In my continuous pursuit of trying out cool, new software and hardware, I recently decided to give Jolicloud a go. To be certain, this isn’t something that I just decided one day. In fact, I had seen and done a bit of research into Jolicloud many months ago, long before any announcement of the 1.0 release. The one major factor that stopped me from pursuing it any further was the actual fact that it was a cloud-based OS and therefore, I assumed that without a persistent connection, I would helpless. This, however, it not necessarily true with Jolicloud.
The device that I tried Jolicloud on (and am writing this post in) is a stock Dell Mini 10v. It’s your very typical netbook, with 1.0GB RAM, 160GB HDD, Intel Atom N270 clocking at 1.60GHz. Initially, I ordered it downgraded to Windows XP. Soon after I got it, I upgraded it to Windows 7 Home Premium. And about 6 hours after that, I partitioned the disk and installed Ubuntu Linux.
If you’re keeping track, that now means that there are three OS installations on this netbook. But that’s not strictly accurate since Jolicloud is currently installed on a virtual partition of the Windows partition (think Wubi with Ubuntu). So, it shows up under the Windows chainloader and not directly in the GRUB bootloader. Of course, once you actually boot into Jolicloud, it’s virtually impossible to tell.
So about three weeks ago, I finally took the leap and installed it. Right off the bat, I felt familiar in the interface. Recall, this is was pre-1.0 release, so the interface was completely different from the new 1.0 HTML5 interface. The reason I felt familiar is because it was nearly identical to UNR (Ubuntu Netbook Remix). This brings me to a good point: why did I even bother trying this OS? Well, of course I am a huge fan of Ubuntu and I think it’s pretty apparent that it’s one of the easiest Linux distros to use. It does work great on my netbook in terms of performance, although not so much in terms of usability, in the sense that it’s painfully clear that stock Ubuntu is not written with the netbook in mind. With Gnome-Do, it’s a whole lot easier to interact with the OS and so the need for a good universal launcher is a must. Although the Mini 10v is an otherwise great netbook that has satisfied all of my needs, the touchpad is absolutely horrendous in every conceivable way. Touch-based left- and right-click buttons is a tremendous mistake. In theory it sounds like a great idea, except that even the portions of the touchpad where you’re supposed to push down to initialize a click are touch-sensitive. Thus, unless you have a truly unwaivering hand (in which case you should just use this skill alongside a magnetized needle to write all your code), you will definitely move the cursor which clicking and thus so click accuracy sucks. This was an important consideration since I want to use the touchpad as little as possible. Jolicloud 1.0 makes that possible.
I decided to hold off on writing this post till I got chosen for the upgrade since I didn’t feel it was fair to make a judgement before seeing what the latest version held. And I’m glad I did because the 1.0 release is in most ways a huge step-up from before.
First of all, the well-known and talked-about HTML5 app launcher interface is just great. It’s much, much cleaner and easier to use than the previous layout, which mimics UNR. Indeed, the line between file browser, app browser, settings, and app “store” is very nicely and elegantly merged into an intuitive interface. I would have liked mouseover descriptions of the icons in the top menubar, but that’s okay. Installing a new app (either an actual desktop application or thin wrapper for a web-based client based on application shortcuts available in Chromium) is quite literally a one-click procedure. It’s very plain and simple when an application is being downloaded and even though some of the icons are not quite recognizable as to their purpose, it all makes sense in context.
When you first boot into Jolicloud, it asks you to set up your wireless connection yourself. Not all-together too shabby since the underlying OS does pretty much all of the work for you, but it’d be nice to see that process a bit better integrated into the starting up of the OS. Like having the list of available networks clearly visible in the center of the screen instead of being hidden away behind a mouseclick on the Wifi icon. Not a big deal though. If you think Ubuntu is good at getting drivers and other configurations of hardware done for you, you’ll be really happy with Jolicloud too. I didn’t have to touch one thing and it in fact loaded up my Broadcom proprietary driver automatically too (and informed me of so). Another interesting gnome-panel applet-esque icon allows you to underclock your processor and set up power plans. This is interesting but I haven’t looked into it. Of course, the underclocking is to save on battery life, but I haven’t tested that out (the Mini 10v with 3-cell battery has one of the worst battery lives I’ve ever come across – about 2-3 hours, which really sucks for a netbook, so I may actually look into this later on).
The apps I downloaded were still there when I completed the upgrade. The Launcher, mapped to the Windows key, allows very quick access back to the home screen from within any application. Hitting the Tab key brings focus to search box, which allows you to search Google or your downloaded apps/friends/other apps in the store. This is a really neat combo which I’ll be using a whole lot more. Overall, the interface is really great. Icons are large and crisp for my standard 1024×600 display.
There’s one thing in particular that truly annoys me though. And that’s the demotion of my most useful and favorite built-in applications that were available before to a submenu “Legacy Apps”. This include gnome-terminal and gedit. This makes me mad because outside of the popular console-based text editors, I still find gedit a superior editor over the others. And of course, how can I function without gnome-terminal? These apps are also not indexed in the Launcher searchbar nor are they available in the app store (neither is Google Chrome, as it was before, but Chromium is..). If I could find some way to put this in my main app list, then I could be okay with that.
I’ll continue to give more of my impressions of Jolicloud and info about my experiences with it as time goes on. All in all, I’m quite impressed with where it now and it’s a pleasure to use. If it continues to fair well, I might end up using it a whole lot more with Windows 7 on my netbook.