Three Top Linux Options for Your Netbook

Moblin 2.0

Launched two years ago by Intel and now hosted by The Linux Foundation, Moblin is a Linux platform aimed at netbooks and mobile Internet devices. Version 2.0 of the OS was released in October.

(Moblin 2.0 is also used as the basis for the Ubuntu Moblin Remix Developer Edition, an Ubuntu version of Moblin that's customized for Dell's Inspiron Mini 10v netbooks and is only meant to work on these models' hardware. I did not review Ubuntu Moblin Remix.)

Moblin 2.0 is a bit of an odd bird when it comes to its UI. I also found it to be the buggiest and least optimized in performance when I tested it on the Eee PC 1005HA.

The main interface is a toolbar running along the top of the screen. This bar drops down for you to access it when you move the cursor to the top of the screen; otherwise, it stays off the screen. When it does appear, you click on the functions listed across the bar as you would with a Web browser's tabs.

The various built-in functions are separated into categories on this toolbar. These include "Myzone" (a personal start page listing your recently visited sites, your to-do list, appointments and friends' Tweets), "Media" (storage for your audio, video and image files), "Pasteboard" (a clipboard for cutting, pasting and editing text), "Applications" (which is further broken down into sub-categories like "Games," "Office," "System Settings," etc.) and "Zones." The Zones feature works as a combination of a desktop workspace and application task manager; you click this to move from one application, or desktop workspace, to another.

Installation: Installation was fast. It took less than 10 minutes for Moblin to install from a USB flash drive to the Eee PC 1005HA. The size of the installation file for Moblin is about 720MB.

What's to like: Wireless networking worked without a hitch, and I was surfing the Web almost immediately. (Your results may vary. This could simply mean that the build of Moblin I tested happened to support the 1005HA's wireless networking chipset.)

What's not to like: Maybe it's due to the nature of the current version I tested, but Moblin appeared to work less than optimally on the Eee PC 1005HA. Moblin's Web browser (which isn't Firefox but is built upon the same rendering engine, Gecko) had problems handling JavaScript-heavy sites, including Facebook and Gmail. The browser couldn't keep up with my typing when I tried to compose an e-mail in Gmail. Typed letters would take a second or two to show up.

"Myzone" is a personal start page listing your recently visited sites, your to-do list, appointments and friends' Tweets.

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As if the sluggishness of the browser wasn't bad enough, the calendar app crashed twice, and the window for it wouldn't close. So I had two frozen calendar windows cluttering my workspace.

On the 1005HA's 10.1-inch screen, text appears too small and barely readable in some areas of the Moblin UI. For example, in the folders displaying the user's personal files, filename text was tiny and slightly distorted.

With Moblin, I found switching between actively running applications cumbersome and awkward. You click the "Zones" tab, and then choose the next running application you want to access. Or you point the cursor towards the bottom of the screen, whereupon a bar will appear, which, when you click it, scrolls the application up like a window shade, revealing the next active program behind it or the desktop background.

Neither way feels effective for jumping from one program to another -- you can easily lose track of things if you're running more than two programs at once. In fact, you cannot tell in a single glance how many applications you have running.

MP3s wouldn't play, and Moblin, unlike Ubuntu Netbook Remix, didn't automatically search for -- and offer to download and install -- the appropriate software to play them. Instead, it simply popped up a notice suggesting that I go to the software repositories (a kind of search engine for software that most Linux distributions use) and search for the correct code to download (which in this case is a set of decoding software called Gstreamer).

Worth replacing your current OS? The absence of an office application, like a word processor or spreadsheet, is curious and may stick out as an oversight for many users. (There are apparently no such office applications that you can download through Moblin's software repositories.)

Hopefully, future revisions of Moblin will be optimized, and its Web browser will become speedier or be replaced with a better one.

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