Sunday, August 23, 2009

Jolicloud

I just installed Jolicloud on my netbook. The installation process was simple once I created the bootable USB image. I had a lot of difficulty with the Jolicloud supplied tools for both Linux and Mac OS X so I just resorted to a straight forward dd command from the UNIX shell. I was able to boot the USB image from the grub command line. I'm not sure why I had so much trouble getting to this point but it all worked once things started booting up.

The OS installed flawlessly. No futzing with network drivers, no loading of backports. I just stepped through a half dozen of dialog screens and it just worked. This was an improvement over Ubuntu NBR. The makers of Jolicloud are really working hard to make this as simple as possible so they must have their hands full dealing with the explosion of netbook models from a growing list of vendors. I'm grateful for their efforts. The big difference is that during the installation process, or in my case when I asked for an invite, you need to create a Jolicloud profile. This profile is to support some of the other features of Jolicloud which I'll explain later.

After the install completes and you've rebooted your system you'll want to launch the MyJolicloud Dashboard. The dashboard and the way this distribution handles applications. It's central to the Jolicloud experience and it's the primary mechanism to install applications into your system. The reason you want to use the dashboard is because the definition of application within Jolicloud includes web based services like Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter. So instead of launching a browser and getting to gmail via bookmark or just typing in the URL, you install the Gmail application, click on an icon, and it pops up in a dedicated browser window. It even shows up in the upper left-hand app tray as it's own icon. All of this web app magic is done using Mozilla Prism. I'm still trying to see if I like this experience but it is growing on me. My normal work pattern would be to just fire up new tabs in Firefox/Safari and just type in a URL. In NBR these apps would just show up as instances of Mozilla indicated by a small Mozilla icon which does result in a lot of searching through windows and tabs to find the right app. In Jolicloud I have to click on the home button in the upper left, find the "app" icon I want to launch and it will be started in a new window and managed as a separate app.

There are two other important aspects of the Jolicloud Dashboard that are unique. Frist off, the dashboard allows you to synchronize the configuration of machines. That means that if I had a second netbook I could clone my settings between the two systems. I'm not sure how far this goes but even if it just saves my installed apps that could save time when upgrading to a new machine. It doesn't support this yet but it may also be a way in the future to maintain a central or standard config for a group of netbook users. Which may appeal to system administrators. If your concerned with privacy this is an obvious red flag because this means they are storing information about you and your installed applications and possibly app usage on their servers. This may turn off a few folks. Second, the OS includes a social network. You can follow other Jolicloud users and you can see their updates. So when the person you are following installs an app you'll see a notification. If it's something your interested in you can install the app too. Not sure this is something I would use on a regular basis. I'm not really sure I get it. I really don't need another social network and this one is built into the OS. Again, those concerned with privacy are not going to be thrilled with this feature.

I'm going to give Jolicloud a spin for a while. The nice thing about the netbook is that I'm not storing any information on it. Everything I'm using is in the cloud, so changing OSs is a low impact activity. I'm up and running as soon as the install is done. It's quite liberating.

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