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Moblin makes the Linux 'desktop' more Mac-like

Linux Foundation's Moblin, in its refusal to clone the Windows experience, demonstrates just what can be on the "desktop," or, in this case, the Netbook.

Linux Foundation president Jim Zemlin talks up Moblin Matt Asay/CNET

For years, Linux enthusiasts have tried to win an unwinnable war: displacing Microsoft's hegemony in personal computers with Windows clones. Though Lindows was perhaps the first to make a serious attempt at replicating the Windows experience, all the Linux "desktop" vendors have tried it, and all with the same result:


This isn't because Linux isn't any good as a personal computer operating system. It's because such copycat tactics have doomed Linux to always being a cheap facsimile of Microsoft's idea of what the personal computer should look like and do.

With Moblin version 2.0, the Linux-based operating system Novell and Intel designed specifically for the Netbook market, the Linux "desktop" crowd seems to finally have the right idea: change the game, not simply the price tag.

I spent Thursday working on the Moblin-based Asus Aspire One (AOD150-1165) Netbook. I am still getting used to the somewhat cramped keyboard (with a hyperactive trackpad that is hard to avoid given the lack of space), but Moblin, itself, is pretty impressive, even though it's still very much in beta.

Having used various Linux "desktops" over the years (Canonical Ubuntu- and Novell SUSE-based, primarily), the thing that most impressed me about the Moblin experience is that it's nothing like traditional Linux "desktop" experiences. In fact, it's not really much like Windows, either.

The closest it comes to being a clone of anything is in paying tribute to some of the best Mac OS X features (like Expose), which perhaps isn't surprising given that Ubuntu's Mark Shuttleworth has suggested Linux must outdo the Mac to win.

One of my favorite things is the concept of the M-Zone ("Me-Zone"):

Diagram of Moblin's M-Zone

You can think of it as "home base," as it offers a central place to capture your recent activities (e.g., documents you've been working on, music you were listening to, etc.). Someone that had been using the machine before me had The Pixies geared up on, which I simply clicked on and, Voila! "Monkey Gone to Heaven" started to play. Score one for Intel for knowing my musical tastes.

If that sounds business-y and grown up, I suppose it is, but Moblin is about much more than how to get one's corporate job done. Like the Mac, Moblin takes notice that life is more than corporate drudgery, and the UI reflects this. One part that I really liked was the "People" option on the Toolbar panel:

Moblin's People panel

This is a great view into instant messaging conversations and a reflection of Moblin's nod to the real life "work" that we do, and how we do it. Again, very similar to the Mac in its emphasis on "the other work" we do.

Over the next week or two, I expect to spend more time with Moblin, and to give neighbors, co-workers, and family time on the machine to see how they fare. Stay tuned.

Some are projecting that Linux will regain 50 percent of the Netbook market. Perhaps. But if so, it won't come as a result of the clone wars Linux developers have been promoting for years. It will come from the game-changing tactics that Moblin, now under the guidance of the Linux Foundation, and others bring to the personal computer party.

At present there are arguably too many mobile open-source platforms. Based on what I've seen with Moblin, however, it may well be the Linux distribution to beat in the mobile market, at least for Netbooks.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.