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Moblin and netbook make an interesting pair

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I’ve wanted to get my mitts on a netbook for quite a while and have recently got pretty interested in Moblin, the version of Linux that Intel is pushing for all it’s worth.

So now in front of me I have a Samsung NC10 fitted up with a beta version 2.0 of Moblin, happily connected to the Internet and it appears it will have support for WiMAX too in the future.

All of us know that after you’ve had a Windows based PC for a little while the boot time seems to get longer and longer. The promise of Moblin is that not only will it boot faster, but that you’ll be taking up less space on your hard drive, and the interface itself will be a piece of cake to learn.

This beta version of Moblin took 32 seconds to boot after being switched on. Intel tells me the Moblin developers are optimising the OS for the Atom chip, so boot is likely to be faster when it’s out of beta. On the Moblin developer website at moblin.org, one of the projects is to develop a version that doesn’t take more than five seconds to boot. There’s a You Tube video of a fast boot here – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7NxCM8ryF8 – so 32 seconds seems a trifle sluggish.

Trying out new interfaces isn’t, err, new for me because I’m so old. I’ve tried them all – from A to Be, and from CP/M to Digital Research Gem. I’ve tried every variety of Windows, from Windows 1.0 to Vista and have been frustrated every time Microsoft decided to change the interface and I’d have to more or less re-learn the whole thing. Bah.

Moblin is so different from Windows that you have to abandon your previous experiences and start from scratch. When the machine’s booted, you’re in the M-Zone – here there’s a display that shows the web pages you’ve browsed, any media that you’ve played, and easy access to the Chrome browser, to your calendar and to its media player.

Along the very top of the screen there are 11 icons – from left to right these represent your M-Zone, your online status, the people you know, easy access to the browser, media, pasteboard, applications, “zones”, power and brightness, speaker volume, and networks. Click on the networks icon and you’ll see a list of available connections, which includes wi-fi, wired, 3G and WiMAX.

Applications bundled in Moblin 2.0 include a calculator, a file browser, a screenshot capture utility, a terminal function to be in Linux command line mode, and a text editor. There are also three games – Frozen Bubble, Neverball, and Neverputt. There’s also an address book utility, a to do task utility, a PDF viewer, a sound recorder and a webcam utility.

So how easy is to get to grips with the Moblin OS? Pretty straightforward, I’d say – a matter of minutes , maybe about 20 minutes or so if you’ve used a computer before, slightly longer if this is your first netbook and your first operating system. Longer battery life is a necessity if you’re going to be carrying these dinky things around with you, and this is such a lean OS that it’s bound to be less power hungry than Windows XP, for example.

Opinions are divided as to whether Moblin will take off on netbooks. On the one hand, it has many advantages in terms of price for both manufacturers and consumers. It has Intel’s backing – and that’s a considerable benefit because although most people see the firm as a CPU company, it actually has considerable software expertise. For example, Intel contributed significantly to Windows 98, writing 12 out of 20 enhancements for the OS.

Microsoft, of course, will do everything it can to promote Windows of whatever flavour on netbooks, even down to offering notebook manufacturers discounts on Windows machines which are not netbooks. If, as the industry seems to be saying, netbooks are an additional buy for an individual who already has a Windows notebook, Moblin may not appeal.

But for a newbie, it’s clear that this OS has many advantages – not least the way it avoids the endless clutter that accumulates on most if not all Windows machines. Moblin is kind of cuddly – there were some glitches and application crashes while I was trying it out – but that’s only to be expected in a beta version and actually they were few and far between. The biggest headache was when I tried to load a browser so I could email the screenshots I took to another PC for processing – that web page always crashed, which is why the screenshots are sitting there doing nothing.

There’s a walkthrough of Moblin 2.0 on Youtube, here.