Cloudy Day: Review of Jolicloud Alpha 2b “Robby” Release

A few days ago (on a cloudy day, when I began writing this post), I received my Jolicloud private alpha 2b developer version invite. After creating a Jolicloud account and downloading a 600MB .img file, I copied it over as a bootable USB thumb drive and was off to the races. Loading it was hassle-free — Jolicloud is based off of Ubuntu; the install process is nearly identical.

On my Asus Eee PC 901, I have a fast 4GB solid state drive, and a slower 8 GB solid state drive. I decided to manually partition my drives, mounting root (/) on the 4GB and my home directory (/home) on the 8GB. Since I have 2 GB of RAM, and all storage in the 901 is solid state, I decided that a swap partition wasn't necessary or ideal in my scenario.

On my 901, it takes 31.6 seconds to boot from power button to log-in prompt. Fairly impressive for the underpowered hardware, but I was honestly expecting it to be quicker. It appears to boot slightly faster than my previous install of Gentoo (and is certainly less hassle to configure), but I neglected to time this before installing Jolicloud. We'll just have to resort to my concept of time and space on this one. Keep reading after the break to see my first impressions on this much-hyped OS.

First Impressions

The application installer is pretty neat, and definitely a plus for those with little to no Linux experience. Turning web pages into full screen applications is definitely the biggest offering I see on this platform so far - that said, I'm not too impressed with the way the OS interface interacts with the Jolicloud application. Leaving Ubuntu's netbook remix interface on OS-level controls seems incomplete to me, and I would opt to simply run Ubuntu as my sub-notebook OS. The icons haven't even been skinned to differentiate the two.

Operating System as a Social Network

It's an interesting concept, and the main focus of Jolicloud. Interacting with other Jolicloud users and sharing information (such as "Eric installed the Skype Application") is seamless and automatic, but I'm not sure I see the value in this. Additionally, while the Jolicloud network has a growing number of ported applications, the offerings are still too slim to suit my needs. Sure, I can add applications through the Ubuntu interface, but that's kind of self-defeating.

Things I Like About Jolicloud

  • As a concept, Jolicloud is leading the integration between OS and the web - other than Google's announcement of Chrome OS, there isn't another quasi-mainstream release (that I'm aware of) that has stated their intention to enter this market arena - especially as its main focus.
  • It's based on Ubuntu, and comes pre-configured for popular netbook models.
  • "My Jolicloud" settings and states are saved and synchronized between multiple sub-notebooks.
  • Full screen web applications launched from the application menu. Think Facebook chat.
  • Out of the box 3G card support.
  • If I had a touch screen, I would fully appreciate their one-click application installer interface. Even easier than the App store on the iPhone.
  • I like light blue and clouds. This makes their logo appealing to my taste. That said I wouldn't mind a more ominous, less cutesy cloud. Like a nimbostratus.

Things I Don't Like About Jolicloud

  • It relies too heavily on Ubuntu's netbook remix interface, to the point where it seems to still be Ubuntu. I'd like to see the overall functionality integrate further before I'd call this its own markedly different initiative.
  • Webcam on the Asus Eee PC 901 doesn't work out of the box with Cheese or Tinychat.
  • Limited UI - I have the same complaint with Ubuntu's netbook remix. While I understand the principle behind full screen only views, it'd be useful to split view once in a while, like ratpoison does, but for non-command line users.
  • Social network based around an OS doesn't do enough for me. What kinds of value or efficiency add is there to this? Seems to benefit Jolicloud, but I'm not quite sure where my own personal return is.
  • Switching back and forth between the Ubuntu netbook remix interface and the "My Jolicloud" page within the Jolicloud app is cumbersome and non-intuitive. I'd like to control many of the OS settings without switching out of the Jolicloud interface.

Touch Screen

I don't have a touch screen hacked into my 901, but the Jolicloud application interface is definitely touch screen ready. Most actions and navigations are handled by a single click, the most intuitive interface action on touch screen devices. If they integrated the OS controls and applications launcher from the Jolicloud interface, it'd be a great way to go for touch-and-go interaction between user and device.

This is Alpha

Please remember that this software is still in an Alpha release, and is likely to become much more mature before we see a system worthy of release candidate nomination. No official judgment from this side of the table until that happens.

An update on my thoughts come Beta release is sure to come. Your thoughts in the comments, please.

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