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Intel's Moblin 2.0 Boosts Atom-Based Netbooks

Intel has released a beta of Moblin 2.0, its Linux operating system distribution designed and tuned specifically for the Atom processor. This update adds a new interface, the result of an acquisition, and specific Atom tuning.

The release comes on the heels of news Intel plans to release new Atom processors later this year. Not much has been discussed about the next version of Atom, developed under the codename "Pine View," but Intel will disclose more information at next month's giant Computex computer trade show in Taiwan. The current line already has received kudos for its lower power and compact design.

Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) first released Moblin last year but turned it over to the Linux Foundation as a neutral body to advance the cause of the OS. It created Moblin as a means of providing a netbook/nettop-specific operating system for its Atom platform and not a repurposed desktop OS, like regular Linux or Windows XP.

"That's why Intel is doing this. For us, if you start at a high level, we've always wanted to be the platform of choice for our customers, regardless of whatever operating system they choose," Ram Peddibotla, director of the Open Source Business Center at Intel, told InternetNews.com.

He added that there is no intent to compete with Microsoft, which has netbook aspirations for the upcoming Windows 7. "Intel and Microsoft have a long standing relationship. We have been working closely across multiple product segments to ensure that our hardware and their software work great together, and we will continue to do so."

Moblin has been optimized specifically for the Atom processor and related graphics chips that come with Atom-based devices. Its target use markets are mobile Internet devices (MIDs), netbooks/nettops, in-vehicle infotainment, and embedded systems. Instead of doing specific Linux implementations for each product segment, Intel did one Moblin product for all of them.

A revamped user interface

The 2.0 version focused on three areas, according to Intel: fast boot, a small footprint, and optimal battery life. Also with this version, Intel introduced a revamped UI, called the M-zone, which replaced the standard desktop.

The new UI is the result of Intel's purchase of OpenedHand late last year. OpenedHand makes GUIs for a variety of customers, including Nokia and One Laptop Per Child. Its Clutter Animation Framework allows for integration between a Mozilla browser, social networks, synchronized calendars, tasks, appointments and media content.

M-zone stands for "My Zone" and it serves as the entry point to the netbook and nettop device and is meant to provide simplified access to various services. It's easily customizable by OEMs to offer their own services. "We designed it with the goal that as an end user, you can get to whatever you want with one click," said Peddibotla.

The runaway success of Apple's App Store has inspired a bunch of competitors to launch their own online stores, but Peddibotla said Intel has no such plans. "We enable our OEMs or service providers to build their own app stores based on Moblin," he said.

Putting a prettier face on Linux doesn't change that it's Linux, and that was not accepted by earlier netbook consumers, notes Gartner analyst Mika Kitagawa. "I don't really believe that at the moment anything other than Windows will be accepted by consumers in mature markets," she told InternetNews.com.

"It's not really a new segment. A lot of people use netbooks as an extension of notebooks, and I think people get used to using Windows so much, it's hard to switch," she added. She noted that the Asus Eee PC had a very good custom Linux interface but still did not go over very well, with a high return rate and customers moving toward Windows.

Moblin is slated to remain in beta for at least a few months. "Vendors will have their own schedules, but we expect to release around summer," said Peddibotla. "You can expect new products to satisfy the holiday timeframe."