More about Moblin on the Nettop (Part 3)

I've got too many "irons in the fire" at the moment, so I need to wrap a few things up. At the top of the list is Moblin on "Ant", my Dual Atom CPU nettop system.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I've got too many "irons in the fire" at the moment, so I need to wrap a few things up. At the top of the list is Moblin on "Ant", my Dual Atom CPU nettop system. By the way, if you want a good video introduction to Moblin, take a look at Rupert and Charles' excellent Dialog Box segment about it.

The first thing to say about Moblin this time is that the automatic update process seems to work very well. Shortly after booting it today I got a notice that there were 344 updates available for my system, and it is now happily chugging along installing them. Quite Nice.

What I actually want to concentrate on this time, however, is the desktop and its various parts. As a long-time Unix/Linux user, programmer and administrator, I still find the Moblin desktop very strange, and uncomfortable. That is because Moblin is aimed at ordinary users, who want to use their netbook, MID, laptop, nettop or whatever like an appliance, generally for social networking, web browsing and the like. As such, the things I am interested in, and accustomed to, are tucked away in rather obscure places, or just not available on the desktop at all, and I have to dig around to find them. Ah well, in the end that is probably a good thing, so let's just look at what it actually has and what it does.

The desktop is designed with a number of different "zones" or sections, which are laid out on a toolbar across the top of the screen. The first of those, which comes up on boot by default, is "myzone", which gives a general overview of what you have been doing on the computer recently, and some things that you are specifically interested in. That screen is divided into three parts, the first of which shows "Recent and Current Activities", such as calendar appointments and to-do lists, and below that are shortcuts to your favorite applications. The second section shows recently accessed web sites and local files, such as multimedia files (photos, videos and music), text and graphic documents and presentations. This can prove to be very handy - to revisit any of these, simply click on the image here. That often saves a lot of trying to remember what you were working on, where it was, what state you left it in and such. The third section shows social networking updates, such as Twitter and Last.fm feeds. I can't say much about this, because I don't use those at all, but I can say that my friends who do were quite pleased to hear that this sort of thing came up automatically on the first screen.

The next item on the Toolbar is the "Status" panel. This will let you update your status on Twitter (more services to come in the future, they say). Again, since I don't use Twitter, there's nothing for me to say - but at least now I understand why this panel didn't make much sense to me before.

Next comes the "People" panel, which shows your contacts from various "Instant Messenger" services. This is a good idea, and a convenient way to see contacts from various IM services without having to worry about who is on which one (at least after you have gotten it configured the first time). The current Moblin Beta only supports Jabber, Salut and Google Talk, so its usefulness is rather restricted, but it will certainly get better as more services are added. I wonder who is making the decisions about which services to support, and what order they will be added...

Next comes the Internet Panel, and this one sort of baffles me. Not for what it does, because it's pretty obvious, but for why it is there in the form it currently has. When you click it, you don't get a browser (that was already a surprise to me), you only get an address bar that you can type into... but from what I can tell, you really can only type an address (a URL), you can't type any kind of search term, for example. Both Opera and Firefox have had "smart address bars" for quite some time now, and if they are trying to save time by not loading a full browser, you would think they would at least have put such a "smart bar" at this point. You also don't have access to any of your bookmarks, tabs, recently visited sites or whatever at this point. There is a note that says "Type an address or load the browser to see your tabs here", but gives no hints as to how one would do the latter (load a browser). As far as I can tell, to do that you have to go back to the "myspace" panel and click the browser in the favorites area. This panel needs a lot of work, in my opinion.

Next comes the Media Panel, which is dead obvious and does just what the name implies. It gives you access to your recently played media (audio and video), and to your playlists. This looks like a good idea too, although the current implementation is rather limited, and unless I am doing something very wrong, the "Search" function doesn't produce many useful results. For local media, especially that which you frequently access, it is already very convenient.

Next comes the "Pasteboard Panel", which looks like a fairly typical cut-and-paste buffer management utility. It keeps a running list of copied items, across applications. If I could figure out how cut and paste works on Moblin, I might be able to get a lot more use out of it...

Next comes the biggie for me... the "Applications Panel". This is the Moblin equivalent of the menu systems on most other Linux distributions. This is where you go to get direct access to various applications and utilities, such as starting a terminal window, or opening the software installation/update utilities, configuring various parts of the system, and so on. There is a "Favorites" area at the top of this panel, and when you position the mouse cursor on any of the applications in the menus, you get a push-pin in the corner of the highlighted area that you can click to add that application to the favorites.

Finally, there is the "Zones Panel". which is where you can select and access currently running utilities. This seems rather tedious to me, compared to having something like a Taskbar, but perhaps for novice users it makes sense.

So, there you have it, a somewhat less than brief overview of the Moblin desktop. Well, at least the "Panels" portion of it. There is also an area for the date and time at the top left corner, and system status information at the top right. Although the actual Moblin documentation is still rather sparse, you can find some description of the desktop in the Moblin Desktop Intro.

jw 18/6/2009

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