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Nov 14, 2008 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

[Updated Nov. 26] — Mobile Internet devices (MIDs) and other small form-factor systems based on Intel Atom processors and the Intel-sponsored Linux stack are finally starting to arrive. This Hot Topic summary and reading list captures the early history of this key mobile stack.

The project was launched by Intel in July, 2007. It followed Intel's announcement earlier that year of the Mobile Internet Device (MID) form factor. Previous Intel efforts at hybrid mobile devices, such as the slightly larger UMPC (ultra mobile PC) format, had failed to generate much interest, due in part to the lack of available software.

FancyPants running on
Moblin and the
Compal JAX10 MID

(Click for details)

Moblin is an open-source toolkit and mobile device software stack that is optimized for MIDs, but can also run on netbooks, nettops, and other Intel-based mobile consumer devices. Linux MID products running the stack are just starting to be announced, with early products including USI's MID-160 (pictured at top) and the Compal JAX10MID reference design, (pictured at right), which forms the basis for the new Aigo P8860D and Gigabyte “M528” MIDs. A Moblin 2.0 follow-up release, boasting a switch to RPM packaging and Fedora Linux, is planned for early 2009.

Inside Moblin

Moblin comprises a Linux kernel, UI framework, Mozilla-based Fennec browser, multimedia framework, and a growing number of commercial and open source projects. It also maintains documentation, mailing lists, and an IRC channel.

At the heart of the toolkit is the “Linux-Image-Creator,” which installs a graphical “image-creator” tool that is used to install and manage development and target filesystems on a host PC. Developers can choose Ubuntu or Fedora development filesystems targeting MIDs or Netbooks based on McCaslin (A110) or Menlow/Diamondville (Z-series or N-series) mobile processors. They can choose between target filesystems based on Moblin, Moblin2 (still under development), or Ubuntu MID Edition (UME, based on Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded, also UME)

Setting up the development filesystem
(Click to enlarge)

After setting these basic parameters, image-creator users can then choose target filesystem components, such as the Matchbox window manager for MIDs or XFCE window manager popular for netbooks. Once the filesystems for development and target deployment have been installed, the image-creator tool helps the user navigate between them and open chrooted shells in them.

Setting up the target filesystem
(Click to enlarge)

The Moblin stack and tools will also support Intel's forthcoming Moorestown chips, Intel has announced.

Moblin history and outlook

As can be seen from the below reading list, not much was heard from between its 1.0 launch and the first unveiling of MID prototypes in conjunction with the launch of the Intel Atom Z500-series in early April of this year. In May and June, however, several companies announced support for Moblin, including Ubuntu, which released its Moblin-compatible Ubuntu MID Edition (UME), and Wind River, which announced two vertical platforms based in part on Moblin:

With the announcement of Moblin 2.0 in August, momentum seemed to gather for Moblin, with ISVs (independent software vendors) starting to line up behind the stack. Subsequent news included a Moblin/MID version of Realplayer, as well as digital TV players from Move Networks (shown below) and ORB Networks. Other Moblin adopters include netbook Linux specialist Linpus, and more recently, Good OS (GoS), Mandriva, and Turbolinux. See the Reading List below for a more details.

Move Networks's Move Media Player for MIDs
(Click to enlarge)

GeoSentric's Moblin-based
Gypsii geo-location
social networking app

(Click for details)

This Fall, as MIDs are finally arriving from a vendors such as BenQ, Intel has reinforced its support for the project with two key announcements. First, it acquired OpenedHand, a U.K.-based Linux service provider known for its Poky Linux distribution, Matchbox window manager, and Clutter 2D graphics toolkit. OpenedHand also has experience developing for Nokia's ARM-Linux based Internet Tablets, arguably the first devices to use the MID form factor.

More recently, Intel announced it was establishing an “enabling center” for Moblin in Taiwan, in collaboration with Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA). The focus will apparently be on software development for MIDs.

In a recent ABI Research report that predicted that Moblin would dominate the MID market, ABI VP Stuart Carlaw summed up the key appeal of Moblin, aside from its open source foundation: “One of the chief reasons for the projected growth of Moblin is that the tight alignment between hardware and software will be an incredibly important factor in this [MID] market,” stated Carlaw. ABI projected that MIDs would outsell netbooks within five years.

At the same time, MIDs still face challenges, according to a MID market report from China-based CCID. Although CCID is bullish on MIDs given Intel's influence, it lists challenges that include a lack of pervasive wireless broadband, short standby times for early MID devices, limited software, and channel pressures.

