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Tech

Stumblin with Moblin

I've spent some time this weekend trying, once again, to make some progress with Moblin. They released a new image download a week or so ago, dated 5 July, and I was hoping that it would take care of some of the major issues that I have had with Moblin.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I've spent some time this weekend trying, once again, to make some progress with Moblin. They released a new image download a week or so ago, dated 5 July, and I was hoping that it would take care of some of the major issues that I have had with Moblin. Unfortunately, it didn't. If anything, some of them got worse. I try not to write much about software that is clearly labeled as "Beta" test releases, especially if it is obviously being actively developed and improved as evidence by periodic updates. But I know that several people have commented here that they are anxious to use Moblin, so I want to detail the real problems I am having with it.

All of the following comments are based on installing Moblin on my Dual Atom nettop system, with a 1280x1024 disppay. I mention that specifically because that is a very large, high resolution display compared to the nettop systems that were supposed to be Moblin's original targer. However, they have explanded the description on their web page to say "netbooks and nettops", so if they are going to claim it as a target, it should work properly.

First, starting with one of the June releases, Moblin seemed to have problems with my display. Immediately after boot it would produce an "Application Failure" message, and when I looked at the details I saw that Xorg had crashed. Everything still worked just fine, but I would usually get at least two of these messages, and sometimes more. The application failure notice window only has two options - send the info to the Moblin developers, or look at the details. It would be nice if there were a "Cancel" optin at this point, but to do that you have to go to the details, and then you can cancel out of it. I let it send the information to the Moblin developers the first few times, but there is no sense in sending the same crash cump over and over and over again.

Starting with the June 26 release, Moblin often hangs on my nettop during boot. Not in any predictable place, sometimes it seems to be very early in the boot sequence, the wallpaper has not even been displayed yet, while other times it seems to be almost through booting. Once it hangs it is done and dead, the only possibility is to press and hold the power button until the power cuts off. I was hoping that the 5 July release would fix this problem, but it does not.

Those are the two serious functional probelms that I have with Moblin. I also have a couple of usability problems with it.

If the purpose of Moblin is to be your "social network" center, why does it not have any kind of email client included? Is the assumption that the new wave of "social networking" users all use online mail services like hotmail, gmail, or whatever, and thus access their mail through a browser and don't need a mail client? Or is it just that mail clients are a bit tedious to set up, and they don't want to include anything that "difficult" in Moblin? Or perhaps they are busy developing their own mail client, along the lines of the browser they developed? Perhaps one that should work well on the types of "mobile" devices Moblin is targeting. Whatever the case, if this continues I think the lack of a mail client will be one of the largest long-term problems for Moblin.

Speaking of web browsers, did they really have to create their own? There several good ones to choose from, and while I like the idea of continuing development and inventiveness, I'm not enamoured of what they have produced.

Finally, I will complain once again about the Hieroglyphic menu system in Moblin. Rather than complain again about the odd symbols they have chosen, I will simply say, compare it to the Ubuntu Netbook Remix desktop. When I have installed UNR and given it to several friends, they have invariably been able to understand the desktop, find the things they want, and work with it easily. When I have tried to do the same with Moblin, the reaction has been "Huh?" every time. With a little coaching they are able to find things, but that is the first key - they have to be at least told where and how to look. I just don't think that is a good start for what should be a simple system.

I'm will continue to install and test new Moblin releases. I hope that the problems I am having get solved, and perhaps I will eventually "see the light" in their user interface. I have asked several times here for others to tell me of their experiences with Moblin so far, in hopes that someone would say "I tried it, I love it, it is just right for what I need to do, I think it is the wave of the future". So far, the only comment I have gotten was from Moley, who seems every bit as unimpressed with Moblin as I am.

jw 13/7/2009

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