Microsoft suddenly seems to be facing off against three credible variants of the Linux operating system in the hot market for low-end laptops called netbooks. It seems like a perfect chance for the giant from Redmond, Wash., to play divide and conquer. But Linux backers hope to head off fragmentation.
The latest development is the arrival Tuesday of a new version of Moblin, software developed by Intel for a range of products that use its Atom chip. Intel exploited an interface development team that came when it bought a London-based company last year called OpenedHand.
How Moblin Influenced Modern Technology
Their expertise helped the company add a flashy layer of on-screen software to Moblin v2.0 called M-zone that features new ways of managing media, Twitter tweets and other fashionable computing chores. Videos showing off the software are available here.
Up until now, a version of Linux called Ubuntu has been the most popular alternative to Windows on netbooks. So what does Mark Shuttleworth, founder of the Ubuntu sponsor Canonical Ltd., think of Intel’s efforts? He sounds impressed.
“Intel has assembled an excellent team–they’ve snapped up some of the best Linux talent out there,” Shuttleworth said Tuesday. “They have established a very bold vision.”
Instead of bad-mouthing the new Moblin interface–or immediately adopting it–Canonical sounds like it is taking the more pragmatic approach of waiting to see what computer buyers think. Then if it looks like Ubuntu can’t beat Moblin, it may give up the effort to popularize a different interface. “If there is demand for it, we would merge ouur own efforts into their efforts and try to reduce the amount of competition,” Shuttleworth said.
Other Linux vendors that have expressed support for Moblin include Novell and Wind River.
What about Android? Google crafted the Linux variant for smart phones, but versions for netbooks are widely expected. A spokeswoman for the Internet search giant wouldn’t discuss Moblin specifically on Tuesday, but noted in an email that the Android was designed from the beginning to to scale downward to lower-end “feature” phones and upwards to netbook-style devices.
- Some backers of Linux and other forms of open-source software–which allows multiple contributors to modify and enhance software–think it’s likely that some of the developments in Android could find their way into Moblin for netbooks.
- If Ubuntu also agrees to cooperate, what could be three variants of Linux for netbooks could become one.
- There is already some confidence that existing programs written for multiple versions of Linux will run in some fashion on Moblin, as long as they adhere to a general set of specifications called the Linux standard base.
- But it gets tricker when application software vendors start exploiting specific features of the operating system’s new interface, and if computer makers customize the software; their ability to do that is one of the main selling points of Linux over Windows.
- So it sounds like it may be some time before a software company can write an application and be sure that it works the same way on all netbooks running Linux–as Microsoft can typically promise with its operating systems.
But Intel thinks the open-source process for Moblin, being overseen by the non-profit Linux Foundation, won’t be a crushing burden if software companies do need to “port,” or modify, their programs a little bit. “It make porting if necessary really easy,” says Doug Fisher, a vice president in Intel’s software and services group.