Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moblin Linux - Distro Review

Moblin Linux is a distribution of Linux targeted at netbook devices that utilize the Intel Atom processor. It is backed by both the Intel cooperation and the Linux Foundation. It is currently in it's finally beta release for version 2.0 - as such I gave it a download to test drive on my Asus EEE 900A.

Downloading and installing Moblin is relatively easy. Like many other netbook targeted distributions it is distributed as a .img file which is intended to be written to a 1gig flash drive using image writer. Personally I like installing from flash drives - its how I install Linux on all my computers, it saves a CD. I had the installer crash on me the first time I tried to install, not a big deal rebooted and it installed fine the second time around. Moblin also takes the Ubuntu approach and makes the root password the same as the default user's password. I know some people dislike this but personally I think it is a good idea, it makes Linux less confusing for new users.

Also worth noting here for others like myself who hop distros often/multi-boot - the Moblin auto-grub creator is more than a little bit stupid. I currently have my netbook multi-booted with Karmic, Moblin, and Jolicloud and Moblin's grub setup failed to detect and auto add both of these other operating systems.

Using the System:
The first thing you will notice about Moblin is that it is fast. Like smoking fast. The time span from when I select Moblin from my grub menu to when I have fully loaded desktop is just under 8 seconds. The user interface is also equally quick. Using a unique setup called "zones" Moblin does a good job of dividing the different parts of your system up neatly using a top panel that comes and goes when you mouse over it. There is just enough eye candy to keep a user happy but at the same time it is not enough to bog down the system. Each "zone" is a dynamically created workspace that comes and goes as needed. When you load up an application you are offered a choice to load it into a current existing "zone" or create a new one. It is a nice way to organize many open windows on your small netbook-sized screen.

Unfortunately there are still a few things that I dislike/need addressing in Moblin. The first and foremost is the giant lack of software. One of the things I always loved about Linux when first coming from Windows is the seemingly endless repositories of software to pick through and install/remove at my leisure, this is not present in the slightest in Moblin. Along side this lack of software is the fact that Moblin does not come pre-installed with office software, meaning in order to type properly formatted papers you will need to use Google Docs or boot into a different operating system. Something else I found odd is that several very standard Linux commands where not present such as nano, fdisk, and shutdown.

The only issue I had with the "zones" is the lack of maximize/minimize buttons on open windows, meaning if a program opens and it is not full screen (which happens) you have to drag the corner to manually make it fill the whole screen. Customization is also not present in the slightest. Beyond changing the back ground you cannot change the layout of the "zones" at all. To be honest all of the defaults are laid out nicely, but for instance I never use the calender feature on my netbook nor do I keep media files on it - so it would be nice if I could remove/hide those "zones" instead of having dead buttons/space.

Then there is the most important part about using any netbook - the internet. The built in browser does a good job of rendering most pages and Moblin comes with flash pre-installed so you can be youtubing as soon as your install is finished. I had issues with a few pages loading in it but simply hitting the refresh button resolved the issue every time.

Final Thoughts:
One last hitch to mention before closing this one is that I did have X crash on me while using Moblin before running the initial system update after installation - so be sure to do this right away. Also Moblin does not support ext4, which is rather annoying because my Karmic partitions are both ext4.

All in all Moblin is a solid netbook distro. In fact if you are only using your netbook for internet (surfing the net, IM, ect) and media use (music and videos) I would recommend Moblin above all others due to both its fantastic UI and quick speeds. How ever the current lack of software, namely office software, makes the distribution almost useless for school use (which is what a large number of netbooks are used for). Personally I'm going to be keeping a Moblin partition on my EEE PC for occasions where I just need to get online and check my email quick or use instant messenger.

~Jeff Hoogland

1 comment:

  1. First, I'm from Argentina, sorry for my english.

    The worst of Moblin is there's no information about -almost- nothing. If you just want to change the wallpaper have to read a lot of forums. I could be a week finding how to personalize.

    If the OS is developed by Intel, How is it possible that the internal mic of my Asus 1005HA doesn't work?

    I think Moblin is great and simple if everything would be perfect and don't need to change nothing seriously.