Until recently, netbooks seemed to be computers designed by a subtractive process. That is, you start with a notebook design, and you scale back on the cost by equipping it with lower-power processors, less on-board storage, smaller screens, and either open source software or truncated desktop operating systems.
There really hasn’t been a powerful example of a “netbook experience” that was built from the ground up to differentiate the devices from their full-powered counterparts.
In March, Betanews contributor Joe Wilcox wrote a column for eWeek called “The Problem with Netbooks” where he described two paths that the form factor could take: one leading to success, the other leading to a quick demise.
These paths differed depending on where you began.
To get on the path to success in the United States, netbooks would have to be fully integrated with mobile broadband carriers who heavily subsidize them, and they would have to have a specially designed version of Windows that isn’t a stripped down desktop version or a built-up mobile version.
But in Europe, it’s a different story altogether, and the devices are already on the right path. Carrier subsidies there are stronger, the devices fall more in line with smartphones than notebooks, and Linux-based operating systems are more popular.
And this is why Moblin has begun to look so promising. The Linux Foundation’s open source operating system designed specifically for Intel Atom-powered devices was bumped up to a project release of Moblin version 2.1 for netbooks/nettops yesterday. This release knocks out several hundred bugs and adds a number of features critical to netbooks.
The most essential of the upgrades are related to wireless data connections. Support for Ericsson’s 3G mobile broadband modules has been added, and the Connection Manager now supports Ethernet, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and 3G connections. Bluetooth discovery and pairing has also been added, which will allow users to tether their Bluetooth phone to their netbook as a 3G wireless modem.
However, Moblin has a critical shortcoming in that it doesn’t yet support the Nvidia, ATI, or GMA-500 integrated graphics processor made by Imagination Technologies. The latter of these is used in all Atom Z500 series devices, also known as “Poulsbo.”
While these graphics processors are found mostly in devices that wouldn’t exactly fit in the netbook category — they’re MIDs, convertables, and “X-series” notebooks — it’s also used in the Nokia Booklet 3G, a 10-inch pseudo-netbook that could be a lock in Europe, and seems a perfect fit for Moblin.
Betanews sent an inquiry to the Linux Foundation asking about support for the device in Moblin 2.1, to find out whether it’s been tested, whether it has to run in a reduced graphics mode or simply cannot run at all, or if there is a plan for a custom Moblin build as an alternative to Windows 7. We’ll let you know what we hear back.