LAST WEEK at the Intel Developer Forum it was announced that the chipmaker's open source operating system Moblin was finally approaching the big time, coming pre-installed on a Developer Edition of the Dell Inspiron Mini 10v netbook.
We've been playing around with various iterations of the Moblin beta for months now and we're pretty impressed with the results. The Linux based operating system has been optimised for the Intel Atom processor, which means that its reach is limited, but that it works very nicely on that platform.
The designers have done a good job on the interface and the announcements of things like an app store framework and support for Flash and Silverlight tell us that it has some serious potential.
Following the Dell announcement we saw a glimmer of hope, but speaking to Imad Sousou, director of the Intel Open Source Technology Center, he reckons Chipzilla is not pushing the Moblin message out to end users or manufacturers, but is instead waiting for interested OEMs to come to it.
The response is understandable to a point, after all Intel is first and foremost a chip firm and plans to remain platform agnostic, but without a marketing and education push from Intel, Moblin could be dead in the water.
For instance, at a recent event in London where Samsung was showing off its latest N-series devices we asked the execs present whether the company was looking to pre-install Moblin on any of its netbooks. The response was 'What's Moblin?'
After we'd explained what it was (and mentioning the Dell announcement) the Samsung bods said that they had no plans to start sticking Moblin on any of their machines, but if the demand came from customers then they would certainly look at it.
When Asus first thrust netbooks onto the world, providing a cheap, light, no frills device for basic tasks like surfing the web and checking email, Linux was the operating system of choice. For a variety of reasons this didn't last long and soon Windows XP became the default platform for netbooks.
Vista is too resource heavy for netbooks, but all indications show that Windows 7 is up (or should that be down) to the task, but this is almost certainly set to push the price of netbooks even higher. An operating system like Moblin could help make sure at least some can stay at a more reasonable price point.
Unfortunately it looks like Intel is going to hang around waiting for the manufacturers, who in turn are waiting for the customers, the vast majority of whom are going to have no idea what Moblin is. We (the media) can try and do our bit, but most of the time we're preaching to the choir on this sort of thing so without someone like Intel out there evangelising the cause this vicious cycle of ignorance is going to be perpetuated until eventually Moblin ends up as a fringe project run by a group of die-hard fans.
This seems to fly in the face of the company's plans to expand Moblin beyond netbooks and into other portable devices like MIDs and mobile phones. Chipzilla claims this will mean that users can expect a consistent experience across a range of devices, but if they have no idea what it is in the first place, where does this sense of consistency come from?
Ironically, we reckon the answer to this isn't going to come from Moblin, but instead from another Linux based operating system, namely Android. Although coming from the opposite direction to Moblin, Google's operating system is already gaining support and acceptance in the mobile market, has a booming app store and there are a lot of announcements being made about porting up the chain into media players, MIDs and netbooks. µ