Intel goes after Windows 7 on netbooks with Linux

The chip maker unveiled a beta version of Moblin 2.0

In an effort to counter the growing dominance of Microsoft's Windows OS in netbooks, Intel on Tuesday announced a beta version of a Linux OS it has developed for low-cost laptops and mobile devices.

The chip company on Tuesday announced a beta of Moblin 2.0, a stripped-down distribution of Linux optimized for smaller screens on netbooks and mobile Internet devices (MIDs). Intel has fine-tuned Moblin for netbooks based on Atom chips with a simple user interface and improved power-saving features.

Most netbooks today ship with Intel's Atom chip but run the Windows XP operating system, which Microsoft ships for low-cost laptops. But Intel wants to ensure that every "ounce" of technology -- including Moblin -- put into Atom is optimized for size and power consumption, said Doug Fisher, vice president and general manager of the software and services group at Intel, during a conference call on Tuesday.

Netbooks are low-cost laptops characterized by small screens and limited graphics capabilities. The laptops are designed for basic purposes such as Web surfing, e-mail and word processing. Shipments of netbooks grew sevenfold in the first quarter of 2009 to reach around 4.5 million, with the number expected to reach 22 million by the end of the year, according to IDC.

Intel has contributed a new user interface to the beta, which is optimized for the smaller screens of Atom-based netbooks and MIDs. The new UI aggregates social networks under a single interface, which should make interacting with friends easier, Fisher said. Moblin also includes features that take advantage Atom's sleep state to extend battery life of netbooks, Fisher said.

The beta release comes ahead of Microsoft's planned release of its next-generation Windows 7 operating system, which will include a version optimized for netbooks. However, Fisher said that Moblin was not designed to compete with Windows. Both offer unique user experiences, and there are no points of comparison, he said. "It depends on the user experience the [PC maker] tries to put in the [netbook]," Fisher said. Moblin is being designed as a slim version of Linux optimized for size and power that can boot up within five seconds, he said. That is much quicker than Windows XP, which is a full-featured operating system that in some cases could take up to one minute to load.

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