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.

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


Great video and background on kernel changes; sounds like Star Trek, “eject the warp core.”

Great user interface (M-Zone)for a Netbook used in a coffee shop, waiting room or airport (communications and entertainment use case) and not just a derivative of Mac, Windows or Xerox PARC. Though it does bear a resemblance to the Opera web browser, but at much higher level (not just recently visited web pages).

In an office setting use case would the M-Zone user interface collapse into a visual representation of calendar, email plus most recently used files?

What security issues are posed by the user interface? If a Moblin Netbook were lost; it would present considerable identity and privacy information — right on the surface — not buried in the PC. Is the user required to login? Or could it be built with fast biometric security?

What does the development environment (ie. languages, compilers and IDEs) for Moblin look like (other than SUSE Build System)?

What browser is used?

Jim Callahan
Orlando, FL


It looks a whole lot like the Wii channel interface… even the background music sounds like the music on the Wii channel…

I wonder if Nintendo is going to sue them for stealing the OS style? Or will they demand Moblin to be integrated into the Wii?
Or is someone playing too much with the Wii? :)


I wonder if it handles Realtek wifi cards better than Ubuntu did. I’ll give it a try on my MSI Wind 100 this weekend.


Or maybe the problem isn’t too many choices for linux netbooks, but the fact that it’s not the right choice (ie, Windows)?

People expect to run the software they want. That’s why they return them, not because the kernel doesn’t have ultrafirewire support or something like that.

The biggest problem I had with my EeePC was that there was hardly any software for it. And certainly not the software I wanted. Now, I’m a Unix wizard, so I installed Eeebuntu and fixed my problem (mostly), but Joe Average won’t bother. He’ll just take it back to Walmart and get the one that has Windows for the extra $50. That extra money is worth the two days of frustration and tinkering it would take to figure it out.


It is definitely good to have Intel support. Linux has had a large problem with supporting hardware devices due too policy of their manufacturers not willing to release specification documents nor produce device drivers. For regular user there is no difference which OS is installed on his netbook as log as it works and is easy to operate. So if only Linux works good and can handle all of that devices, it could possibly be very popular or even dominate the market.


I tried it on my S10, but it wasn’t a pretty outcome. Wiped it as it was useless to me…no wireless, the wired connection was dodgy, and I just don’t like the interface. Went back to xubuntu.


Oh, it’s a good idea, it’s just not ripe yet.


Which is why the gOS machines purchased from Wal-mart were returned at an astonishing rate while those purchased from Newegg were not: the latter purchasers knew what they were getting while the former did not.

My problem with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, the eee as it shipped (that damned “appliance” interface), and with what I’ve seen of Moblin is that I don’t WANT a mess of massive icons as my navigation source. I want a computer, doesn’t matter how small it is. In fact, the smaller the screen (and my 701 eee has a 7″ screen), the FEWER icons I want.

What I don’t understand is why Windows satisfies the bulk of the populace who only get on the web and use 35% of the features available with Word. For them, everything they need is available in the Linux world, so the return rate among that crowd still surprises me, especially of Netbooks.


What about the command-line tools (e.g., Perl, kismet, etc.) and power tools (e.g., Wireshark)?


I\’m a big Linux-GUI fan, but am still amazed that people put in such effort on so many fronts, without asking a small user group what they really want.
I have to retain dual-boot XP-Ubuntu on laptops, because Ubuntu auto-recognises ALMOST all devices, except wireless… and Broadcom (www.broadcom.com) and Intel are the two major manufacturers of such mini-wireless cards used in laptops. Broadcom bluntly refuses to allow its driver microcode to be used in Linux… and Ubuntu does not \’find\’ an Intel WiFi card. If Intel wants to support Linux, it ought FIRST ensure all its own cards are supported by the major distros… that would put some pressure on Broadcom to co-operate. Broadcom allow their code to be on all M$ OS-install CDs, but won\’t allow a Linux distro that has discovered a Broadcom card to then download a driver.

Shuttleworth et al should propose a \”Linux ready\” sticker to go only on the Dells, HPs, etc that really are FULLY supported by Linux drivers. NDISWRAPPER (the supposed wireless workaround) is like following a 1960s\’ paper-tape boot sequence, in terms of being 50-steps backwards from a proper device-auto-recognised GUI interface that consumers now reasonably expect.

The lesser issue with Linux is to pre-install a wider and more standardised range of apps, so it\’s not just OpenOffice+Firefox, but good image viewers/editors etc as well. Linux does not have anything as good as Irfanview (www.irfanview.com) for photo handling, and when I\’ve begged Irfan to do a port, he simply says it runs OK under WINE, but in fact you need a background in Computer Science to get it emulated, and then it runs slow!
In short, it is wireless non-support and a narrow breadth of pre-installed apps which causes first-world consumer resistance, not GUI format/style or even quicker boot times.
Graeme Harrison (prof at-symbol post.harvard.edu)

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