Adventures With Moblin Linux

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About a week ago I decided to throw the Moblin v2.0 beta [Wikipedia] on my netbook (an Acer Aspire One). I’ve previously been running the Ubuntu Netbook Remix and have been pretty happy with it. I haven’t been using my netbook much lately and Moblin’s was rocking new interface really intrigued me. So I decided to try it out.

Moblin’s core release is built on top of Fedora using a custom-built GNOME UI. Moblin uses a wicked-fast animation library called Clutter. This makes the interface a delight to use. I was thrilled the first time I booted up the OS and not just because of the interface. I had heard how fast Moblin boots, but I was blown away when I saw it in person. I clocked the boot time on my Aspire One at 10 seconds flat. That’s absolutely incredible.

Now granted, I haven’t had much time to play with Moblin yet, but here are my impressions so far. It’s buggy. Really buggy, even for a beta. But it has an amazing amount of potential.

Let’s start with the good. Moblin is taking the netbook OS in a totally new direction, the direction they should all have been going from the start. Instead of treating your netbook like a stripped down laptop, it treats the hardware as a portal to your online experience. The Moblin OS quickly and easily integrates updates from sites like Twitter and Last.fm into your “myzone” (the landing page of the OS). Moblin also features a “pasteboard” to collect all your copied data in one easily accessible place.

In all honestly it works a lot like a web application, which is good. Very very good (note: this opinion coming from a web developer). The Moblin team has also included easy access to the terminal and other applications. A wonderful thing for those of us who despise a crippled Linux OS. Let’s hope this doesn’t change in future releases.

Now with the bad. While many of the applications worked flawlessly out of the box (so to speak), many did not. I had numerous issues with the web browser trying to log in to Facebook and MySpace (it just seemed to stall out). The “Instant Messenger” application, which appears to be built on Pidgin, was heinously difficult to configure. It was also missing support for AIM accounts. I mean seriously, who doesn’t support AIM integration these days.

The “Network Manager” did find my wireless network right away and connected without a hitch. However, on subsequent reboots it did not automatically reconnect. Very irritating.

I also experienced multiple segfaults (think blue screen of death on Windows) while trying to take some screencaps for this blog post. I finally had to reboot the netbook to get around this. I have never experienced a segfault in Ubuntu.

Finally, there were a few little issues I noticed, like some hotkeys not working (print screen for one). The top menu bar was also a little touchy for my taste. Whenever I moused up to the address bar in the web browser the menu bar would pop down and obscure my view. I’d also like to see an alternate layout for the “myzone” page. It’s hard to pick out updates as being from Twitter or Last.fm. They sort of all blend together.

Despite these problems, I remain incredibly enthusiastic about Moblin. The software is definitely still in beta, so we can’t rag on them too hard. I’m sure many of these issues will be polished out before it goes into production. Especially with Acer and other OEM manufacturers quickly lining up to embrace Moblin.

I think that Moblin is a step in the right direction for both Linux fans (or fanatics) and Windows or Apple OS X users. Moblin’s UI seems bubbly enough to appeal to even the most die-hard Windows user.