New SUSE/Moblin Linux netbook from MSI arrives

What do you get when you mix Novell's SLED (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop) 11 with the Linux Foundation's Moblin 2.1 netbook desktop? A lightweight Linux desktop that's trying to snag the netbook desktop market before Google's Chrome OS runs away with it later this year.

How well will Novell do at this? Today, on January 7th, at the CES (Consumer Electronics Association), we'll find out. MSI is releasing the first shipping of SUSE Moblin on its MSI U135 netbook.

According to Guy Lunardi, Novell's director of client preloads, the mix and match of SUSE/Moblin's core package is built on top of the Moblin 2.1's 2.6.31 Linux kernel. Above that, most of the software is from SLED 11. Instead of KDE 4.3, though, for the interface, it uses the Moblin Web-oriented interface. So, for example, to use Firefox for your Web browser, you'll get to it via the Moblin toolbar.

The U135 is powered by a second-generation 1.66GHz Intel Atom 450 Pineview processor. It comes with a 10-in. LED backlit screen with a resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels. The U135 also comes with a fully-supported 1.3-megapixel Webcam. Lunardi said that it's good enough that he now uses the U135 for all his Skype video calls.

The first model comes with a 160GB hard disk drive and supports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and 3.5G WiMAX. Lunardi noted, however, that while the WiMAX drivers are baked in, MSI is still working on jumping through the legal hoops needed to support WiMAX in the U.S.

Lunardi also said that Intel and Novell had worked very hard on getting Moblin/SUSE to boot quickly. He said that the MSI netbook can go from a cold start to full up and connected to a network in less than 30 seconds. The two companies have also been working on improving battery life. While Lunardi wasn't able to say how much battery life the computer has, since final testing is still being done in Taiwan, he did say that it's significantly better than other devices in its class. The U135 comes with both 4 and 6-cell battery options.

Last, but not least, Lunardi said that the U135 has a 20% larger than usual touchpad and an improved chiclet keyboard.

In a statement, Sam Chern, MSI's director of global marketing, said: "Customers today are looking for devices that give them mobility and flexibility. MSI netbooks, in combination with SUSE Moblin, provide an innovative interface and robust computing capabilities as well as the cost-efficiency that our customers are looking for in these new devices." MSI is not, however, at this time saying what the price will be. It's expected to be in line with netbook's usual $400 price-tag. The SUSE/Moblin U135 will be available in February.

You can expect to see more netbooks appearing soon with SUSE/Moblin netbook pre-loads, according to Lunardi. So while MSI is the first to market with SUSE/Moblin, they won't be the last. Acer is expected to release a SUSE/Moblin model sometime in early 2010.

Novell is far from the only Linux vendor working with Moblin though. Canonical is also working with Moblin in its Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Linpus, Red Flag, and Xandros have also all announced plans for mixing Moblin in with their main desktop distributions. It's going to be interesting to see how all these Moblin-flavored Linux distributions do against each other, Windows 7 Starter Edition, and the real wild card, Google's Chrome OS.

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