Jolicloud 1.1 - Very good, but impolite


Updated: December 18, 2010

A few things have changed since my last Jolicloud review. One, Chrome OS was released into the wild. Moblin became MeeGo. Cloud became the rage of the modern society. Most importantly, Jolicloud is no longer Atom-only netbook-only distribution that you setup using a Windows installer. It's a fully featured Linux that will run well on any machine, although it is optimized for low-power netbooks.

The last bit made me redo a review of this operating system. I was pleased with Jolicloud in its version 1.0 incarnation, but after a whole year of netbook distributions coming and going, the novelty does wear off a bit. But the new stuff really makes for an exciting prospect. It will also be a great chance to see how much the platform has changed, what new stuff is out there. Jolicloud is based on UNR, so Ubuntu spirit is all there, for good or worse. OK, enough talking, let's do this.

Teaser

Jolicloud, you must be online

After you boot the distribution from a CD or a USB stick, a quick and very impressive splash screen greets you, probably the best piece of art you've seen so far, with fleeting white clouds zipping right to left through the respective desktop, notebook and tablet.

Splash screen

Then, you'll be greeted with a must-be-online message. Configure your network first, otherwise you won't be able to use Jolicloud. If something's wrong in your (Wi-Fi) neighborhood, tough luck. Online or GTFO.

Online

You must login, too

Now, having an Internet connection is not good enough. You need a Jolicloud account. And since every little thing today is automatically associated with the menace called Facebook, you can use one of those accounts, too. That's a minus in my book, but everyone rides the hype.

Login

At least, the system remembered my user from the last time, which is nice. My application settings and the wallpaper were also imported, another cool feature.

Desktop

It's obvious that Jolicloud aims at being always connected, which does not surprise, considering its name and mission statement and its rivals. But this automatically disqualifies tons of people and makes the distro unusable in a train under the Channel or a remote location abroad where there's no wireless access point nearby and you don't fancy buying a 3G modem or suchlike.

For example, I love to use my UNR 10.04 on my Asus netbook during long flights. Nine hours of battery, Wireless turned off to conserve power and hammering on the keyboard. Seems like Jolicloud won't allow that. A shame.

Live session and whatnot

Not too usable. It's not even called a live session. It's called a demo mode. You can't use all of your local programs as you would and you'll find some of the functionality a little baffling.

Demo

I did manage to use Samba, Wireless, Bluetooth and suchlike. However, I was unable to customize any settings or use the VLC player. You may assume that this is quite all right, but typical Linux distributions let you do pretty much anything in the live session.

Now, this could be a bug - but the end result is, you will enjoy Jolicloud in the live mode quite well, however it's not how it's meant to be used. You should install the distro first and then set about working.

Even so, if you're a stubborn fella who wants to check the basic functionality before committing, you can do that. Some of the stuff may look a little weird. You will need to learn the basic tricks of navigating Jolicloud, since it uses its own pseudo-linear interface.

The focus is on five little buttons in the top ribbon. Click on the + sign to add applications. This works in the demo mode too, for some of the listed stuff. Then, you can browse local drives, which gives you the classic Nautilus, or pretend to have friends and play with social thingies.

Ribbon

History

Another curious thing about Jolicloud is the History. It keeps record of all your installations and quirks and lists all of your associated hardware with your account. Not bad, but privacy-paranoid users might find this unacceptable. But then, this distro is not for them.

History

I particularly don't like the term following used in one of the history items, hinting at Twitter stuff, as if that's something I would want to use. I'm not following anyone, I'm using a computer. At most, I' stalking a few of my co-workers, but don't let them know that.

Following

Following ... sounds like a cult thing. David Koresh Cloud Ltd.

Applications

As I've mentioned earlier, most are usable. Now, the term applications is a bit misleading, because pretty much any website that provides a service is termed an application. In that regard, Gmail and Wikipedia are listed there too. Both are website services, not applications.

Apps list

Featured apps

Example: I've noticed a home design program, which might be some my wife would like, considering her 3D art hobby. But then, it turns out this thing runs from within the browser, which is neat but also a little disappointing.

Home design

OK, that's it, I'm done. Let's install and then use Jolicloud as intended. Oh, BTW, installation = Ubuntu. Enough said. You've seen one, you've seen them all.

In the Cloud, hunting for the Rainbow

Associate your device (e.g. make it social)

Time to use the system properly, then. Indeed, the first thing is to associate the machine. Despite a tremendous improvement in usability and availability, the list of officially supported devices is fairly small. Jolicloud did not list my Thinkpad T60p as an option.

Associate

Sync

This is a neat feature, again, if you don't mind your data being uploaded to Jolicloud servers. On every login, the system will sync your files and application data and download any system updates. In practical terms, this makes for a very hassle-free use, but it does take away the element of control. Don't forget the intended audience!

