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Intel backs Linux OS for nettops

Moblin 2.1 takes on Windows

Intel has expanded the scope of Linux-based Moblin by porting the OS from netbooks to mobile devices and desktops, where it could compete with Microsoft's Windows OS.

The company introduced a beta version of Moblin 2.1 at the Intel Developer Forum being held in San Francisco. The new version of the OS now builds in capabilities like native touchscreen input and gesture support, new user interface features, and support for more hardware drivers. It also includes incremental upgrades that expand the usability of the OS.

Moblin was originally developed and pushed by Intel as an operating system for netbooks. An Intel representative said that with Moblin 2.1, the OS will now come in three versions: for handhelds, netbooks and nettops. A nettop is an inexpensive desktop about the size of a hardcover book to which keyboards, mice and monitors can be connected.

Intel had to rethink the user interface of Moblin to fit the different screen sizes of handheld devices and nettops, said Amit Bapat, technical marketing engineer at Intel's open-source technology center. Older versions of Moblin were capable of filling up netbook screen sizes which have typically ranged from 7 inches to 12 inches. Moblin 2.1 will now work from small screens found on handhelds to the larger screens used with desktops, Bapat said.

The development of Moblin is now being managed by the Linux Foundation, though it is heavily backed by Intel. Intel is trying to use Moblin to push the Linux OS in more devices based on its Atom microprocessor. The previous release of the OS was a beta of Moblin 2.0, which was released in May.

Moblin 2.1 adds many features to make the OS work on devices like nettops and has been upgraded to size up to larger screens, Bapat said.

"Moblin will be scalable to fill the screen and make use of the real estate available," Bapat said. Moblin and its open source partners are working with PC makers to bring hardware support for Moblin's desktop edition, which Intel calls the nettop edition. Bapat did not provide further details on what the user interface would look like.

The desktop version will push Moblin into an area which has traditionally been dominated by Microsoft's Windows OS. Many nettops today ship with Windows Vista, and may carry its successor, Windows 7, in the future. Windows 7 is due for release on October 22.

Native touchscreen support in Moblin 2.1 also lends the OS to handheld devices like smartphones, Bapat said. Moblin 2.1 has a new interface to fit into small screens, and also includes features specific to handhelds, like the ability to make phone calls. During a demonstration, the OS had a single window from which users could check missed phone calls, the latest news and unread e-mail messages.

Release of the final version of Moblin 2.1 for handhelds will be aligned with the launch of smartphones and handheld devices based on Intel's Moorestown chip platform. Devices based on Moorestown will ship in the second half of 2010, Intel CEO Paul Otellini said during a keynote speech at IDF on Tuesday. Moorestown includes a processor based on the Atom core.

The netbook version of Moblin 2.1 is an incremental update from its predecessor, and includes support for the Pine Trail platform, which is Intel's upcoming platform for netbooks. Pine Trail integrates a graphics processor inside the Atom CPU. Netbooks based on Pine Trail could appear next year.

The beta of Moblin 2.1 will be available for download "very soon," Bapat said. "As soon as it comes to some stable state, it [will] get released on the moblin.org site," Bapat said.

Moblin will be one way for Intel to promote its Atom Developer Program, which encourages developers to write applications for netbooks. The programme, launched on Tuesday, will help developers optimise and port existing programmes for use on mobile devices based on the Atom processor. Intel will provide tools and software development kits to write applications that could be sold through app stores.

As the size of Atom chips scales down to fit smartphones, the programme could provide one way for developers to monetize applications they develop for Atom, an Intel representative said on the IDF show floor on Wednesday. Intel is working with companies like Acer, Asustek and Dell to create storefronts where developers can sell applications. Such storefronts could appear in the first half of next year, the representative said.

See also:

Windows 7 review

Linux Moblin netbooks to be announced at IDF

Intel pits Linux against Windows on netbooks


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