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An Introduction to Intel’s Moblin Mobile Computing Platform

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Matthew Sacks explains how Intel's Moblin open source project is helping mobile computing hardware and software developers to build mobile devices that are not just cooler and smaller, but better.

Matthew Sacks is a System Administrator and Technical writer for TheBitsource.com.

The proliferation of mobile Internet devices is beginning to make waves in the computing community as the drive to create smaller, more powerful, more portable devices gains momentum. Mobile devices have become better at connecting to the Internet, and developers continue to add and improve features. This rapid expansion has led to some problems, though:

  • Mobile applications are not standardized. Most current mobile software and hardware platforms are excessively disparate, with stringent APIs that don't allow for effective development.
  • Because of this diversity, there's little community development to foster a more effective open source environment.

Good software development tools and communities are crucial in fostering innovative applications, and Intel's Moblin open source project offers a possible solution. Moblin provides an open source development platform and utilities that are freely modified and ported to various architectures, and based on the most widely available open source platform in the world—Linux. In this article, I'll briefly introduce the Moblin project and talk about the kernel, the software development kit, and how to get started.

What Is Moblin?

The Moblin project is an open source software development community centered around a development platform and software development kit (SDK) for open source software, designed mainly for devices based on the Intel Atom processor and other Intel Ultra-Mobile CPU architectures. The Intel Atom processor is designed for small, mobile, Internet-enabled devices called mobile Internet devices (MIDs), netbooks (such as the Asus Eee PC), and in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) devices. Mobile Internet devices enable people to carry the computing power of a desktop system in a small, handheld, Internet-connected format. Netbooks are simply very small notebooks, usually with an 8-inch to 9-inch screen, that offer the same basic functionalities as a regular notebook computer, but with less computing horsepower. Moblin also supports development of IVI devices, which are systems that allow for viewing DVDs, movies, and Internet connectivity from a console inside a vehicle.

The Moblin project offers multiple utilities for open source application and platform development on MID-based hardware devices. Moblin is open source software released under the GPL license and can be ported to any platform as desired; however, the Moblin suite of development tools is primarily designed for running applications and the Linux-based operating system on Intel Atom-based architectures for very small mobile computing devices.

Moblin Kernel

Currently, the Moblin project contains a Linux-based operating system platform customized for mobile devices. These mobile images are completely bootable into a chrooted environment with the Moblin Image Creator, the primary development utility for creating applications for mobile Internet devices and netbooks. The Moblin platform is created from a stripped-down version of the Linux operating system, which includes support for touch screens and various device drivers found on mobile Internet devices (and not on typical desktop Linux kernels). The latest Moblin kernel at the time of this writing is based on Linux version 2.6.27, and it's continually evolving.

Moblin SDK

The Moblin software development kit is composed of various tools and utilities that allow a software developer to create features for end-user applications or for working on the platform itself. The main component of the Moblin SDK is the Moblin Image Creator (see Figure 1). The Moblin Image Creator allows for creating and managing target file systems for MIDs, which can be accessed from a commodity Linux workstation. Because applications can be developed and tested within the Moblin Image Creator without having to load the image onto the actual hardware device, apps are easily developed on a wide variety of hardware platforms. The Moblin Image Creator allows for exporting to a live USB image, which can be run without the embedded device. Other options are running live inside a virtual machine using KVM, or writing out to a USB or NAND image.

Figure 1

Figure 1 Moblin Image Creator.

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