Moblin v2.0 Beta: Linux Netbook’s Best Hope?

Can Intel’s Moblin revive the ailing Linux netbook market? The Moblin v2.0 beta release is giving it a try with a very slick update.
On Tuesday Intel breathed some life its fledgling mobile operating system with the beta release of Moblin v2.0. Moblin (short for “Mobile Linux”) is an open source Linux distribution created by Intel and built specifically for netbooks, MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices), smartphones and up-and-coming platforms, such as the unfortunately named “In-Vehicle Infotainment systems.”

The Alpha version of Moblin — released back in January and looked very much like a rather pallid version of Ubuntu — was widely considered DOA based on it’s lack of innovative anything. Apparently, Intel just needed a little more time. With the beta of version 2.0, however, the company, along with the Linux Foundation and Novell, have steered the project in a much more promising direction.

Built specifically for Intel’s Atom processor, the new release incorporates a number of new features includes an enhanced boot process, better power management and a brand new UI dubbed M-Zone. Check out the video below.

All-in-all, it’s a very slick interface and looks as though they carefully considered how netbooks are being used.

Wild Ride So Far

There’s been a considerable amount of churn in the Moblin project’s short life.

  • The distro core was switched from Ubuntu to Fedora.
  • Novell signed on to help develop, brand and sell the operating system.
  • Development was moved to the openSUSE Build Service.
  • Ownership of the project was handed off to the Linux Foundation.
  • XFCE was phased out and M-Zone was developed based on the work of a company called OpenedHand, which Intel acquired in 2008.

Given this much change, it’s really a credit to the parties involved that they were able to develop something as compelling as M-Zone as well as tackle the engineering challenge of a 2-second boot time.

Intel the Software Vendor?

So how serious is Intel about Linux? Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth thinks they are very committed to Linux. He was quoted on a WSJ blog as saying,

“Intel has assembled an excellent team–they’ve snapped up some of the best Linux talent out there,” Shuttleworth said Tuesday. “They have established a very bold vision.”

Putting together a great team of Linux developers to work on Moblin puts Intel in the position of competing with two of its biggest partners: Microsoft and Apple. And it also puts them square in the cross hairs of Google (also a large consumer of Intel processors) who’s Android OS has been widely considered to be the only serious Linux contender to the Apple iPhone.

These complex relationships may have been part of the reason why Intel moved ownership of the project to the Linux Foundation. But there is clearly a considerable amount of of Linux talent at Intel helping to drive the project.

Ups and Downs

The downside of the release of Moblin v2.0 Beta is that netbook and MID vendors are literally drowning in choices: Ubuntu Netbook Remix, LiMo, Android, geOS, and the list goes on.

The upside is that is that Moblin could bring some come clairty to the netbook space. For vendors frustrated by Linux device return rates, users that aren’t terribly engaged and far too many distro choices, Moblin represents a piece of software that is obviously well designed, backed by one of the biggest companies in the world and tightly integrated with the platform it is running on.

Can something as slick as Moblin’s interface push back against the coming Windows 7 crush? Can Intel and Google (should Android ever get off the ground) avoid confusing the market long enough to not send Linux’s netbook/MID ambitions into a death-spiral? Time will tell, but Moblin v2.0 has given everyone in the space something new to think about.

BY Bryan Richard

Bryan Richard is a writer and software developer, avid runner, pretty good cook, and has a habit of buying more books than he can read. He's also the VP of Editorial and Infrastructure for Linux Magazine.

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