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5/19/2009
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Intel Unveils 'Pineview' Atom Chips, Moblin Operating System

The processor's Pine Trail chipset with Tiger Point I/O controller is expected to find its way into netbooks and nettop PCs later this year.

Intel on Tuesday introduced its next netbook platform and version 2.0 of the Moblin operating system for the mini-laptops, which at least one research firm said has no chance in competing against the leading OS, Windows.

The upcoming Atom processor, code-named Pineview, incorporates the memory controller and graphics circuitry on the same piece of silicon. The surrounding technology platform called Pine Trail will be based on the Atom processor and is scheduled to be available in the fourth quarter.

The platform differs from what's currently available in that the number of chips is reduced from three to two, which means lower cost for computer makers and lower power consumption. The second chip in Pine Trail contains a new input/output controller, code-named Tiger Point.

Despite having its own graphics component, Pine Trail can be integrated with Nvidia's Ion graphics for netbooks, Noury Al-Khaledy, Intel's general manager for netbooks technology, told reporters during a teleconference.

Intel's low-cost, low-power Atom processor is in the majority of netbooks shipping today. Netbooks are the fastest growing segment of the PC market. Nearly a fifth of all the laptops shipped in the first quarter of this year were netbooks, according to DisplaySearch.

While other PC segments have seen sales fall in the economic recession, netbooks have done well because of their low cost, typically as little as $300. The systems, however, are best-suited for Web browsing and basic computing tasks, and do not compete in performance with mainstream laptops.

Intel also announced the beta release of Moblin v2.0. The open source OS, which is a variant of Linux, is optimized for Atom and is built specifically for netbooks, as well as mini-desktops called nettops.

The new version introduces a user interface called the M-zone, which stands for "My Zone," said Doug Fisher, VP and general manager for Intel's software and services group. The M-zone is designed to provide users with quick access to e-mail, instant messaging, and online social networks, such as Facebook. The OS also has its own media player.

In addition, the Moblin application framework is built so the user interface can be customized by computer makers that want to add their own brand and look and feel, Fisher said.

Moblin holds a miniscule share of the netbook market, which is dominated by Microsoft's Windows XP. IDC forecasts that all the flavors of Linux combined will only be in 4.5% of the netbooks expected to ship this year. The analyst firm expects that number to fall even further, leaving no chance for Moblin to become a player.

"We don't see an opportunity for this at all," IDC analyst Bob O'Donnell said. "People have clearly voted with their wallets."

Up until the second half of last year, Linux was the only OS available on netbooks. But despite that early lead, Windows quickly grabbed the biggest share once Microsoft made XP available.

The reason for that was application compatibility. Most people wanted to run Windows applications in netbooks. As a result, the return rate on Linux netbooks was 10 times higher than on the latter Windows systems, O'Donnell said.

While Moblin v2.0 is only aimed at netbooks and nettops, future versions of the OS will be tailored for smartphones, Fisher said. In that market, however, Moblin will have to compete against operating systems from Apple, which makes the iPhone; Research In Motion, maker of the BlackBerry; Microsoft, which ships Windows Mobile; the Symbian OS, which is a favorite of Nokia; and Google's Android, another open source OS.

With such a fragmented market, Moblin has a better chance of gaining some traction there. But before it does, Intel will have to get out a smartphone version of Atom, which isn't expected until next year.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the use of business software on smartphones. Download the report here (registration required).

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