Thursday, 18 March 2010

Jolicloud will be nice


I came across a new system the other day, Jolicloud (yeah okay, it's a Linux distribution, based on Ubuntu -- now i've said it). Jolicloud is built with "netbooks", those small and fairly inexpensive laptops built for surfing, in mind. So after trying out the live version, i installed it on my wife's laptop.

The "pre-beta" Jolicloud shows promise. I can't say that the currently running version is ready for deployment and production usage for my dear lady, but it will be after a few iterations.

First the good.

Jolicloud looks very nice. That's always a good one if you're going to push it to the masses,

Jolicloud was Really Painless to install. You can download an installer that runs on Windows and everything is pretty automagic from there ("Go have a coffee, we'll take care of the rest"). After less than half an hour, and that includes downloading Jolicloud over the 'Net and optimizing it for its target platform, the system is ready to boot. Unlike other linucen i've installed, this uses Windows' own boot manager to give you the choice between starting Windows or Jolicloud.

There are two kinds of applications on Jolicloud; locally installed ones like Firefox, Spotify (under Wine) or F-Stop for photo management, and "cloud-based" ones like Google Documents, xkcd and so forth. The "cloud apps" run under Prism, which is a Firefox without the chrome. In this respect, it's very much like the Google Chrome OS, and a worthy alternative while waiting for Chrome OS to be released.

And then the bad.

From a user's standpoint, the two really bad things are that the system feels unresponsive at times and that it still is a bit too "techy". A very natural reason why it (in fact) is unresponsive is that many of the applications do live on the other side of the Internet, and for them to get there takes a bit of time. Some proper caching technologies should be applied. And the sluggy bits have become less prominent now that the system has done it's initial updating bits. Or then i've just become used to them.

And then the techy bit. Jolicloud's main menu is mixes user-centric bits like Internet or Sound & Video with system-centric stuff like Accessories, Preferences and disk folders. While i understand the historic reasons why these are where they are, they really should be separated so that there are parts which are for the user's benefit and other parts which are for pampering the machine and the operating system. But i guess these things will be ironed out before actual release.

Another thing which should be addressed is all this logging in. The user needs to log in separately to the machine (which is okay, but why ask for a username if this is primarily for a one-user setup), into the Jolicloud itself (only once, but you do need to create an account, which is a bit weird for your typical user), to Google Mail, Google Docs, Google Calendar and if there's anything else on the Googlesphere i use, then that bit too. The user would probably appreciate a bit more magic behind the scenes. Also, many of those so called web applications are just web pages, which for instance means one scroll bar for the text field i'm writing into just now and another scroll bar to scroll the whole page. GMail should create a more application like interface if this thing is to take off.

Some surprising additions came from hardware support. While i couldn't get wired Ethernet working on the computer, wireless worked perfectly well on any network i connected to. Most pleasing however was the fact that connecting to the 'Net using my cell phone was a plug and play affair. That was nice. And my daughter got to play Tractor Beams while we waited for our son to have his music club.

So there we have it. Using Jolicloud really has a promise of a silver lining out there. I'll be eagerly awaiting for it to come.