Could Intel's new Moblin 2.1 OS make a dent against Windows in the mobile and desktop markets?
At this week's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the chipmaker debuted a beta version of its Moblin 2.1 open-source operating system targeted to run on a variety of devices, including smartphones, Netbooks, nettops, Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), and in-car systems.
Moblin 2.1 will compete with other open-source operating systems like Google's Android and bump up against Microsoft in the burgeoning nettop arena.
Originally developed for Netbooks, Moblin 2.1 (short for mobile Linux) will come in three flavors--one for handhelds, another for Netbooks, and a third for nettops.
In the market for handheld gadgets such as smartphones and MIDs, Moblin 2.1 will run on Atom chip-based devices. The beta demoed by Intel at IDF showed off capabilities for touch-screen and gesture input. The new interface will also let users switch among different open applications and will provide shortcuts to social-networking apps.
The Moblin 2.1 Web browser will also support Flash and Microsoft's Silverlight 3 technology to run interactive Web-based apps.
In the Netbook area, Moblin is slowly starting to find its way. Dell recently began selling its $299 Mini 10v Notebook with an option for Ubuntu Moblin Remix. Other PC makers, such as Acer and Asus, are also said to be planning Moblin-based Netbooks.
For the desktop crowd, Intel is positioning Moblin 2.1 for nettops, all-in-one desktops similar to the Apple iMac and typically powered by Intel's Atom chip. Most of today's nettops, such as the Asus Eee Top and Dell's Studio One 19, currently run Windows XP.
But with XP on its way out, Microsoft has faced a challenge switching to a version of Windows 7 cheap enough for the low-cost Netbook and nettop market but pricey enough to still turn a profit.
Moblin's success will also depend on the availability of third-party software. Intel has set up its Atom Developer Program to encourage developers to design apps for the new platform. Intel has also said that different programs could be sold through app stores, similar to Google's Android Market.
Of course, Linux has been available in various flavors as a desktop operating system for years. But its complexity has kept it a niche player mostly for IT folks and technophiles. Even Dell is positioning its Moblin-enabled Mini 10v notebook as an option for the tech-savvy developer rather than the average consumer.
Intel also needs to walk a tightrope between competing and yet partnering with Microsoft, a form of "cooptition" to the famous Wintel alliance. Moblin puts Intel in competition with Microsoft on several fronts, opposing Windows Mobile on smartphones and Windows desktop on Netbooks and nettops. But the two still need to play together.
Intel and Microsoft are teaming up to incorporate the Silverlight 3 technology onto Moblin-powered Netbooks next year. Intel will also support Silverlight for developers through the Atom Developer Program.
Intel's ultimate challenge will be to position Moblin to attract people outside the limited tech world. With the right push, Moblin could be the version of Linux to take off on devices from smartphones to desktops.
Moblin 2.1 is scheduled to be released before the end of the year.