Taking Moblin For A Spin

I thought I should take the Moblin v2 Beta release for a spin to see what all the excitement is about. While most distros would run fine on a netbook with little modification (e.g. The EEE repo for Arch essentially just contains a kernel), Moblin started from scratch and provides an interface specifically designed to get the most out of netbooks. Also, it is optimized for Intel’s Atom processor, so should provide a boost to multimedia applications on those less powerful processors that netbooks contain (in particular optimizations for the SSE2 and SSE3 instruction sets).

I was intending to test the Moblin Beta (20090529) in VirtualBox as I do not actually have a netbook, but that is not supported yet. While the live CD will boot, the screen resolution is too small for the upper menu to fit and the functionality is severely impaired. It did boot and run well on my laptop (any computer with recent Intel parts should be fine), but I was limited to testing from the live CD due to lack of spare partition to install it on.

My initial impressions are all positive. The interface makes it easy to do what I would want to do on a netbook (browse the internet and watch videos). Connecting to wireless internet was simple and sound worked out of the box. The web browser and media players did their job. The concept of “zones”, rather than multiple desktops, also works well. I would not be expecting to run too many applications at the same time on a reasonably underpowered machine anyway. I would need more time to assess how useful “the myzone” actually is, but my initial impress is that it could use improvement.

A couple of things did frustrate me:

  • The inability to configure the top menu. I do not use Twitter or Last.fm so it would be good to get rid of the “status panel”.
  • The “myzone” page can only have its background customized. This seems an area where more configuration options would be useful.
  • I spent a lot of time looking for a shut-down button. It appears hitting the power button on the laptop does a shutdown (without a confirmation dialog…).
  • The lack of a system tray. An instant messager is a bit useless without one.

I am sure some/all of these will be addressed as the distro heads towards an actual release. Only not being able to configure the top menu and the lack of system tray are critical as far as I am concerned.

Overall, I will definitely consider Moblin quite favorably if/when I get a netbook.

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