Next MeeGo TV platform may boost connected sets

MeeGo Smart TV 1.2 is designed to bring together traditional paid TV and app stores

A software platform developed for TVs by the Meego open-source community, expected next month, will allow service providers to combine pay TV, app stores and consumer home content in one set-top box.

The platform, called MeeGo Smart TV 1.2, is based on the MeeGo 1.2 release that came out last week. It is being reviewed now by the task group for Meego TV and should be released by the end of next month, though final tweaks might push it back a few weeks, said MeeGo TV Architect Dominique Le Foll.

MeeGo TV may succeed where earlier fusions of TV and the Web have failed, because it is open to applications from a wide variety of developers, which won't even need to be certified by the service provider, Le Foll said in an interview at the MeeGo Conference in San Francisco on Monday.

Some older TV-Web hybrids took the wrong path, Le Foll said.

"What people don't want is a browser on their TV," Le Foll said. Instead, just as on a mobile phone, consumers prefer to use apps that are optimized for the device, he said.

The MeeGo team is not alone in recognizing this. Even TV manufacturers, including Sony and Vizio, are trying to build up stores of apps and widgets that can be used on their sets. But MeeGo's openness gives it advantages over other options for connected TVs, Le Foll said. Previous TV-Web systems have been based on set-top boxes with traditional embedded operating systems, which are difficult and expensive for service providers to update and maintain. By contrast, MeeGo TV is maintained by a community of developers, organized on the model of the Linux community and managed by the Linux Foundation.

MeeGo TV already exists in the form of a platform based on MeeGo 1.0, which Telecom Italia has used for a service that combines traditional broadcast and Web-based TV, Le Foll said. MeeGo TV 1.2 will extend those capabilities. It is designed to let service providers deliver their own paid, protected TV programming along with third-party apps and online video through a single set-top box. Service providers won't have to worry about qualifying the apps, nor about the security of the OS or their own content, Le Foll said. The MeeGo Smart TV Working Group will maintain the software, including security patches, and provide continual updates that are easy to implement, Le Foll said.

An open application store for MeeGo TV might let service providers tap into a broad community of developers, he said. In addition, service providers can place their own brand and customized "feel" on a MeeGo TV system, because like Linux, the platform has no defined user interface.

So far, MeeGo TV's reach is limited to devices based on silicon from Intel, because that is the only company that has ported the software to its chip architecture, Le Foll said. But other chip vendors, including MIPS and Sigma Designs, are involved in the TV working group, he added.

Though several TV-Web hybrids have flopped in the past, analyst Kurt Scherf of Parks Communications thinks specific interactive TV features, such as apps for news, weather and traffic that viewers can customize, will eventually catch on. But adopting MeeGo would be a significant departure for most broadband providers and cable operators, because they overwhelmingly use in-house software development for their set-top boxes, he said.

"It seems like it could be advantageous to allow the operators to more quickly take advantage of extremely rapid development in deploying their video services, as well as the interactive features that we know are going to be a part of their TV services," Scherf said. "But if I'm an operator, I would be very concerned about how my apps get developed."

However, the free software and community-based support might appeal to smaller providers such as SuddenLink or Frontier Communications, Scherf said.

This week's conference focused on a broader range of uses for MeeGo beyond mobile phones, after Nokia's decision to drop the platform it co-developed with Intel in favor of Windows Phone 7. MeeGo is suited to more types of devices than is Google's Android, because it isn't an operating system so much as a set of coordinated modules, said Le Foll, who has been guiding the MeeGo TV architecture for some time and recently joined Intel's payroll. Whereas Android has certain defined user interfaces that can only be adapted to a certain extent for new types of hardware, MeeGo is as flexible as Linux, he said. And like Linux, MeeGo soon may be sold in the form of distributions, with free software and a contract for ongoing support, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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