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Chinese partnerships raise Intel's tablet hopes for MeeGo and Atom

MeeGo, the Intel/Nokia cloud-oriented mobile OS, was widely dismissed when Nokia adopted WP7, while the recent departure of Intel's mobile business ch

By PETER WHITE

Published: 14 April, 2011

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MeeGo, the Intel/Nokia cloud-oriented mobile OS, was widely dismissed when Nokia adopted WP7, while the recent departure of Intel's mobile business chief just intensified fears that it was failing in smartphones and tablets.

But MeeGo could still surface as a centrepiece of Intel's tablet strategy, working with its new generation of Atom processors to offer a differentiated platform against the ARM/Android/iOS norm.

has also announced a MeeGo development center in China.

Ironically enough, Intel said its Chinese MeeGo efforts, with partner Tencent, are designed to position its Linux-based OS as an "open alternative" to Android. The Google OS has come under fire recently for going back on its open source roots, with key enhancements firmly under the search giant's control and sometimes, as with the new Honeycomb tablet release, confined just to a select group of partners.

MeeGo does have full Linux credentials, being hosted by the Linux Foundation (Android has been relegated to being a Linux 'fork'). But the choice of China to present it as a friendlier OS than Google is more likely to reflect Google's difficulties in that country, where its battles with the government over censorship have led to its restricting some activities. This has led some Chinese operators and vendors either modifying Android to minimize Google's presence, or looking for other options which they could control - with MeeGo perhaps looking to step into that breach.

Tencent and Intel made their joint announcement at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing this week, promising to establish a development center for MeeGo/Atom devices, which would initially employ 60 engineers, with plans to

increase that number to 200 over time.

The updated MeeGo UI was demonstrated in Beijing on a reference design tablet running Oak Trail. It looks more like Honeycomb and iOS than before, revolving around widgets rather than vertical columns, but it has unique features too, such as rolodex-style photos and scrollable album covers.

It remains questionable, however, whether Intel really needs its own OS for tablets, cloudbooks and netbooks, especially now this will no longer be a near-guarantee of Nokia business for the chips. It might do better to focus

its R&D on optimizing Atom for Android, WP7 and other OSs, as Qualcomm does so effectively - such programs are ongoing at Intel too, but they are confused by the notion that the chip giant would rather promote its own software platform. When Nokia was fully committed, Intel had a chance of using its silicon might to snag a major partner/customer and even create a new version of Wintel.

Now it really needs to go back to those Wintel roots and try to get one of the popular software options to see Atom as its preferred platform. This is virtually impossible with the established smartphone OSs, which are heavily ARM-oriented. A few design wins may be in reach for Atom, but not anointed as the hardware platform of choice. It would be more achievable with one of the emerging cloud-oriented operating systems, which have not formed their alliances yet, and will run on devices that are, anyway, closer to Intel's netbook stronghold. But this would dictate a huge effort to woo Google to Atom for a close Chrome OS co-development, perhaps, or even longtime friend

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