Moblin: 6 key things to know

By John Fontana, Network World |  Operating Systems, Linux, Linux Foundation

Moblin, short for mobile Linux, is a free open-source operating system originally developed by Intel for its low-power Atom processor and designed to run on devices, including netbooks.

Moblin is a collection of open-source projects, including the Linux kernel, and made available in the Linux Standard Base (LSB) RPM packaging format. The beta of the Moblin 2.0 operating system was released earlier this month, and supports netbooks and nettops. But the target is much broader, including personal devices, television, and in-vehicle automotive computing. 

“With versions 2.1 and 2.2 we are looking at embedded systems,” says Guy Lunardi, director of client pre-loads at Novell. The hope is that the project, now under the direction of the Linux Foundation, can begin to define Linux on the client, a place where the OS has yet to find its bearings. Here are six things you should know about Moblin.

Why is the core important?

The central piece of the Moblin architecture is a common layer called Moblin Core, which provides services such as third-party cellular stacks, VoIP, presence, synchronization, media services and telephony APIs. Core also includes UI services anchored by Intel’s open-source Clutter 3D interface project. Core is built on a Linux kernel and a set of device drivers. In the end, it provides a consistent development environment that allows applications to run on Moblin no matter what form it takes on a device.

What about application support?

Moblin runs almost any Linux application, which means that most applications today such as Skype and Open Office along with others run on Moblin, according to Jim Zemlin, Linux Foundation CEO. Moblin’s attractiveness to developers, who can build applications for the platform that run wherever Moblin shows up, could be the feature that powers acceptance. The flexibility gives developers a wide-audience and could stimulate an explosion of applications that attract end-users to Moblin-based devices. In addition, Google Android applications run on the platform.

What’s slick about the Moblin interface?

The UI, a combination of open source graphics technologies such as Clutter, DRI2, and KMS, supports 3D animation. The myzone [stet-lowercase] dashboard is an on-ramp to synchronized calendar, task, appointments, and recently used files. It appears as a toolbar at the top of the screen. Myzone also features links to the user’s social networking sites and aggregates content from sites, via the Mojito social data store, to give a single view into conversations and status update controls. In 2.0, Twitter and Last.fm are supported sites but more will be added. The Web browser is adapted from Mozilla technology for Clutter and includes video capabilities and Flash.

What about stuff IT would care most about?

Moblin supports features such as power management, connection management as part of Moblin Core, and fast boot technology that has the UI up and running in seconds. It also has a full-featured Bluetooth service, and users can boot Moblin from a USB image without touching the existing installed OS. In future versions, the project will introduce device synchronization, Web services connectivity and security features such as policy-based access controls, applications sandboxing, secure booting and package isolation. “This is very compelling,” says Zemlin. “It is entirely open source, it has a compelling UI, it runs on low-powered devices in a highly effective way, anyone can take it and make any product they want out of it. It's the low cost alternative to Windows.”

Does Moblin come in a variety of flavors?

Moblin 2.0 is based on recent builds from Red Hat’s open-source Fedora Project, but vendors including Novell, Linpus, Unbuntu, Xandros, and Red Flag have developed their own “upstream” versions off the Moblin foundation. Those versions will be found later this year and next on a variety of netbooks and nettops, from vendors that include Acer, Asustek, MSI, and Hasee Computer; on mobile internet devices from BenQ and Compal; and other components including a keyboard from Asus. In addition, while Moblin is 100% open source, users should keep in mind that vendors may add proprietary extension, such as codecs, to their implementations.

Who isn’t diving into Moblin?

HP in May snubbed Moblin in favor of a version of Linux it customized from the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Google has its Android OS and Red Hat hasn’t made any commitments beyond its focus on middleware and the enterprise even though some of the underlying Moblin technology is based on Fedora.

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