I've spent the last few days using, rather than cursing at, my netbook.
My thoughts on the Nokia Booklet 3G have been documented already, so I won't bore you with that other than to remind you that the device is very pretty and well-specified, except for its lousy Atom Z530 processor, which really struggles under Windows 7 Starter Edition.
So I decided to try something different. Having gone to an Ubuntu event last week, I gave Ubuntu Netbook Remix a shot, only to find it was having difficulty with the unusual 720p resolution of the Booklet 3G. I know it's not that difficult to configure such things on Linux, but I don't care — right now I'm in search of the easiest-to-use, most netbook-friendly distro out there.
I may have found it. Jolicloud is not perfect, but I'm struggling to think of a rival Linux distro that can be so easily picked up and run by an average user. Let's just get this out the way first: the weakling Booklet 3G flies on Jolicloud. I do not miss Windows 7 (a great OS for bigger, brawnier computers) one little bit.
Anyway, the OS. We published a photo gallery of the just-released Jolicloud 1.0 earlier today, so give that a look-over. What follows is an account of why I think Jolicloud is actually pretty important, or at least an exciting chapter in operating-system history.
Let's break it down:
Up in the cloud
As the name suggests, Jolicloud is all about the cloud. Aha, I hear you say, so is Chrome OS! This is true, but Jolicloud has two big advantages over Google's cloud operating system play. Firstly, it exists now — a big plus. More important, though, is the fact that Jolicloud offers full cloud integration while retaining the persistent offline functionality of a normal desktop OS (Chrome OS's major Achilles heel, I suspect — I look forward to a world of hyperconnectivity, but we're not there yet).
In fact, Jolicloud encourages the user to not give a damn whether they're using the cloud or not. Look at the file system. Dropbox, for example, sits alongside the Documents folder. One's cloud, the other's not, and they look the same and work the same. Look at the apps — some are web apps, some are installed, but they look the same and launch the same.
The OS's cloudiness gave me another moment of extreme pleasure: I first tried it out in a within-Windows test installation, but then decided, after creating my Jolicloud account, to wipe my netbook's HDD and do a clean install. I logged in and all my apps synchronised from Jolicloud's servers. And you can put Jolicloud onto multiple devices, with the same desktop synchronising across all of them. How cool is that?
Linux and Windows, sitting in a tree
Yes, I know Wine's been around for ages, but I've never seen a Linux distro that so merrily jumbled Linux and Windows apps, letting users take their pick without knowing or caring about the difference.
So, it really doesn't matter whether the app is cloud, Windows or Linux-based. It's all good, and that is going to be so important if Linux is to wean the average user off Microsoft's teat.
A smarter smartphone
We're already used to seeing Linux on a small screen, in the form of Android. We've also seen a couple of attempts to rejig desktop Linux for the medium-sized screen — pre-final versions of Jolicloud were based on Ubuntu Netbook Remix, for example. Jolicloud 1.0 manages to retain the full-flavour goodness of Linux, while hiding the complex bits away from the view of the average netbook user.
The distro's main UI is clearly smartphone-inspired. Not only is it built in HTML5, which enables bouncing icons and the like, but those icons are also large and touch-friendly (yes, Jolicloud 1.0 supports touchscreen computers out-of-the-box).
What's more, there's a Jolicloud app store built right into the main launcher page. Well-categorised, it allows the one-click installation of cloud, Linux and Windows apps while providing a user experience I've only seen this well-executed before in modern smartphones.
Jolicloud 1.0 is not perfect. A few issues need to be addressed:
1) It's not difficult to install non-app-store apps, but I haven't yet figured out how to put an icon for such an app onto the HTML5 launcher. This means non-app-store apps can only be launched from the unsexy pull-down start menu in the top left corner. Yes, I want even more integration, please.
2) Some settings appear to disappear at restart – the time needed resetting once or twice, and Chromium keeps forgetting which webpages I want at start-up.
3) Whereas UNR picked up my 3G broadband module flawlessly, Jolicloud seems to have a problem getting it to work.
As you can see, these are not show-stoppers. Overall, I am extremely impressed with Jolicloud as an everyday OS, and even more excited at the potential it shows.
Other Linux distributors had better take note — these guys might just have cracked the user experience quandary (seriously, not a sudo in sight). And Google had better take notes — Jolicloud seems to offer pretty much all that Chrome OS promises, and more.
UPDATE: Tariq Krim, Jolicloud's founder and CEO, was kind enough to respond to the three issues I mentioned above. From his email:
1) Apps that have been installed via the app center are synchronized on any other Jolicloud device that has your account. We are exploring ways to let user create, install and distribute apps but we are considering using the technology introduced by Google in the Chrome Web Store.
2) This is currently being fixed, some tweaks in the HTML5 code. That's one of the advantage of an HTML5 launcher, we can update at anytime the launcher.
3) (Here Tariq suggested my problem may be one of configuration. He directed me to a colleague for support, but stressed that "we do that support with most our users that have compatibility issues with their netbooks".)