A small degression on Moblin

by davidnielsen

One of the newcomers to the OS scene is the Intel backed Linux Foundation project Moblin. Everyone has seen the videos by now but few people it seems have actually taken it for a spin.

I did that and tried to stick with it for a while on a usb stick and I made some observations.

Firstly Moblin should be commented for being the first to really rethink the whole interface, it feels rather snappy even on low end hardware and it works fairly well for the cases it is designed for. It also looks sexy which is important, your computing experience shouldn’t be dull. There are though some rough edges in the handling which I am sure will be worked out.

My main gripe with Moblin though is it’s porr judgement in what I might want to do on the road. E.g. in a world where more and more people use webmail they ship by default the Anjal frontend for the Evolution mail client. This is in a world where I am supposed to have decentralized data, they force upon me the requirement to have my filters only present on one machine as well as my addressbook. Why in the world can’t they just integrate GMail and other webmails properly and create a Zone for async communication (give it a fancy name people. that’s your job). It could replace that cut and paste traversty you have created. In this same world they also don’t integrate a wordprocessor, instead forcing me to use inferior online offerings (okay maybe not so much when MS Office 2010 web comes out). This on hardware that is already encumbered by tendencies towards slowness, I tell you Google docs runs slower than what is acceptable. Give me something akin to the Abiword based activitiy in the OLPC Sugar interface, telepathy tubes even allows pretty neat collaboration here which makes it a winner for these things. It’s lightweight and works fairly well for most wordprocessing cases. Additionally, it works when I am offline which shockingly still happens, e.g. when I am on a train (no 3G internet for me, to slow and unreliable currently).

The comes the plain buggy, such as the chat functionality which isn’t properly integrated with the new interface… making chat windows from Empathy pop up.. underneath the new Moblin interface and as there is no way to see a list of open windows in this zone.. you assume it crashed. However if you go to the open zones tab you can bring it forth and have a regular awesome Empathy experience. The standard Empathy complains still stand though, such as no webcam or custom smiley support for msn, there is no crypto or OTR support at all to be found either. Aside that the contact integration is very cool and helps with making the rethinking of instant messaging happen.

You have Twitter integration, but none for Identi.ca despite supporting the same API and being 100% open source. Something I find a bit strange especially since Indenti.ca seems so heavily favored with hackers and these betas might reflect that a tad some places.

Moblin tends to ignore that Google exists, their default search engine is Yahoo! and there seems to be no way of changing this. This is unforgivable and makes the webbrowser which is already a strangely unstable and visually inconsistent experience just that tad worse. At least ignoring Google is consistent, none of the popular Google apps are integrated into this new mobile internet experience OS – yes that does sound strange but it’s true. It’s also exactly the thing Microsoft has gotten sued over a number of times and been forced to offer choice to alliviate. Moblin please follow suit here. Also in a world where we are seeing more and more products use Webkit for it’s performance and low footprint Moblin elected to go with Mozilla which might prove to be an interesting choice. I suspect suspect some vendors will replace this at least.

Moblin also reinvented Network Manager which is a bit of a shame, especially since there seems to be no apparent need for this to happen. Their replacement doesn’t really seems to work very well but the interface for working with it is topnotch, very easy and foolproof.

There is a new core for managing music, videos and pictures, this seems though to be so early in development I have yet to figure out how to import music and video, nor play any of the demo clips, in addition it seems to crash rather often. I personally wish they had worked with the Banshee people on this one and gotten a stable platform to build something exciting on, like Aaron Bockovers new Cubano frontend for Banshee.

On the subject of crashing, everytime something crashes Moblin automatically offers to send a crash report to thei corewatcher service. What Apport did for Ubuntu this does without the requirement of an account, it all just happens with a single click like Windows offers.

I do wish though that Moblin would offer some options for safety and security. It automatically logs in with access to everything. I might have information I do not want people to just see and there isn’t really any mechanism to let that happen. The same thing with chatting, there are no options to encrypt this and if I am on a public access point I may not want everything I send especially to certain people to be readable in clear text floating around the room. Now the whole netbook platform is a compromise on this point but still once wishes they would at least acknowledge that somehow and give you the option to be a touh safer.

The conclusion can only be that Moblin is very young and where the polishing of it needs to happen it will in time by Moblin itself or by vendors. I suspect we will see good things but on the whole for an ambitious project that aims to reinvent the way we use computers it is shaping up very nicely. I look forward especially to what vendors will do with this, I know both Novell and Canonical are looking at Moblin for their netbook offerings, Novell having already started replacing Connman with Network Manager and I suspect we will see integration of the Cubano frontend for Banshee instead of the existing multimedia platform. I don’t know what Canonical are planning, they are currently keeping their hands firmly to themselves. So far I have to say the Goblin (Novell) incarnation of Moblin seems the most promising and the one I would be likely to recommend to people.

All in all I am very impressed with Moblin despite it’s flaws, I am hoping the interface will be able to scale to nettops and regular lap/desktop machines as it is a very pleasant way to interact with ones computer and I think it would be bold to let this replace the desktops we see today (and we see in development today).