Moblin: a first look at Intel's open-source OS
- — 03 July, 2009 03:00
Moblin is an Intel-created open-source operating system for netbooks and, specifically, the kind of people who use them.
On a technical level this means Moblin is built for the Atom x86 chip found in many netbooks, while on a practical level it means Moblin is an Internet- and multimedia-focused operating system. Moblin is less about knocking-up spreadsheets on the move and more about twittering, updating your Facebook account, and watching movies on the go.
Fundamentally, Moblin is just another distribution of Linux (based on Fedora), although it's one that benefits from some unique tweaks and a radical user-interface. However, traditional apps take a back seat, and some you might expect are missing (there's no GIMP or OpenOffice.org, for example). Moblin is based on the familiar GNOME/GTK desktop, like distros such as Ubuntu, but this is largely invisible because of the UI improvements.
Any offline functionality tends to be geared around playing movies or music, so you can keep up with The Wire or Britney's latest while out of range of a wifi base station.
Moblin is open source, and free of charge, so you can download and try it yourself. Like most of Intel's mainstream processors, the Atom is essentially an x86 chip, so you should be able to run Moblin on any computer, or in a virtualised environment. However, it requires 3D graphics drivers so is far from optimal in VMware or VirtualBox, and is also optimised for low-resolution widescreen displays. Additionally, its hardware support is deliberately limited to what is usually found in netbook computers.
The first beta of Moblin v2.0 has just been released, and I decided to take a play with it.
The beta nature of this release is very evident and I got off to a bad start. The wifi card in my Dell Mini 9 wasn't recognized, so I had to review the OS while tethered by a cable to my Internet router. Additionally, I had couldn't sign into some of the online services, such as Twitter, because the Moblin sign-in software just didn't work.
Perhaps the biggest bug that stopped me testing Moblin thoroughly was an inability to click in text fields within the browser. I was therefore unable to enter my username/password with online services, such as Gmail or Google Docs, and was unable to test the speed of the browser when accessing applications.
These are severe bugs for a beta release, and render the OS effectively useless, even for those who don't mind taking on the chin the occasional crash or loss of data.
Incidentally, and perhaps surprisingly, Moblin appears not to know that Google exists. You can setup Google Talk for chatting, but its browser suggests searching Yahoo! by default. Does anybody below the age of 50 still use Yahoo!?
It felt a little like the Moblin developers have backed the wrong horse here. I would have liked to have seen tie-ins with the likes of Gmail and Google Docs. Where's Google Gears, so my data can be backed up locally?