Hot Topic Reading List: Moblin

  • Intel, Taiwan tag-team Moblin, WiMAX
    Intel and Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) announced they will jointly establish an “enabling center” for Moblin. The center will work on application software for netbooks, nettops, and MIDs. (Oct. 29, 2008)
  • Linux powers thin MID
    USI demonstrated a super-thin, Linux-based MID that offers GPS, Bluetooth, WiFi, and either HSPA or WiMAX. The Intel Atom-equipped USI MID-160 sports a 5-inch 800×480 touchscreen, but lacks a keyboard, helping it keep a 0.6-inch profile. (Oct. 21, 2008)
  • Moblin Linux gathers momentum
    The project continues to gain support, with Good OS (GoS), Mandriva, and Turbolinux announcing they will contribute to the project. Ericsson, meanwhile, announces it is working on HSPA chipsets for next-generation Moorestown-based MIDs that run the Linux-based Moblin stack. (Oct. 22, 2008)
  • Italian carrier ships Linux MID
    BenQ and Italian mobile carrier TIM announced the availability of a MID with both WiFi and HSDPA mobile networking. The BenQ S6 Mobile Internet Device (MID) runs Linux and is equipped with an 800MHz Intel Atom processor and 4.8-inch WVGA touchscreen. (Oct. 06, 2008)
  • First Atom-based Linux MID ships for $700
    Aigo has started shipping the Aigo P8860D, which appears to be the first MID based on the Intel Atom. Meanwhile Gigabyte is prepping an almost identical “M528” MID, which like the Aigo model, is based on the Compal JAX10 MID design. (Sep. 30, 2008)
  • MIDs to outsell netbooks in five years?
    Linux stacks such as Moblin and Maemo will dominate the MID market, says a report by ABI Research. The firm expects Moblin to take 42 percent of the market in 2013, when it expects 86 million Linux-enabled MIDs to ship. (Sep. 24, 2008)
  • Intel acquires Linux distro developer
    “Poky Linux” and Matchbox developer OpenedHand announced that it has been acquired by Intel Corp. The U.K.-based embedded Linux services team will join the Intel Open Source Technology Center, and will focus on Moblin development. (Aug. 28, 2008)
  • Location-aware social net app targets MIDs
    GeoSentric announced a version of its geo-location social networking application optimized for MIDs incorporating the Moblin stack. (Aug. 25, 2008)
  • Linux MIDs gain “fancy” GUI
    FST announced a software development kit (SDK) for its lightweight graphics stack optimized for MIDs. The FancyPants SDK for MIDs combines an API for the lightweight GUI with an embedded runtime, and is designed to work with the Moblin stack. (Aug. 25, 2008)
  • Linux to gain anti-virus software
    McAfee has promised to help protect MIDs running Moblin Linux from the dangers of the “open Internet.” (Aug. 20, 2008)
  • Streaming media player targets netbooks, nettops
    RealNetworks says its RealPlayer is available for licensing by OEMs building “netbooks and nettops” that run Linux on Intel's Atom processor. Like the company's earlier release for MIDs, RealPlayer for Intel Atom is integrated with Intel's Moblin. (Aug. 19, 2008)
  • Linux to dominate MID market
    Linux will outperform Windows Mobile and other rival operating systems (OSes) in the MID market, says ABI Research. Led by Moblin, followed by LiMo and Maemo, the Linux MID market should hit 50 million shipments a year by 2013, says the research group. (Aug. 04, 2008)
  • Linux MID stack to debut at IDF
    Intel's Dirk Hohndel, director of Linux and open-source strategy, will formally unveil Moblin 2.0 at the Intel Developer Forum, set for Aug. 19-21 in San Francisco. (Jul. 30, 2008)
  • Moblin switching from Ubuntu to Fedora
    Intel has switched from Ubuntu to Fedora Linux for release 2.0 of its MID-targeted Moblin open source stack, which is due to be unveiled on August 19th, say multiple sources. Meanwhile Intel's Dirk Hohndel, director of Linux and open-source strategy, was quoted as saying that Moblin 1.0 had “failed to generate much interest.” (Jul. 28, 2008)
  • Ubuntu MID Edition ships
    Canonical announced a developers release of “Ubuntu MID Edition,” which was developed in cooperation with the Moblin project. Ubuntu MID Edition is based on Ubuntu 8.04 (“Hardy Heron”), as well as the the Canonical-sponsored Ubuntu Mobile and Embedded (UME) community project. (Jun. 25, 2008)
  • MIDs gain wireless connection management app
    Belgian wireless firm Option has ported its network connection management utility to Linux, with the aim of targeting MIDs. GlobeTrotter Connect for Linux aims to help users of Atom-based MIDs running Moblin Linux manage their 3G, Bluetooth, WiFi, and eventually, WiMAX connectivity. (Jun. 05, 2008)
  • Wind River spins MID Linux
    Wind River is readying a vertical-market Linux distribution for Intel-Atom-based MIDs. Developed in collaboration with Intel, Wind River Linux Platform for Mobile Internet Devices, leverages software and tools developed by the Moblin project. (Jun. 05, 2008)
  • Linux distributor joins Moblin
    Linpus Technologies announced it will join the Moblin project. The Linux distributor says its “Linux Lite” distribution runs 20 percent longer under batteries when using software developed by the Moblin project. (Jun. 03, 2008)
  • Wind River, Intel tag-team “infotainment” Linux
    Wind River will collaborate with Intel on an open source automotive infotainment stack for Intel's Atom processor, it announced. The open source community version of Wind River Linux Platform for Infotainment is being contributed to the Moblin project. (May 20, 2008)
  • Intel announces first Atom chips
    Accompanied by two dozen partners with prototype designs of devices based on its new chips, Intel today announced five models in its new “Centrino Atom” line of mobile and embedded processors. The event for the first time showcased MIDs, the central platform for Moblin. (Apr. 02, 2008)
  • Intel launches mobile Linux initiative
    Intel has unveiled an ambitious project aimed at developing open source software for mobile devices. The Moblin project comprises a Linux kernel, UI framework, browser, multimedia framework, and embedded Linux image creation tools, along with developer resources such as documentation, mailing lists, and an IRC channel. (Jul. 16, 2007)
  • Intel debuts Linux-based “Mobile Internet Device”
    Intel unveiled a new post-PC computing form-factor based on embedded Linux this week, at its Developer Conference in Beijing. The chip giant projects a global market of 180 million units annually by 2010 for “Mobile Internet Devices” (MIDs). (Apr. 16, 2007)

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