What if an operating system was based entirely off the Internet? Even with Google working on Chrome OS, the concept is not new. The idea of computing off a world wide network has existed ever since the existence of the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT. Though the idea died down for a while during the mid 1990’s, the concept of Internet based computing has made a comeback in the form of cloud computing.
Ever since the idea of the netbook took off, various volunteers and vendors have attempted to make an operating system that caters to users of the net. Jolicloud is one of those attempts. The company is bringing its JoliCloud based netbook Jolibook to the UK market at a price of 279 Pounds. The JoliBook features the version 1.1.
I tested the version of a varied set of hardware to see where the OS stands within the huge family of Ubuntu based operating systems.
Version 1.1 is based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx). JoliCloud website states that there is improved driver support along with updated versions of GNOME, Metacity, native applications, and more. There is a LiveCD that can be used to install a copy on computers directly or a Windows setup file can be used to setup a copy from within Windows so that the user can easily dual-boot between Windows and Jolicloud.
Seeing as how the distribution in question would be web-based, only three machines were used to evaluate it.
- ZaReason Breeze 3110: With an Intel Atom CPU, Intel graphics, 1 GB of RAM, and 320 GB hard drive, this lightweight system is ideal for testing a cloud-based OS.
- HP Mini 311: Last time, I reviewed Fedora 14. I am using this machine with an Intel Atom CPU, 3 GB of RAM, 160 GB Intel SSD, and Nvidia ION LE graphics to see how well the graphics hardware could be picked up.
- HP Pavilion Elite HPE-410y: Even though the system with an AMD Phenom II X6, 8 GB of RAM, 1 TB hard drive, and 1 GB ATI Radeon HD 5570 graphic card, it was still a good machine to test the install through Windows 7.
It is important to note that Internet access is required in order to be able to functionally use the operating system, even in the live environment. For those who do not have net access very often, this may not be an ideal distribution to run. The majority of functions are Internet based, so those requiring systems with local applications will want to check out Ubuntu, Debian, PCLinuxOS instead of Jolicloud.
Jolicloud is meant to fill a the cloud computing niche. To begin the review, a description of the installation will be given followed by functionality, and then the conclusion.
On the Pavilion Elite, the Windows executable was used to create an environment from within. The system was already dual-booting with Fedora 14, so it was going to be interesting to see how Grub handled the menu entries. During the installation, a username and password was created, but it was only meant for purposes of saving and accessing local data. One must have an online Jolicloud account (more on that in a bit). Once the files were downloaded, a reboot was in order.
When the Grub menu for Fedora came up, the entry for Windows 7 was chosen. The boot menu from Windows itself appeared and Jolicloud was listed. Jolicloud was chosen, and setup began. Once everything was copied over, one more reboot was in order. In Jolicloud, one must have an account to take advantage of the OS. One can connect through Facebook or simply create a separate account with jolicloud.com.
I had previously looked at Jolicloud online using Google Chrome. While the interface could be evaluated to an extent, not all the applications (i.e. VLC) or features were available. Anyone who test drives Jolicloud online will have their applications and settings synced after install (the same is true for each machine that it's installed on).
On the Breeze and Mini, setting up from the Live CD was straight forward. Hardware from both machines was picked up. The LiveCD environment loaded the proprietary Nvidia driver right away. The Breeze’s hardware is based on netbook technology (Intel CPU and graphics), so detection was not too difficult. The one issue is that Internet access is a must in order for the installation to occur.
For encrypted access, Network Manager is installed by default. One would have to know the login details to access an encrypted WiFi network. After logging in to said network, installation would then be possible. As with any wireless networking, mileage will vary.
In terms of productivity, the emphasis is online. In the upper left hand corner is a cloud icon. Clicking on it is similar to the “Show Desktop” function in other operating systems. The user also sees available applications in front of them. If one wanted to type a document, they would double click the Google Docs icon. Chromium is also available as the main web browser. Applications are added through the green “Add” button in the upper left hand corner of the screen.
Installing applications is fairly easy. From web browsing to multimedia, there are plenty of categories available. Next to the application’s description is an “add” button. Once it’s clicked, the application installs. When a user logs into another Jolicloud computer with their user name and password, the application is then automatically installed on that computer as well to make sure that the environment remains consistent (synching).
