Updated: February 8, 2010
In tech lingo, Linux means geekiness. Even though Linux has been making some pretty decent progress toward becoming a people's operating system, spearheaded by Ubuntu, it is still a domain of computer freaks, savvy ego-centric hackers and advanced users with a knack for software. Most ordinary people soil their pants at the very mention of the word Linux.
But what does Jolicloud tell them? Nothing. First, it has the word cloud in there, and it's a new buzzword. Along with netbooks, cloud has been the defining word for 2009. More and more emphasis is placed on instant and permanent online connectivity, running in the cloud, with your programs and documents sitting on remote servers, with your mobile device nothing more than a fancy terminal to connect to these servers.
Second, Jolicloud is such an esoteric name that it could mean anything. You would definitely not instantly suspect Jolicloud is Linux. But neither would you think the same of Moblin or Google Chrome OS, yet Linux is what they are, down under. And so is Jolicloud.
Today, I will showcase Jolicloud, a Ubuntu-based distro optimized for netbooks, with a revolutionary look & feel and dead-simple usage model. It's everything an online-conscious user would ever ask for, without ever uttering the word Linux. So follow me for a ride. We'll explore the installation, from within Windows no less, explore the radical new UI, test multimedia and file sharing support, install programs in a simple, new manner, and more.
This new distro caters to clueless people, normal people, computers users for whom the computer is a tool and not a colt to be broken. Not surprisingly, Jolicloud comes as a Windows installer, in .exe format. You can also download and burn the traditional ISO, but if you don't care about the geeky things, you can install Jolicloud the same way you would install any other program in Windows. It's even easier than WUBI.
The download is 600MB file, which you execute from your Windows desktop. It will take a few moments to extract, after which the installation begins.
It's a no brainer. There are no special, tricky menus, no partitioning or bootloader setup. Jolicloud is installed as a container on one of your Windows drives, taking approx. 3GB of space.
Step 1 is to choose your login name:
Step 2, choose the right drive for the installation.
Step 3 is an automated process, during which your system will be prepared for the installation, including the creation of the filesystem and the update of the Windows bootloader to include Jolicloud.
After this you can reboot and the installation will begin.
You will see Jolicloud in the boot menu now, along with your Windows:
And the installation will begin. It should take approx. 15 minutes.
And you will soon reach the login screen:
Desktop, the fun begins
It's time to start exploring the distro. Now, even though it is optimized for low-power Atom-based netbooks, Jolicloud installed successfully and without any problems on an elderly dual-core AMD machine. What more, the performance was quite good - even better than UNR, which was a little slow on non-Atom machines. The only problem was that I did not have CPU throttling, which is useful for power saving.
But more about those tiny details later. Let's focus on the desktop.
Indeed, the desktop is well made. It's stylish and appealing. It's very similar to UNR, with the central, single-app panel and instant-access menu and the locations on the sides. This is the default view and is known as the dashboard.
The UI arrangement does not come as a surprise, since netbooks are designed to run few programs simultaneously, with only one in the focus at a time.
Furthermore, the design is quite elegant. The choice of colors and fonts, the layout, the icons, all appeal to the young, new users. There's no evidence of the Ubuntu heritage and there are no frightening Linux symbols anywhere.
To use Jolicloud to the max, you will need to login with your Jolicloud account. That's what the gray-silver cloud icon is for. If you click on it, you'll be asked to sign in. If you do not have a Jolicloud ID, you can create it for free. You will have to provide an email address for confirmation.
When registering, you will need to supply your machine model and give it a name. If you fear for your privacy, just use any which credentials.
Once you log in, the cloud will turn blue and you'll be taken to your "home" page, a stylish, interactive window where you can search for applications, change settings, check notifications, install updates, search for friends, and more.
It's your window to the Internet.
Working with Jolicloud
You work in a single view mode, but switching among open programs is quite easy. In the top left corner, you will find a handful of icons for your apps. Just switch between them when you need, while never losing focus on what you're doing at the moment.
On the other end, you have the system area, where you can quickly access your sound, network settings, check for updates, go to your Jolicloud HQ page, and toggle Numpad and Capslock on and off.
Jolicloud comes with a decent array of programs. It's Ubuntu through and through, so what you get in your stock Ubuntu installation is there too, with many more available at the tip of your fingers.
Firefox is one program that deserves special attention. It features a rearranged UI, making it more streamlined and in line with the distro spirit.
The standard file menu is hidden and can be found on the far right:
Combined, the theme and the rearranged elements infuse Firefox on Jolicloud with a daring streak and make it a tool that's fun and pleasure to work with. As a heart of online connectivity, this is a very important step.
The rest of the apps repertoire is quite interesting and well balanced. Some of the more geekier programs and features have been taken out, but are available for installation via the package manager (Synaptic).
The classic Linux functions are there too, but you need not fiddle with them, if you do not want to. You can make Jolicloud dead simple - or a classic Linux, if you need.
Package management & updates, superb
I was really impressed with how Jolicloud manages applications. Updates wise, you're not bombarded with geeko. You just have a few simple, intuitive functions. Update all and continue with your happy life.
Searching for new programs is even more fun. You have big, shiny, sexy one-click buttons offering the cream of the crop of the software world, including brands like VLC, Skype, Google Chrome, and others. You can also setup a handful of online services, like Twitter, Dropbox, Google Reader, Gmail, Netvibes, and others.
Again, notice the plethora of rich, vibrant, warm colors, all so inviting. The UI is really pleasant, calm, smooth and professional. To install any of the listed programs, just click on Install and wait a few moments. The magic will be done in the background. For instance, VLC:
And you'll soon have the darling media player running:
But more about multimedia just below. And here's Chrome for instance. It blends rather well into the Jolicloud theme:
As a distro that caters to normal people, having multimedia support is absolutely essential. Indeed, Mac-like, Jolicloud comes with all the codecs you will need. This makes Jolicloud instantly usable to media-conscious Web 2.0 generation user. Flash, MP3 playback, Windows codecs, you name it.
Jolicloud looked and behaved very nicely. Samba sharing also worked. There were no problems or crashes. Jolicloud was calm and stable and worked great.
The only thing missing was CPU throttling, but it's expected when you install on the wrong type of CPU. Even so, the performance was good and everything worked. For a pre-Beta release on the non-supported architecture, this is quite enviable.
Jolicloud is a really interesting distro. It works great, it provides out of the box experience for just about anyone and it's dead simple to install and maintain. It's a perfect solution for the common computer user. Even calling it Linux or distro might be too much, as it could scare away potential customers.
I'm really pleased about Jolicloud. It has surpassed all my expectations, including the very fact it ran on non-supported architecture. Installation was a breeze, unsurpassed in its simplicity by any other operating system, Windows or Linux. You also get a sexy, smart desktop - and everything works. Music, Flash, Video, Web, file sharing, installations of popular software, it's all there. Just point, click and enjoy. Amazing.
But what is really amazing is that Linux has become such a tame, friendly beast. It looks and behaves like a proper, commercial desktop, awaited for so many years and now finally come in a new strange incarnation that bears no Linux title. It's truly a revolution, made ready for the finicky tastes of fidgeting, restless Web 2.0 users. Moblin, Google Chrome and now Jolicloud, revolutionary concepts that should captivate the heart of the modern users. Jolicloud seems like a sure winner.
I believe Jolicloud will make it big. It has all the right ingredients for commercial success. One thing is sure, though. Year 2010 is going to be an exciting year of the netbook wars, and now there's a new kid on the block. And it has big teeth and a knuckleduster. Watch out.