Microsoft, as the OS has been established in the market for so long it is difficult for many users to think about the desktop in any other way.

However, you now have a whole new class of devices such as netbooks and tablets running on the Intel Atom x86 processor, where the usage model is completely new and undefined.

You also have new markets – such as emerging markets where a whole new portion of the global population can now afford to purchase their first PC; or youth markets where the idea of what a PC should do is different from previous generations; or even the mainstream mobile market where the usage model between handsets and computers blurred. In all of these non-traditional markets, we are seeing the opportunity to develop a new usage paradigm and attract new users. And the reason is simply that the idea of a computer and what it can do has changed.

Q: And is MeeGo a part of this new paradigm?

A: MeeGo is certainly a step in that direction. It is very integrated. It takes into account modern usage scenarios – what consumers at home typically do – and integrates them nicely together into one front end.

The desktop features a web browser, separate organization for social networks and web photos and music, and then of course there is easy access to email and applications. The organization features tabs, along with a flexible zone concept, which helps keep the desktop uncluttered. All of these features are integrated through a common UI. Overall, the organization and focus of the UI has moved away from the traditional concept of a desktop experience and shifted to an experience totally focused on the consumer.

Q: This is not exactly what a lot of consumers think about when they think about Linux.

A: MeeGo is not being advertised as Linux. Sure, you can use a terminal window with MeeGo, but for the majority of users, what they want is the seamless integration between hardware, OS and applications. Users can push a button to listen to music, or push another button to activate Bluetooth.

The market is changing. In the past it was a certain hardware, or a certain OS that drove the PC market. However, the market is now being defined by applications – applications that provide consumers with ways to enhance their lives. Consumers are not looking for a computer per se, but for a device that can enhance their lives in specific ways.

Q: You mention applications. One of the interesting developments of hardware devices like the iPhone is that they have created a more direct software channel for adding application through an apps store. You no longer have to search the Internet looking for applications for your device. Will MeeGo users be able to do this as well?

A: App stores are a prime example of how the usage paradigm is shifting. You now have all these people who are creating a multitude of applications. The ecosystem is not being dominated by a single vendor. Half the world is developing Android apps, iPhone apps and/or MeeGo apps.

Novell very strongly believes that you have to give developers a channel to their customers, and MeeGo is addressing that. At CES earlier this year, Intel launched the AppUp store where users can download free software or purchase apps and Intel has been very aggressive in trying to attract developers to the MeeGo platform (Intel mentioned that currently there are about 20,000 developers signed up). AppUp is a B-to-C platform and is still in beta, but Asustek announced at Computex that it will ship netbooks with a customized AppUp client installed, making it easier for users to access the service.

Novell also has an initiative called Mono, which allows developers to run .NET applications on Linux and the iPhone. Mono is also included in MeeGo so developers can create .NET applications for MeeGo in a seamless fashion.

Q: When I think of MeeGo, I think of Intel and Nokia, but what exactly is MeeGo in terms of being a platform. And what is Novell's role in the MeeGo ecosystem?

A: MeeGo is an open source project that is sponsored heavily by Intel and hosted by the Linux Foundation. But we are a big contributor. Currently, Novell is the second biggest contributor after Intel, though I expect once Nokia starts getting up to speed it will overtake us.

In terms of hardware MeeGo focuses on x86-based devices such as netbooks, tablets, in-vehicle infotainment devices, Smart TVs and smartphones.

What Novell does is work with OEMs to preload MeeGo onto their systems. MSI and Samsung Electronics are currently shipping Suse Moblin computers (Suse Moblin is the predecessor of Suse MeeGo), and a number of OEMs such as Acer have spoken about their interest in MeeGo during Computex.

Q: And what is the value proposition Novell offers to the OEMs?

A: Preloading MeeGo is not a trivial thing. To explain the value proposition we offer OEMs would require me to get very technical, but let's just say there are a number of elements involved.

We have to make sure that there is complete hardware enablement. All the drivers need to operate smoothly. You need to be able to restore functionality. Every button needs to work and be tested for a number of different scenarios. We also offer support for our customers' customers.

Novell is an infrastructure software provider and what we do is help OEMs productize the OS. That is the process we undertake

Q: And what is the value proposition of MeeGo for the OEMs?

A: We are not looking to take over the market, but as with any market you look at, the benefit of multiple product offerings is obvious. Different price points and different product features allow vendors to reach all segments of the market. The PC market is no different, but for a long time market segmentation was determined by hardware alone. If OEMs offer Windows- and MeeGo-based solutions, they will be able to extend their market reach further and grow their business.

Currently in Western Europe and North America, the markets predominantly prefer Windows. However, there are still opportunities for MeeGo there.

The real opportunities though are in the rest of the world. In Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and other emerging markets, there is a growing number of potential customers. The combination of increased disposable income and decreasing computer prices is helping bring PCs to a whole new portion of the global population. MeeGo is looking to enable as many of these customers worldwide as possible. We currently fully support 26 languages while another 11 languages are partially supported, and that total continues to grow.

The opportunities in emerging markets are two-fold. On the one hand we can help vendors offer products that can be perhaps US$50-100 dollars cheaper than Windows-based solutions, and that can correspond to up to a 50% differential with competing solutions on the market. In addition, many customers in emerging markets have never owned a PC before, so they have no expectations about how a desktop should look or feel.

Q: Are you seeing any change in the market's perception of Linux?

A: Absolutely. I have been involved in the Linux desktop business now for about 13 years and there has been a huge shift in the past 2-3 years. People have been much more open to considering Linux solutions. They understand that there are opportunities in the market for devices targeting a whole new range of usage models.

Q: Taiwan is a global center for hardware development. Can you tell us how Novell works with its Taiwan partners within the MeeGo ecosystem?

A: Last year we established the Novell Open Labs in Taiwan to foster the adoption of MeeGo (Moblin at that time) and the majority of our MeeGo development was moved to Taiwan. We have been steadily growing over the past year and I have to admit that while Taiwan has a much deserved reputation for hardware development, its software engineers are also world class.


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