Sync

Local Apps & Settings

On an installed machine, Local Apps and/or Settings work fine. And there, you'll find the handful of typical Gnome utilities you may want, like Screenshot, for instance. You can also add the terminal, the Synaptic Package Manager and a few more. I like this freedom, even though it's buried in the menus. But it does leave me in charge of the system, which is critically important.

Local apps

Add local apps

Settings

However, I did not find a way to move any of these programs to the desktop, which is called the Dashboard. I didn't find any way to shuffle their order, either. And the right-click does not work. Overall, when it comes to ease of use, you might be a little frustrated here.

Multimedia

No worries, everything played out of the box.

Flash

Music

Social stuff

Overhyped by three parsecs. You have the online backup services, you have Twitter, Facebook and rest of the charming social ideas plastered all over the place. You can search Apps and Friends, which sounds like a chain of stores. You can check what your friends think and like, as if you care about their computer skills.

Social

Dropbox

More about applications

Installations are a breeze, but if you need the command line to fix something, it gets tricky. Non-savvy users won't stand a chance. Even average users who would like to skip the fancy one-click serialized installations and use apt-get might find the convoluted path to the terminal a little annoying.

Plus, the basic repertoire is fairly thin. Ah, well ...

Installing Skype

Installing

Looks

One thing is certain - Jolicloud is very pleasing to the eye. The icons, the color scheme, the set of cool wallpapers, which you can change with just one click, they all add appeal that makes the usage more refreshing.

Disks

Desktop 1

Desktop 2

System performance

Quite reasonable. There were no crashes or errors, no horrendous bugs. Everything worked fairly smoothly. The response was quick. Suspend and resume in under three seconds on fairly old hardware. Quite impressive.

Hardware support

Speaking of hardware, Jolicloud 1.1 is a vast improvement over version 1.0. In fact, if you test it in VirtualBox, say version 4 beta (review coming soon), you'll see a very neat message about the Guess Addition drivers installation in progress. And no CPU throttling warnings like before. Plus tons more desktop and laptop models supported, although there's still room for improvement.

VirtualBox drivers

Issues

Sunshine hideth above the clouds, as the Assyrians liked to say. Or, not all is rosy with Rosie O'Donnell. Jolicloud does have a few problems that mar the overall experience.

Rendering

For some reason, I think the rendering of elements on the screen is not optimal. Check the screenshots above. They seem grainy. You can barely read the text. From my experience, this seems to be a local Jolicloud problem, but I can't tell you what exactly. The theme, the DPI setting, the graphics driver, who knows. But it stands out.

Applications choice

You don't have anything except Chrome and a few basic Gnome programs. There's no office suite installed, no GIMP, no fancy software you expect to find in a typical distribution. You will have to download quite a bit to get the system in proper shape. Furthermore, all of your programs will be displayed in the Dashboard, flattened out across one or more screens. That's rather annoying, if you ask me.

Subjective stuff

This is entirely ME - but I didn't like online-only use, I didn't like too much emphasis on social stuff, I didn't like too much simplification when it comes to desktop customization. While I fully understand the concept of the cloud, I disagree with the implementation. This is not something unique to Jolicloud, it's the ailment of pretty much any cloud distro.

And here comes the rain. The end.

Conclusion

Let's wrap it up. First of, Jolicloud 1.1 is an improvement over the previous version in pretty much every single aspect, from hardware support and performance via good looks and style to a smoother, more polished overall experience. No crazy bugs, no errors, good support for pretty much anything you need to do.

Second of, a few negative points: too much social stuff and non-intuitive navigation through menus, the curse of the cloud usage model. If these can be fixed somehow, Jolicloud would probably be the most mature netbook distro out there. Compared to the competition, it seems smarter than MeeGo and Chrome OS, but it's still one step behind Ubuntu Netbook Remix, the 10.04 working edition, not the toy Unity-flavored Maverick.

And the showstopper: privacy. If you can't have your stuff online or do not wish to have it online, then Jolicloud is not for you. And this is the biggest issue, really. Apparently, software developers don't care about hundreds of millions of people for whom online is not a given. In ten years yes, maybe, being online 24/7 worldwide will be a default, but today, it's not polite. And you still may not want to have your stuff on someone's servers.

But ... for the modern user, the typical user, Jolicloud is an excellent product. It has everything they need, none of the geeky stuff, which is hidden underneath the hood, the importance of efficiency is downplayed and the focus is on bling-bling and instant gratification. Everything a Web 2.0+ thingie should be. If you care, that is.

I think it deserves 7/10. Very good product, recommended, just ignore the useless social follow me follow you stuff and whatnot. Go out with your friends to a pub, it's more interesting.

Cheers.

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