Monday, August 24, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
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.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
The Netbook Experience
About two weeks ago I bought an Asus Eee PC 1005HA. I wanted to set up a computing platform that was small, lightweight, that I could use when on the road. In some ways my iPhone has spoiled me. It's such a useful device in such a small package. It allows me to travel light but not sacrifice connectivity with my colleges and some of the applications I use to run my business. Where the iPhone falls short is note taking, composing long text documents, or making quick diagrams. Lugging around my 15" MacBook Pro all day at a conference or visiting customers just seems like overkill. So the netbook machine form-factor was appealing. I'm not a windows user, so within minutes of coming home with the diminutive computer I was installing Ubuntu NBR. The installation of NBR was fairly straight forward but getting the network up and running required some extra tweaks for my system. The process was relatively painless.
I've never used a netbook before and I wasn't sure if Ubuntu NBR was going to work for me. I was pleasantly surprised. Everything I use on the road worked great. I should mention that most of my applications are already web based, so the netbook was simply a convenient platform for running Gmail, Google Docs, Salesforce.com, OpenAir, Dropbox, etc. However things like using an LCD projector, OpenOffice.org, and my AT&T USB 3G Network card all worked fine. Everything worked out of the box. I was also able to install Emacs for note taking all quite painlessly via 'apt-get' from the command line. I was shocked to see how polished the Linux desktop/laptop/netbook experience could be. Kudos to Ubuntu.
After traveling with the system for about a week and a half I've been pretty happy. I had some logistical difficulty in managing when I would bring my netbook vs. may MacBook Pro and making sure essentials from my backpack made it to the smaller satchel I've been using to carry the netbook. Network connectivity has not been a problem. NBR works great with Wi-Fi and my AT&T card works fine where there is a good 3G signal which is the case in most of the locations I tend to travel.
So why not a MacBook Air? The main reason is cost. I couldn't justify spending that much on a light-weight computer. Maybe if Apple releases some kind of tablet or lower cost Air I might consider switching. For now my little netbook is serving me well. Does this mean I'm abandoning Apple? Absolutely not. As I said earlier my iPhone is my computer of choice when I'm really traveling light and I still need the MacBook Pro for programming, running virtual machines, and other heavy duty tasks. When two and a half-year 15" MacBook Pro needs replacing it will most definitely be another Apple.
My next netbook experiment is to install Jolicloud. It looks like an interesting repackaging of NBR but with more direct cloud/web app integration. So you install Gmail instead of just using the browser. It seems to treat cloud apps as first class citizens on the desktop. I'll let you know how that goes.