So last night I decided to download and test three operating systems on my netbook, because I would feel uncreative for sticking with XP. I'm going to test Moblin 2.1, Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.10, and Chromium OS. In this post, I discuss Moblin.Moblin
is a variant of Linux built by Intel and optimized for the Atom processors. Naturally, I am enticed by anything that's optimized for anything else, so I had to give it a try. It was easy enough to download the image file from the Moblin website and follow the instructions to install it on my USB stick. In Windows, all you have to do is install one other program (W32DiskImager, which you can also download from the Moblin website) and then run that program to put the image file on your flash drive. Then, all I have to do is boot up my computer with the memory stick in it, press F12 before it starts loading Windows, and tell it that I want to boot from my USB drive. Moblin gives me three options once it boots up: run Moblin, install Moblin on my hard drive, and run Moblin on my hard drive.
As I type this, I'm running Moblin from my flash drive, and the hard drive light on my computer hasn't come on once. I could keep running Moblin from my flash drive until the cows come home, but I don't have any cows, and besides, it won't save any of my personal data unless I install it on my hard drive. I can install programs and they will work for this session, but once I turn off my computer I'll have to configure it all over again.
This brings me to my first gripe about Moblin: configuration. There's a handful of settings that can be changed in the application
list, but it's a bit out of the way and only lets you change a handful of options. I can change the mouse sensitivity and acceleration, the sleep timer, and a few other things like that, but every time I change a setting and close the window I go back to the desktop and have to navigate back to the settings folder of the application
menu. I'm sure that I can change more things using the Linux terminal, but I don't really know Linux that well and, while I probably should take the time to learn this kind of thing (especially if I want to be running Linux on my netbook), I'm annoyed that they didn't put anything right in front of me. Also, Moblin doesn't seem to be able to get my laptop speaker to work, although the headphone port works.
While I don't like how difficult Moblin is to customize, there are some things I like about the interface. The buttons are large and the layout is simple, so it's easy to do the sorts of simple tasks that you would use a netbook for (mainly, browsing). Here's what Moblin looks like when you start it up:
The taskbar at the top goes away when you're on a different screen, but it's always sitting there at the top so you can just slam your mouse up there and go to what you want. The buttons are, from left to right, myzone
(the screen you see), status
(lets you see which accounts (Twitter, Aim...) you're signed into, as well as what people are nearby), people
(lets you see who else is online in any of the services you're signed into), internet
(lets you see which pages you have open in the browser so you can select one or type in a new URL or Google search), media
(lets you see what windows you have open), and the last four are bluetooth battery sound
. Clicking that ^ on the bottom of the screen closes the window and takes you back to whatever screen you were on before. There's a desktop that can have multiple windows open, but right now I'm using the web browser, which is full-screen, but I can put my Empathy (the default chat service, although you can install Pidgin if you like) window on top of this.
The rightmost column lets you see updates in your social networks. I can add my Last.fm and Twitter username and password, but it doesn't give me the option to add other networks such as Facebook. There might be a way but, once again, Intel didn't put it right in front of me, which is a problem.
The Moblin Application Installer (the [+/-] button) lets you add applications form a set approved list with one click, and that works well. I tried, however, to install Google Desktop, which wasn't on the list, and I was able to download and run their version for Fedora, but Moblin asked me for the Super User password because it wasn't on the list. I was never told what the Super User password is (I had to search for it, turns out it's moblin
), this is the sort of thing Moblin should have let me choose from the start. Anyway, Google Desktop didn't work, I can get the window to come up but it won't do a search in Moblin's web browser, nor will clicking the "preferences" link open up Google's preferences page. I installed Firefox, and Google Desktop works fine with that, so this isn't really much of an issue once I address it properly.
As much as I like several things about the interface, I've decided that this isn't the OS I'm looking for...yet. It seems pretty fast, and will probably boot up quickly if I install it to my hard drive, but it's too difficult to configure the way I want it. Also, while I like the big buttons, they can be a bit problematic when I'm working on this small screen. I'd expect that a later release would fix some of the problems, such as my sound problem or the problem where Moblin keeps losing my wireless network for no reason, but right now it's just not ready. I'm sure the function to see what people are near me will be useful once the new Wi-Fi protocols that let people easily set up computer-to-computer connections (rather than having to set up ad-hoc networks), and maybe if I learn a bit more about Linux I'll figure out how to configure it the way I want, but right now I'm not as impressed as I would need to be.
Perhaps, after testing the other operating systems, I will find that Moblin is a lot faster than the other options out there, but right now it doesn't really impress me. It seems to run faster off my flash drive than XP runs off my hard drive, but that could be for a lot of reasons, including the fact that flash drives are solid-state. Maybe I'll come back to this with some more Linux knowledge and set it to be the perfect OS for this netbook, but right now I'm done testing it.
I'll post my next review when I test my next OS. Until then, I can't really rate Moblin on any sort of 1-5 scale or anything because I don't have enough points of comparison. If anybody knows of some good ways to test things like performance speed and power efficiency quickly and objectively, please let me know.