Much to my youngest son's chagrin, I wiped out the Windows operating system on my Classmate and installed Moblin this morning. Moblin, for anyone who may not be familiar with the project, began with Intel's community-driven efforts to create a Linux-based operating system for netbooks, MIDs, and other light devices. It's now been taken over by the Linux Foundation, but they just released the beta version of Moblin 2.0.
Based on Fedora, Moblin has been receiving a lot of very favorable reviews and really does have some very impressive features. Most importantly, it's fast and responsive on minimal hardware and actually has a user interface that lends itself to the tasks best-suited to netbooks. I won't go into the details as it's been extensively reviewed elsewhere; suffice to say, the interface is very cool if you aren't looking for something that looks like Windows.
After playing with Moblin briefly on an Acer netbook, I was curious to see just how it would perform on my Classmate. Since Intel is sending me their Ubuntu image soon, I knew that even if I completely hosed the system, I could get it back up and running in a few days, so I went ahead and installed it.
The install was very fast and in about 25 minutes (including creating the bootable USB stick), Moblin was running on the Classmate. Unfortunately, it didn't recognize the existing Windows partition as one that could be resized, so no dual booting was going to happen, but I wasn't overly concerned. A few things didn't work out of the box, so I have some more experimentation and tweaking to do this weekend: the touchscreen and wireless in particular didn't function. I've already received some feedback from the Moblin community and the Classmate team at Intel, so I'm not too worried about getting these running.
What really interested me, aside from these details, was the interface itself. The Moblin UI, with its stackable spaces for various functional groups and automatically hiding toolbars, in my opinion, makes much better use of the minimal screen real estate than Windows does. It's easy to imagine kid-friendly applications (including the Classmate software stack) in this environment. It's also easy to be impressed by its speed and responsiveness, making the most of the limited resources of netbooks.
If I get the touchscreen working this weekend, I'll report back. For now, I'm just excited about the possibility of Moblin on Classmates and other netbooks, as we look to extract the most from inexpensive laptops for our students.