The Alpha 2c version of Jolicloud was released almost two weeks ago and the whole Softpedia Linux team was eager to see what it was all about. So we asked for an invitation yesterday morning, and this morning an e-mail was waiting in our inbox, allowing us to create an account and download the netbook-oriented distribution.
Since the developers are committed to supporting even the older non-Atom netbooks, we put Jolicloud Alpha 2c to work on an Asus EEE 4G Surf, with these hardware specifications:
· Intel 910GML chipset;
· Intel Celeron-M ULV 353 900MHz processor;
· Intel GMA900 integrated graphics processor;
· 1024MB of RAM;
· Internal TFT LCD with a resolution of 800x480 pixels.
On top of that we added a Samsung 910n display, since you can hardly see all the details on the EEEs little LCD panel. Because we set a desktop resolution of 1280x1024, some background images are tiled and the icon spacing is sometimes unusually large, since this distribution was designed to handle small LCD displays, so those problems shouldn't occur under normal use.
If you are expecting a new or groundbreaking way to work with your desktop or some mind-blowing graphics (as we were), Jolicloud Alpha 2c will probably let you down. After booting, which bears all the indications that this distro bases itself on Ubuntu, you will be greeted by the Ubuntu Netbook Remix launcher, with a black desktop background and two icons on the launcher. One of them points to Firefox and the other, "Get Started," will allow you to see what Jolicloud is all about.
Clicking that icon will fire up "My Jolicloud" and present you with a login screen. This is where all the social desktop and application wizardry happens. The Jolicloud homebase allows you to install and remove applications and manages your updates and your profile. "Applications" and "profile" in a single phrase, that doesn't sound too natural, does it? Well, for Jolicloud it does, because that is one of the innovations that this distribution brings. When you log in to the homebase you also connect to a social network formed around this operating system, which enables you to keep up with what applications your friends are using. If you have Jolicloud installed on more than one device, the homebase also provides computer management options and synchronizes the changes between devices.
We did encounter a bug with the Jolicloud homebase, but that will surely be fixed in later updates: it kept offering the same updates, although we already tried to apply them a few minutes earlier. Knowing its Ubuntu roots, it wasn't too hard for us to locate Synaptic and use it to update the system, after which the homebase acknowledged that there were no new software packages.
An interesting capability, which ties in with the Web 2.0 expansion, is the inclusion of Mozilla Prism technologies. They enable you to run web applications in a similar way to local ones, provided that you have an Internet connection. But if you take some preparatory steps before disconnecting, like enabling Google Gears for the web applications that support it, you can use them like true offline applications, and when you get connected to the Internet again the changes will be uploaded. We were pleasantly impressed by the special care that Firefox received, with Adobe Flash installed by default and special optimizations to minimize the screen space occupied by the user interface.
We hoped that some of our preferred applications, like The GIMP and AbiWord, would be available for install in the Jolicloud homebase, but that was not the case yet. Hopefully they will be, but in the meantime you have to use the good old apt-get or Synaptic to add them to your system.
Bottom line, Jolicloud deserves all the attention that it's getting right now. We don't feel that the social component in its current state will be a very useful addition, but if the developers extend it so that it integrates with the desktop synchronization functions and other social networking websites it may just become a central feature. The all-around optimizations make this operating system a real alternative for netbook owners, as they work wonders even for those rather old first-generation devices that are already starting to appear as pieces of computer history to us.