ON TEST: Jolicloud Netbook OS

Looking at the Jolicloud OS it is clear that it is an Ubuntu based operating system. From the Ubuntu style installation to the Gnome based desktop. However this is an operating system with its “brains” located on hosted servers.

From creating a Jolicloud account via Facebook to the use of Google for the main programs the cloud is the heart of this operating system. Almost everything is based in the browser which is the open source version of Google Chrome (called Chromium). Hence instead of the traditional Open Office or Koffice Google’s cloud based Google Docs is the default productivity suite. The same occurs with the email with Gmail replacing traditional Ubuntu mail clients of Evolution and Kmail.

The desktop is sparse but clean. Installed applications (or web based apps) are shown by their icons. The way programs interact with the desktop is similar to Ubuntu Netbook Edition with each program taking the majority of the screen when active and every active application shown as an icon on the top task bar. Most of the default apps work fine out of the box as the apps use HTML5 or client/server scripting.

As a result of using HTML for most of the heavy lifting with the applications memory usage is quite low. Jolicloud runs nicely even in 512MB RAM.

Files can be kept on the local drive but you also have the option of 4 cloud based storage providers (drop.io Dropbox Box.net and ZumoDrive). I dont know why UbuntuOne (Ubuntu’s own cloud storage system) is not included in the choice but this may be for branding reasons.

You do have the usual operating system utilities however they are not presented on the desktop and require accessing the filesystem in order to find them. This not an issue for people using this a door into the clouds but Linux power users may feel shaky without the xterm program handy.

Adding new applications is as simple as hitting the [ADD+] button on the top left button of the desktop. There are 700+ apps available according the the Jolicloud website website. So for those who prefer to have locally installed tools like Open Office and Gimp can chose to to use them over the Google Docs (or a mixture of both).

It is possible to load up Jolicloud with the full array of applications found in a normal distribution but that defeats one of the nice things about this OS. Jolicloud only takes up 2GB of drive space so if you have an early netbook with 4GB flash memory you will find Jolicloud’s low disk footprint a boon. And with the choice of cloud storage you may never need any more disk real estate!

Of course the largest problem with Jolicloud is its dependence on internet access. While Australia is slowly getting up to the broad wifi access as found in large overseas cities like San Francisco New York and London it is not there yet. To get the best of the Jolicloud either 3G access or usage in an area with wifi is essentially mandatory. If you’re beyond the Black Stump this is not the operating system for you!

Ultra-paranoid “I need to encrypt my encryption key” people out there may also feel hesitant having all their data stored in the cloud only protected by Google or Facebook logins.

Since everything is stored on the cloud you can access your Jolicloud platforn via the web. Log onto http://my.jolicloud.com/ and your whole desktop appears. Non cloud-based apps like Chromium and Open Office will be greyed out however if you install Seesmic for example you can launch the web client from this virtual desktop.

The cloud also allows your desktop to be cloned onto other systems. Since you log onto Jolicloud via a Jolicloud account (or via Facebook Connect) the replication is quick (admittedly my desktop was almost a clean desktop). One use we can see straight away is for a family to have a shared netbook for out-and-about use but with several desktop PCs at home or even a business which wants to provide staff work-from-home access via the Jolicloud desktop (possibly with a loaner pool of netbooks as well). This is a nice feature and takes the hassles of user management found in most Windows/Mac OS X/Linux systems.

With the promise of Internet everywhere Jolicloud can be a great operating system choice for netbooks or older laptops/desktops with limited memory and hard disk. There is an impressive list of compatible hardware here http://www.jolicloud.com/product/compatibility and while the kernel has been optimised for Intel Atom processors it should run fine on legacy AMD and Intel processors (without support from Jolicloud). Graphics support for the Intel GMA series (from 950 onwards) Nvidia ION chipset and legacy video cards from ATI and NVIDIA is available also out of the box. For Ethernet and wifi chipset support check out this page http://www.jolicloud.com/product/specifications7. Note that 802.11n is currently not supported.

For the average APC reader Jolicloud will feel lightweight However for the people who buy netbooks this is a great choice and less intimidating operating system choice compared with Windows 7 or XP. This would be a good choice for younger and senior users or or even those who just need a computer for emails music and socalising.