Intel talks Linux, netbooks and rivalry with ARM

Summary:ZDNet UK spoke to Intel's Imad Sousou at this year's Open Source In Mobile conference in Amsterdam, to discuss the evolution of the chipmaker's Moblin Linux distribution

Imad Sousou is the director of Intel's Open Source Technology Centre, which is behind the Moblin project —  aimed at providing optimised Linux technology for netbooks and mobile internet devices.

On Wednesday, ZDNet UK caught up with Sousou at the Open Source In Mobile 09 event in Amsterdam, to discuss the nature of Moblin and the hardware on which it will run.

Q: There seems to be some confusion over what Moblin entails — it appears to be a full Linux distribution, but we have seen Suse and Linpus flavours, and Canonical are about to release an Ubuntu flavour. What is Moblin?
A: What Moblin really is, in technical terms, is a community distribution, much like Fedora or Debian, that people tend to use in different ways.

There are certain operating-system vendors who take Moblin completely as-is and use it, and add customisation and provide support, and there are those who take various technologies from Moblin and incorporate them into their own operating systems — although, when people do that, they tend to focus on the user experience.

When you hear, for example, Novell is taking Moblin or Ubuntu is doing Ubuntu Moblin, they are using the operating-system infrastructure and taking the Moblin user experience, which is a set of applications — the 3D infrastructure and a set of libraries, infrastructure components like the social networking, media management and so on.

Essentially, from a technical standpoint, you end up with the same thing, but for the OS vendors it is sometimes easier to use a distribution system that they already use. We made it easy for them to use that.

I don't think there is a lot of confusion anymore, at least not with the people who use Moblin. It is a full OS but you don't have to use the full OS.

You're about to release Moblin v2.0. Can you tell us more about that?
[As a] release from an open-source perspective, it's a milestone more than it is a product release — product releases come from OS vendors and OEMs [manufacturers]. Soon you will start to see OEMs shipping netbooks with Moblin. You will see an announcement over the next week or two.

It's still in beta — right now we're in the very final phase. Very minor but critical bug fixes are being done based on input from OEMs and OS vendors. We don't want to call it a release until someone actually ships a product with it.

The final version will be available for download over the next couple of weeks. Once that happens, we will go on a regular cadence of a release every six months… to make it easy for people to be able to have predictability in terms of time schedules.

Will we see Moblin devices in the UK market soon?
With Moblin v2.0, there haven't been any devices released yet, and this is what we will start seeing over the next couple of weeks with netbooks and early next year with Moorestown-based MIDs [mobile internet devices]. You will see that everywhere in the world.

Including the UK?

What changes have been made since the first version?
Version one of Moblin was more of an enabling project. It's basically just a set of technologies that Linux distributors and people who use Linux can use for the optimisation aspect on our [Intel] platform. Moblin v2.0 is when we started really doing an integrated OS with its own reference user experience that OEMs and vendors can take and customise.

What would a manufacturer or user gain from using Moblin on a netbook, as opposed to using a more standard Linux distribution?
There are a lot of things that we've done with Moblin that are fairly cutting edge, such as social-networking integration.

We created the infrastructure that lets you very easily integrate streams from all the social networks with simple [application programming interfaces] and then be able to allow the user, in an integrated way, to update their status and so on. Moblin also boots in five seconds.

It's things like this — we look at things from a user experience perspective, then we build all the plumbing, such as the kernel and adding libraries and 3D infrastructure.

This is a bit of self-criticism of what we've done in Linux over the past years — we in Linux have got to stop writing clones of the OSs from 15 years ago. People want to use these devices as an internet-media, social-networking consumption device, and this is what we've focused a great deal on, to provide those capabilities in an easy way to use while at the same time maintaining the traditional PC compatibility and consistency.

Earlier in the conference, Vodafone's David Pollington said users were confusing the intended functionality of netbooks with that of more high-powered laptops, leading them to find Linux unsatisfactory on such devices. Do you agree that a netbook is not simply a small PC?
It's different from a PC in one key aspect at least: a netbook is primarily a consumption device. It's great for browsing, playing...

Topics: Tech Industry


David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't be paying many bills. His early journalistic career was spent in general news, working behind the scenes for BBC radio and on-air as a newsreader for independent stations. David's main focus is on communications, of both... Full Bio

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