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Jolicloud - The Most Cloud Ready OS

Jolicloud is one of the most mature netbook operating systems we’ve seen, and it has borrowed the best elements from existing ones to create a fresh, innovative, and very comfortable OS for netbooks. It looks better than Moblin - is fast (but not as fast as Chrome), and has recently come out of closed Alpha testing. The version available now and included on the DVD is a pre-beta release, so the OS is still pretty much in development. Despite the pre-beta tag, if you need an OS on your netbook that handles cloud applications as well as desktop ones, Jolicloud is something you should try out, and we expect you to love it.

Installing Jolicloud

The installation process is very simple. If you prefer to run it as an application on your Windows desktop, then Jolicloud offers the OS wrapped in a virtual machine that you can run from a window. This is an EXE fi le, which is more or less what the OS has to offer when installed. The ISO fi le is an install disc, but acts as a Live CD as well, so that you can have a look at the OS without it leaving any footprints on your system. In the Live mode however, you cannot install applications.

The Windows install is called Jolicloud Express, double-click on the .exe fi le, and the installation starts. Jolicloud will treat the application as an OS within the wrapper, so you have to specify all the information as if you are setting up an actual OS. This includes a login name, a network name for the machine, and any proxy information that you might have.

The installation takes up 8 GB of space on your hard drive by default, but this can be changed using advanced options. Once installed, you can try out Jolicloud as just another window. To install the OS on a computer, you will have to burn the ISO image as a bootable disc using a CD burning application such as MagicDisc. Once burnt, insert the CD into the tray, and restart the machine. Hit the [F12] button during load time to get the boot menu, and select Boot from DVD Drive. If you have multiple media drives installed, choose the drive with the CD in it. You can then either choose to install Jolicloud right away, or start a Live CD session before using a GUI installer on the desktop. If installing alongside Windows OS, or another OS, you will have to choose to make space for Jolicloud in the same partition as Windows. Be careful in this step, and backup important data as choosing to use an entire hard disc will wipe the Windows install, and all your data with it.

If your netbook does not have a DVD drive, then you can choose to install Jolicloud using a USB drive. For this, you will need an application that converts a USB drive into a bootable device, using the Jolicloud image fi le. You will find this application on the DVD as well. You will first need to install Jolicloud USB creator installer on your system, and then run the USB creator. You will also need a USB drive that has more than a GB of space. Be sure to backup any fi les that you have on the USB drive, as the installation process will wipe the drive clean before creating the installable drive. Start up the USB creator, and locate the ISO image for the Jolicloud installation. Then, locate the USB drive from the dropdown box. If there is only one USB drive connected to the machine, that one will be selected automatically. To be safe, be sure to disconnect any external memory that you may have. Your USB drive won’t be recognized as a regular memory drive on your Windows machine once the USB creator is through with it, and Windows may prompt for a format, ignore this prompt. Insert the USB drive in the netbook, hit [F12] and select USB hard disk to boot and install Jolicloud. Before the USB drive is usable again, you will have to format it.

Using the USB creator to make a USB drive installer

Setup and optimization

The dashboard is fresh and functional. The applications are listed on the right, and links to important system folders are listed along the left. Jolicloud offers a great middle ground between the traditional desktop based interface, as well as a cloud OS running from the web. By default, Jolicloud uses Mozilla Prism for running all the web applications, where each app is basically a page loaded in a Firefox window. .

The Jolicloud dashboard

Prominently at the center, is a “Get Started” icon. Use this to setup and optimize Jolicloud for your device. You can setup a Jolicloud account, which will be authenticated over email with a code. You will have to setup a username and password, which is different from the username and password for the computer. This is a Jolicloud profile, which you can either fill up, or you can simply login using your Facebook details, which does not need an authentication message.

There is also an option here to select the model of the netbook you are using. If you are installing Jolicloud on a desktop or nettop, just choose “Other Unrecognized Machine”. If you are using a netbook, chances are that your model number is listed in the long list of supported models (98 per cent of all netbooks).

Once this is done, you can head over to the Preferences and Administration sections of the dashboard for further customization. The view is similar to the Control Panel in Windows or Mandriva, so even users new to Linux should be at home tweaking the settings. There are some useful settings that have been removed from obscure tabs and brought to the forefront, keyboard shortcuts is one example. By default, Jolicloud should apply most of the relevant shortcuts, including the multimedia keys, but you can further customize the setup or choose options that you are more comfortable with it.

Installing applications

To get on to the Application Manager, click on the Yellow Down Arrow along the top bar. This starts the application Dashboard, which contains a large database of both traditional desktop applications and web applications into a single interface. This means that you can install GIMP and Pixlr, one a desktop image editing application, and the other a cloud image editing application alongside. When you run a cloud based application, the web page is opened as a separate Firefox window in full screen mode, so there is no discernible difference between a web app and a desktop app, which is great.

The Jolicloud application manager

There are featured web applications from different providers with one notable exception, being VLC. The applications are sorted into groups based on Accessories, Development, Education, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office, Sound and Video. Additionally, each category can be listed according to different priorities, either by popularity or date. You will find many familiars such as Last.fm, Dropbox, Facebook, Gmail and Spotify among others. There are also a whole bunch of little known web applications that are just waiting to be discovered.

You can also install traditional desktop applications using the application manager. If there are a few must have windows applications that you simple cannot do without, then you can install Wine as well, and try to run the Windows applications on a Wine layer. This is not advisable if you are multi-booting though, as it is a waste of resources.

Once web applications are installed, they are pinned to the top bar in the form of tiny icons that can be clicked to open the window. Jolicloud does not accumulate web applications into tabs in a single browser window. One strange thing that users will have to learn to live with is the lack of a restore or minimize button. Although you can open multiple windows, they are always maximized, and you have to click on the home icon on the top left corner of the window, which is the link to the dashboard, and doubles up as a rudimentary start button. The location of the “close” button is right next to the address bar on the window, which is about halfway into the top bar. This minor deviation is easy to get used to, as there is a lot of screen real estate saved over for actually using the web or the applications. There are some grey areas though. Installing the desktop Last.fm client is a little painful and roundabout. You can choose to install Chrome on the machine, instead of the default Firefox if you prefer Google’s browser for any reason. Most audio and video fi les play out of the box, so codecs are not really a problem with Jolicloud.

Should you use Jolicloud?

Jolicloud is pre-beta, so despite the apparent lack of bugs, there are many things left to be polished. Jolicloud is one of the more feature rich and easy to use free netbook operating systems available. While Jolicloud offers a great range of net content, there is always the offline system to fall back on, and the internet is not strictly necessary to work on Jolicloud. Connecting to Wi-Fi is reportedly easier on Jolicloud than on Moblin or Chrome, so if you have significant problems with other Linux based netbook distros, Jolicloud is the perfect OS to try.