Marvell Moby Tablet - the Linux factor

Marvell Moby Tablet - the Linux factor

Summary: The Moby Tablet, a potential "educational game-changer", as Larry Dignan put it, is a device that's right up my alley. Marvell already gave us the hardware technology behind the Tonido Plug, so I'm quite confident that this little device will not only come to market, but will probably be a great piece of hardware that OEMs will be able to leverage in educational and consumer markets.


The Moby Tablet, a potential "educational game-changer", as Larry Dignan put it, is a device that's right up my alley. Marvell already gave us the hardware technology behind the Tonido Plug, so I'm quite confident that this little device will not only come to market, but will probably be a great piece of hardware that OEMs will be able to leverage in educational and consumer markets.


It's going to be running Linux. Now I love Linux. I use it for my web servers, all of my thin clients have a light Linux OS, and whenever I can get someone to give it a shot on their own computers, I hand them a live CD. Ubuntu will be the only way that these little tablets will be able to run on the Marvell chipset and the only way to hit that $99 pricepoint (or, for that matter, a sub-$200 pricepoint). The Flash implementation that Rachel King reported rules out Windows 7 Mobile as well.

So Linux it is (and I say Ubuntu because that has been well-developed for embedded applications and runs the Tonido Plug quite handily). The problem with Linux is two-fold: 1) Most people don't like it as much as I do and teachers will be put off by "something different." 2) Development efforts in interactive ebooks are favoring the iPad and Microsoft slates, not Linux-based devices.

While most folks don't realize that their Kindles and other e-readers are running Linux, they expect these devices to be "different." Over and over, though, I've encountered users who expect a computer-like device to either look like Windows or look like OS X.

I'm not saying that the product is doomed. On the contrary, Linux development is proceeding at a rapid pace and users are increasingly being exposed to computing devices (e.g., smartphones, e-readers, etc.) that provide a lot of functionality without being "Windows" devices. However, I think that this particular device may have a tougher battle to break into the mainstream than its price alone would suggest. When we can get review units in hand, the features, usability, and price will all need to be compelling.

Topics: Tablets, Linux, Mobility, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • The problem is that with computing

    as in using a computer for what it does, most people want Windows.

    The fact that Linux runs everything from a smartphone, to their router, to their toaster is irrelevant to the "exposure" thing because nobody interacts with those devices on a level that they do with a computer.
    John Zern
    • Good point, John [nt]

  • Maybe marvell should fix their wireless chips first

    People seems to have a lot of issues with wireless chips and drivers from Marvell. Just poke around the Viliv tablet forums.

    I'm not sure I would buy anything from these guys. There is a big difference between making a chip and making a complete integrated retail product.
  • Completely unaware of Android?

    Why do you assume such a tablet would be running
    Ubuntut? Much as I love Ubuntu, it's not a touch screen
    OS. It's pretty clear to me that Android is exploding
    on smartphones, and is more likely to be the choice on
    tablets than a regular flavor of Linux. Pretty much
    because it's designed from the ground up as a touch
    interface. While it's true that people expect a certain
    kind of OS experience on netbooks and laptops and
    desktops, it also seems pretty clear that phones and,
    by extension, touchscreen pad devices are a different
    story. The iPhone and iPad interfaces are most
    definitely not OS X, and people seem to be able to
    adapt pretty well to those, to put it mildly.
    Conversely, tablet and touch PCs with Windows have not
    been popular, probably because Windows has never been
    very good at touch.
    Android will have other huge advantages. One, it's
    being pushed hard by a leviathan in Google, and rapidly
    being adopted in popular products from device
    heavyweights such as Sony, Samsung, HTC, Dell, Motorola
    etc. Next, a developer ecosystem is really building
    around Android. It's not far behind the iPhone as an
    app and content platform, and moreover, any content or
    app that is developed for the iPad can most likely be
    duplicated for Android.
    Let's face it, as far as Linux goes, Android is the
    only touch-screen interface ready to come out swinging.
  • The switch can be rather easy

    Recently, I switched the malware-riddled computers of a hostel, run by a group of elderly volunteers without any Linux experience, from Windows XP to Ubuntu. It proved to be relatively easy.

    At first I installed Ubuntu 9.10 on a test computer. I made it look pretty and I installed some extra software and codecs.

    Then I did the following things:
    - added a shutdown button to the left side of the lower panel (where people would expect the Windows Start button).
    - made the recycle bin appear on the desktop.
    - configured Open Office to save it's documents in the Microsoft Office formats by default.
    - added some familiar shortcuts to the desktop, including a "My documents".
    - locked down the panels.
    - disabled the visual effects (old computers!).
    - decreased the swappiness (not much RAM memory on the computers).

    ..... and asked them to give it a try for a few weeks. The reactions were rather positive. After their feedback I tweaked Ubuntu a little bit more.

    Then I installed Ubuntu on the remaining two computers, to complete the switch. They've been pretty satisfied up to now (it's been a month). :-)

    The only support I had to give, was to teach them to "safely remove" their USB memory sticks, plus some Open Office tips.

    Now the remaining support for me, is to process the Ubuntu updates every two weeks: for the sake of optimal uptime and reliability, I haven't configured the updates to be installed automatically.

    This isn't meant to boast, because what I did was nothing special. The success factors proved to be:
    - the test computer, which gave them time to get used to Linux;
    - changing the looks: Ubuntu 9.10 looks rather horrible by default, and a pretty look wins hearts and minds;
    - the tweaks to adjust Ubuntu to the familiar Windows XP "look and feel".
  • RE: Marvell Moby Tablet - the Linux factor

    It's all in the gui much like the cars we drive. For most of us we can get in to just about any car a drive to where we need to.
    So why do we need to keep with one OS.I have kids that can use the many flavors of Linux and Windows with ease.So why do adults need to be hand held in using one OS or another, and declaring which one is best.If a system comes with an MS OS I add linux and let the kids try both as there is no cost to do so. If I have an extra copy of an MS OS (that will let me legally use it) I will try to make a Linux system do the same.
    So Marvell get the GUI so the ADULTS are happy, and don't tell them what OS is inside.
  • umm... Android

    Yeah um dude...Android? Think of it like the ipad running the iphone os software.

    And as the moby is part of the One Per Child program expect a bunch of java programmers to make education friendly apps for free

    its a win-win situation, and as THEY ARE actually releasing it with android i think your linux fail foresight is wrong in my opinion
  • RE: Marvell Moby Tablet - the Linux factor

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