I've been enthusiastically toting around my little Classmate, happily telling anyone who will listen how enamored I am of both the device and Ubuntu's Netbook Remix (NBR) that I have running on it. At the same time, I've been giving further thought to Moblin and had an interesting chat with Jason Perlow the other night about Moblin, Android, NBR, WebOS, and other operating systems exploding on the little devices that will really enable 1:1 in schools.
Choice and competition are obviously good things, both for consumers and enterprises. Even if it simply means that Windows 7 is going to be a really solid player on the desktop as Microsoft tries to compete on the netbook, notebook, and desktop fronts, then we all come out ahead. However, for most enterprises, whether that means a single school building or a multi-national corporation, one or two platforms to support is usually more than enough for tech support staff stretched too thin anyway.
Moblin is still in its infancy, in many ways. As the Intel Moblin team pointed out recently via email,
...the Moblin stack is not yet released as a commercial product. Moblin is built to facilitate OSV’s customization and productization, appropriate to their unique business strategy.
While this is PR-speak to some extent, it makes sense: individual vendors can take Moblin and make it do what it needs to do for their particular device. No matter how fast Ubuntu NBR boots, it probably won't be able to compete with Moblin (or Android, or WebOS for that matter) on a MID, next-gen smartphone, or similar portable device.
In education, however, just making the leap to open source software can be challenging enough for many people. For a successful transition, the OSS simply needs to work and allow people to keep doing their jobs. While I'm hardly a typical user, my daily activities on a computer are relatively mundane. I create documents, I send emails, I surf the web, I build websites, and I Tweet. It has been nearly seamless to just keep doing this with a Classmate running Ubuntu NBR, leaving my Mac for the kids.
Perlow thinks that a Palm WebOS-based tablet makes a lot of sense:
On the other hand, Palm’s webOS has all the DNA to be the ideal embedded OS for a mass market mid-sized touchscreen tablet device that would serve the functions of browser, PDA, media player and e-book reader. Its Mojo development platform is reputed to be very easy to create software for. And unlike Google, Palm has the most experience of developing and shipping successful handheld devices and software than any other company in existence, Apple included.
Whether or not you agree with Jason, there's clearly room for a lot of solutions in the portable space. For my users, though, I need to pick one. Windows isn't going anywhere anytime soon and we have a serious investment in Macs at 3 of our schools. If I want to bring Linux into the picture in a way that makes sense for my users, it not only needs to be stable and mature, but also add value (besides the licensing costs I'd be saving). If I fire up 2 lab sets of Classmates in the fall running NBR, not only will folks be expecting the little devices to look and act differently (the perfect time to introduce something new), but I will also be handing them highly functional machines with intuitive interfaces.
In fairness to Moblin, chances are that within a year or two, people will be using the light OS on new generations of portable devices, possibly without even knowing it. MIDs and other "tablety" sorts of portables are on the edge of taking off and it remains to be seen whether Moblin, Android, or even Windows Mobile will dominate this space. Quite frankly, the Classmate itself has matured so much, so quickly, that I can barely predict what will be filtering into classrooms in a few years, let alone into consumer markets.
Intel, as I understand it, is working on a commercial version of Moblin for the Classmate and I'll be eager to see how that looks. Was I premature to call Moblin "irrelevant"? Probably. However, with Windows 7 on the way (which reportedly runs well on the Classmate) and a great Ubuntu implementation already up and running on the Classmate PC, Moblin, like Android and WebOS, may mark great alternatives for consumers, but us educators have more than enough choices already.