Moblin 2.1 Final Release

It's been about a week since the final release of Moblin 2.1 suddenly showed up on their web page.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

It's been about a week since the final release of Moblin 2.1 suddenly showed up on their web page. I've been distracted with Ubuntu Karmic and Mandriva 2010, though, and although I loaded it on the ASUS N10J, I haven't had time to really take much of a look at it. But it seems like "now or never", with the openSuSE 11.2 release imminent, and Fedora not far behind that. So, here we go.

The Moblin download is an ".img" file, which can be written to a USB drive or a CD. Instructions for various ways of doing either are on the Moblin web site. Once you have done that, you can either boot and run directly from the Live media, or you can install from that onto your hard drive. First impressions are good at this stage, as Moblin is one of the fastest Linux distributions I have ever installed, by a pretty good margin. It's the kind of thing where you turn around and say "wow, done already?".

The first thing I noticed when I booted the installed Moblin system was that the graphics look considerably nicer than they did in the 2.0 release. The second thing I noticed was that if you are more than about 13 years old, the graphics are likely to look quite childish to you. The third thing I noticed was that they are still using the same bizarre hieroglyphics for the main menu. I just don't get this, what use are icons which are so obscure that you have to move the mouse to them and read the associated text to figure out what they represent? Or perhaps I'm missing some obvious connection that should tell me why two concentric circles mean "Internet", or a jagged line means "Status"?

The good news here, at least, is that there is a new icon in this release, for Bluetooth connections. I have tested that with a bluetooth mouse, and it is easy to use and seems to work just fine. Well done. This was the first place that I came across the new "On/Off" switches, in this case to enable and disable Bluetooth, and it was easy, obvious, and worked well. Click it off, the bluetooth mouse stops working; click it back on and it takes a few seconds for the computer and mouse to pair again, and then it works just fine again. There is also a large "Send file from your computer" button, which I suppose would be used with other computers, mobile phones and the like. This is where I think the Moblin interface is at its best, when things are clean, clear and simple, and not insulting or obscure.

The other place where I noticed major changes is on the Networks panel, where there is now a list of detected WiFi networks, with the signal strength and encryption status of each, and On/Off switches for WiFi, Wired, 3G and WiMAX connectivity (and Bluetooth thrown in here as well), as well as an "Offline Mode" switch, which serves as a sort of "Master" switch to cut off all external connections. Again, I think this is good design, and it seemed to work just fine for me. I was able to connect to my home wired and wireless (WPA2) network with no difficulty at all.

The Sound panel has also had the same kind of On/Off switches add, for Mute and Alert Sounds. I also cross-checked these with the Fn-keys on the ASUS, and they worked as they should, the mute switch goes on and off as I enable and disable sound using the Fn-key, and the volume goes up and down as I adjust it that way as well. Nice.

Unfortunately, that's about it for the "whizzy new parts and improvements". Once the shine was gone from those, I was still left sitting in front of a netbook that I didn't really understand or have much use for. As I have said previously, if "social networking" is the center of your netbook use, perhaps Moblin is right for you. But I'm not even sure about that, because it seems to me, as Adrian pointed out the other day, that while Moblin has been fixing things that should have been done a release or two ago, they still haven't filled in many of the holes in what it really should be use for. Setting up your "social networks", for example, gives you a choice between last.fm and twitter. Period. I don't see any of the other well-known networks, such as Google, Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo or whatever. I don't see any sort of chat/VoIP/video clients.

Perhaps I am too old, or "social networking" is too foreign to me, and I just don't see what to do or where to do it. But I can't imagine that a system that should focus on that is still missing so much of the functionality. If it really is missing that much, then I can't imagine how anyone would actually manage to use it for much of anything. Maybe I'm wrong. I've said this before, if you are using Moblin, and find it useful, please feel free to comment with all the details of what you are doing and how.

I will also add a brief rant that I have made before about Moblin. There is STILL no Logout/Reboot/Shutdown button(s). It seems to be assumed that "anyone" would know that the only way to shut down is to push the power button, and the only way to reboot is to hit Ctl-Alt-Del, and it will do the right things in an orderly way in either case. The entire concept of Logout/Login, and even user names, seems to be unknown in Moblin. Also, customization seems to be lacking. Not only can I not change those idiot hieroglyphics to something more obvious, or even to just plain text, I can't even seem to adjust simple things like the date and time format in the title bar. Much to my amazement, when I went into Applications/System/Date and Time, the time was presented to me in 24-hour format, which is what much of Europe expects... but there was no way to specify that for the desktop display, and sure enough when I went out of there, the title bar still had AM/PM time format. Sigh.

For my own part, I tried to continue using Moblin for some of the every day things that I do, and started running into the same kinds of crashing and hanging programs that I had found in the previous release. So I gave up, left the installation in place so I can go back to it if/when I think necessary, and went back to the variety of "real" Linux installations that I have on that machine.

jw 10/11/2009

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