Jolicloud 1.0 is a new edition of Linux aimed at non-technical netbook users, described thus way by its makers: 'It is not a traditional OS. It was built for netbook users to leverage the cloud and make their life easier'.
Think of it as a variant on the Google Chrome OS approach. This internet operating system, as the company calls it, is little more than a web browser plus a few other supporting technologies.
Does Jolicloud live up to its promises? Its biggest problem is that it feels more like a second beta, rather than a 1.0 release; it needs more work before it's truly useful instead of just one step above a curiosity.
Jolicloud can be installed in two ways. You can run a native Windows installer, which creates the needed disk partition and modifies the bootloader within Windows, leaving you with a dual-boot machine.
Or you can download a bootable .iso image, transfer to CD or flash drive, boot that, and either run Jolicloud straight from it or use it as the installer.
The first method is easier all around, especially since it makes removing Jolicloud – including deleting the partition created for it – as easy as uninstalling any Windows app. If you use the second method, you have to manually remove the partition and modify the boot loader if you want to later uninstall Jolicloud.
In theory, you can install Jolicloud on any PC, not just a netbook, but it's a good idea to check the company's compatibility list before you start. The consequences for using an unlisted device can vary from minor irritations to total showstoppers.
While we were able to install Jolicloud on a Gateway LT2030u netbook (which is on the list) without serious problems, when a Sony VGN series Vaio notebook (which is not on the list) it didn't have keyboard functionality when it woke from sleep mode, making it nearly useless.
The main screen consists of a set of shortcut icons for your currently installed apps, a search box up top and a set of option buttons. The buttons are used for installing new apps, reading other Jolicloud users' activity streams, browsing the file system or making changes to system settings. If you're using Jolicloud with an online storage service like Dropbox, there's a whole subsection of the interface just for those services.
If you want more, adding apps is as simple as typing a name in the search box and then clicking ‘install’. If you have more than one machine registered in your Jolicloud account, your app installs are synchronized across machines whenever there's a network connection.
As well as the simplified top interface, Jolicloud contains many other apps from its Ubuntu base
This is where we started to run into a farrago of snags that makes Jolicloud a tough sell as a completed Version 1 rather than beta Linux distro. Some apps, such as VLC, produced error messages when they launched (but ran normally afterward). Others, like the Google Chrome browser, didn't launch at all.
When we clicked on the Chrome icon, Jolicloud opened Chromium instead. Chromium is the open-source project that is the basis for Google Chrome and the Google Chrome OS. Chromium is installed by default in Jolicloud and is used for many common system tasks in much the same way Windows has Internet Explorer preinstalled.
But Chrome offers a number of features that Chromium does not, including H.264/AAC/MP3 decoding, crash reporting and others – which is why users may prefer to use Chrome as their primary browser. According to a company rep, Jolicloud is investigating how to solve this problem.
The biggest problem with the way Jolicloud deals with programs is almost philosophical. Web sites like Facebook are listed as ‘apps’ alongside real programs like OpenOffice.org. If you have no network access, there's no indication that Web-based apps will be unavailable. You have to launch them and see what happens. Sometimes you get whatever content was cached from that site; sometimes you just get a "Page unavailable" error.
Adding applications to and removing them from Jolicloud. Note the "in-progress" balloon.
Other problems abound. There's no easy way to network between Jolicloud and other local computers, even if they're running Jolicloud as well. Power management options are flaky too – pressing the hardware power button has no effect, not even on our Gateway netbook which was on the compatibility list.
Even the on-screen power button was problematic. Click it when you have a window open from most apps, and the power-button prompt appears behind the other window. There's no hibernate option available, even if your hardware supports it.
Putting these issues aside, Jolicloud can be pretty solid for conventional browsing or light word-processing tasks. We didn't have trouble connecting to our in-house network or reading favourite web sites, with or without Flash.
Jolicloud didn't seem appreciably faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware. It had slightly faster boot times (around 20 seconds to get to the log-in screen, as opposed to a clean install of Windows 7's 30+ seconds), but it took a few more seconds to come up out of sleep mode. A work in progress.
NEXT PAGE: Our expert verdict >>
When we wrote to the folks at Jolicloud and described many of these issues, they confirmed that most of them (such as the Chrome/Chromium problem) are known about and being worked on. That said, it's tough to recommend Jolicloud in its current form; the next release should give us a better idea of how it'll evolve, and how useful it will truly become.