Right next to the “Add” button are four additional buttons. The first shows the available apps on the desktop when it’s clicked. The next button allows users to follow other users of Jolicloud. The third button opens the Nautilus file manager. The fourth and final button opens the settings for the user and device that Jolicloud happens to be installed on. There is a center search box that allows for users to search for apps to install or friends online. Finally, the power button is to the far upper right of the screen.
The black strip at the top of the screen allows for multitasking as each open application gets its icon placed in the black area. Again, productivity is based on the ability to go online to get work done. If Google Docs is not desirable, OpenOffice.org can be installed through the custom interface as well as links to Zoho Office. As for entertainment, there are a myriad of options.
One can keep up with the news through the New York Times Skimmer. There’s also USA Today’s Newsdeck. Content from the Associated Press is also available for consumption. Those who prefer games over Reading news have other options to entertain themselves with.
A link to Space Invaders is available. Hulu can also be added so that videos can be watched. There’s also BBC’s iPlayer, which allows for content from the BBC to be enjoyed. Other games such as Scary Girl can be added as well. VLC Media Player is also another possibility. With the simple colors, and large icons, the interface is quite intuitive. Given enough time, one could get used to Jolicloud.
So is this distribution better than Ubuntu? If one wanted a regular desktop system, then it isn’t. Jolicloud is meant for cloud-based computing. Without Internet access, one can not log into their Jolicloud account, even with a Facebook account. If one is in an area in which they constantly do their work online in addition to having consistent access to the net, it is the perfect environment since the interface was designed to get out of the user’s way. So how well did it do on the three machines in question?
Hulu worked well on the Pavilion Elite. Playback was smooth, and there was hardly any artifacts on the screen. Thanks to the type of setup, it became a tri-boot system. Though the resolution of the screen was not fully utilized, there was enough screen real estate to get things done.
The Mini’s webcam was detected by Cheese, so multimedia creation was not out of the question. Skype was also able to connect online.. The Breeze also had no trouble running Jolicloud. If there’s a scroll bar, then not having scroll buttons doesn’t feel right. The Breeze also had trouble with Hulu. The application just didn’t want to cooperate as buffering caused it to simply freeze and do nothing, not even allowing itself to be closed.
Though conventional computers will not go away any time soon, cloud computing will become more and more prevalent as more and more people realize that they can combine the processing power of numerous machines online. The main challenge holding cloud computing back is lack of Internet access in all areas at all times. That is why having a traditional, desktop-based system is still important today. Jolicloud is not better or worse than Ubuntu, because it is suited for some, but not for others.
Being based off 10.04 was a wise move, because Long Term Support can allow for crucial security fixes for three years. This will allow the makers of Jolicloud time to improve what they have and possibly create their own base from the ground up. The reason why this distribution was not tested on hardware with lighter resources was simple; without broadband Internet access, Jolicloud is useless. Despite the fact that the swap file was not touched once, having access to the net is still vital to do cloud based computing. Also, having dial-up would hinder some of the functionality of the Ubuntu-based distribution. Youtube and Facebook come to mind as examples where dial-up would be inappropriate.
If one were to be on a college campus that had wireless Internet access 24/7, then Jolicloud would be an ideal solution. The online world has become more prevalent in the past few years. Office suites have found their online (Zoho) in addition to photo editing, instant messaging, music, and even games. There may come a day in which all that is needed to operate a computer is a web browser and Internet access. Jolicloud is a good solution for combining web applications with locally installed applications, especially for new users who preferred to be online most of the time. Though it has its niche, it would hardly be a replacement for a stationary desktop system. After all, network connections can get faulty from time to time.
While Jolicloud allows the user to save files locally, they have to be logged in through a network connection in order to do so (unless they use another live environment to backup their data). A web-based interface can be very lightweight and efficient, but there is no reason why an operating system could not be created in which said interface didn't require a user to log in to a website before beginning their session. The point of a personal computer was to remove the necessity of dumb terminals. For those who don't mind leaving the management of data and personal information to outside sources, Jolicloud is a good fit. Those who prefer optimal control of their data and private information may be better off seeking a different distribution altogether.