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Saturday, 9 January 2010

Moblin on the EeePC 901

After reading about the development of Moblin and owning an Intel Atom device myself I decided to give it a test run to see what it was all about. I downloaded both the 2.0 and 2.1 versions from here Moblin Releases. I also heard about the Ubuntu Moblin Remix being developed and downloaded a copy of that from here Dell Community. I tried all three of these with varying degrees of success.

All three (Moblin 2.0/2.1 and Ubuntu Moblin Remix) come as an img which can be used on a USB stick or SD card (instructions on this found at Once booted from the storage media Moblin can be tried through the live img or installed, I decided to install to get the full experience. In all versions the install took roughly 3 minutes.

First off I tried Moblin 2.0 and the boot up and over all speed of the Distro was lightning quick. It took about five seconds for it to boot and there was no delay in navigating the system. The interface takes a little getting use to but once you learn where everything is and how it works it all becomes very easy and intuitive. Once you get to the UI you are greeted with "My Zone". Here you have three columns, one column with calendar and to do list, one with recently/most used apps and visited web pages and one column with twitter/last fm feeds and instant messaging.

The navigation bar hides at the top and has icons for different tasks, this bar can be accessed by either putting the curser at the top of the screen or by pressing the super key. (The super key on most PCs would be the one with a Windows icon on it, in the case of the EeePC it's the one with the image of a house). This Navigation bar when triggered by either method drops down to give you access to the icons.

The icons in the Navigation bar From left to right My zone, Status, People, Internet, Media, Clip Board, Applications and Zones. There are also icons for Bluetooth (version 2.1 only) Battery state, Volume and network.

Here's a breakdown of what they are:
My Zone : As described above
Status : Allows you to post twitter feeds and change your status on instant messaging accounts

People : Allows you to search for people and details within your IM accounts
Internet : opens Moblin's integrated Web Browser which fills the whole screen. This opens up showing the most/recently viewed web pages and an address bar.

Media : allows you to view pictures, play video and music
Clip Board : holds anything you've copied via Ctrl+C etc.
Applications : here you have different categories such as Accessories, Games, Office, Internet and Settings. Under each category as you would expect you'll find icons that link to different apps and there are a good range installed by default.

Zones : This is an interesting take on window management. Each window you open takes up most if not all of the screen and even though you can move and resize the windows you can't minimise them. With zones you can keep track of open windows and each window is held in a dfferent work space (simular to the virtual desktop idea). You can access these windows by clicking this icon and selecting the window/work space you want or by Alt+TAB or Ctrl+Alt+Arrow keys (this last keyboard short cut doesn't work in version 2.1 which is a shame as it gives a nice graphical switching effect when used).

There are very little differences between 2.0 and 2.1. The boot up time is the same, 2.1 brings with it Bluetooth and 3G support. On the EeePC 901 in version 2.0 the wireless works fine but could not connect to a network where the SSID was hidden, only when the Network name was being broadcast would it connect despite the fact that it lets you type in Network details manually. Strangely the Wi-Fi wouldn't connect at all in version 2.1 even though it could detect the presence of the network.

Even though the 2.1 version boasts 3G support I was unable to get connected through a mobile phone. The battery indicator is different between the two versions as in 2.0 you have the battery status and brightness control together but in 2.1 the brightness control has been removed.

When booting from the Ubuntu Moblin Remix img you don't have the option of running a live session only to install. When you select to install the whole process is automated and you have no option to edit partitions etc like you do with the Moblin images. UMR is pretty much the same as Moblin 2.0 but with more applications installed and includes what looks like Open Office. Although Moblin doesn't have Open Office installed or available there was a comment on from a user claiming that using a Fedora RPM to install OOo worked very well and even made icons available in the correct place. The real down side that I found from UMR was the fact that it took longer to boot. When you boot into UMR you are greeted with the same progress bar found in Jaunty then taken to the same interface as above.

Moblin 2.1 unlike 2.0 has an app store where you can install extra applications. With Canonical developing their version this OS could shape up to be pretty good with an extensive list of available apps. Moblin is still a bit unstable, there were a few times when it froze on me or things didn't work as it should but then the default Xandros install that came with my netbook wasn't any better and sometimes suffered the same faults. I'm going to keep this as a dual boot with Ubuntu Karmic if just for the sheer speed to get on to the internet. I can't wait to see future releases of this and watch it mature. When it becomes more stable and is used more on netbooks this Distro is not only good for Linux fans and hobbyist but also a great netbook UI for end users with little computer experience.

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