August 12, 2010

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Cloud one
A new OS hits version 1.0
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

If it weren’t for that friend in college named Joli, this might have slipped under my radar. An operating system named Jolicloud, based on Linux and designed for netbook users who want to keep all their data online.

The Jolicloud Web site encourages you to download the “16MB installer which will automatically get you Jolicloud 1.0.” Odd wording, I thought, but it’s actually pretty darn accurate. Here I was thinking the OS was incredibly compact, making efficient use of the meager disk space available on netbooks.

Nope. The “installer” downloads multiple gigabytes of more stuff. Well done, marketing team. The installer advises that it might take about 20 minutes. “Just go for a coffee and come back later, we will take care of everything,” it says with horrifying comma usage. The progress bar then showed that it was 46 percent done the entire time it was downloading.

I know, little nits. After rebooting the real test began.

I have another Linux-based OS, Ubuntu, installed that uses its own bootloader. Jolicloud showed up as a second option in the Windows bootloader after that. When I chose it, it completed installation and setup of a user account — pretty standard for any Linux-based OS. It got weird when it demanded that, before anything else, I connect to the Internet. It takes this cloud computing thing pretty seriously! Fortunately, it recognized my wireless network hardware and connected to my home router once I gave it the proper credentials.

It got really weird when I had to create another account. This account would live with Jolicloud’s servers and allow me to sync the applications and settings of this machine with any other machine on which I installed the OS. It even gave me the option to link the account to Facebook so I could “Like” applications and such.

Once I finally got to the regular interface, it was pretty much like other netbook operating systems: a main launcher with a few pre-installed applications. It also included buttons for hundreds of other apps available to download and install with a single click. Some live on the Web, so “installing” them pretty much amounts to creating a link, while others are actually put on your local drive.

Jolicloud usually depends on being connected to the Internet so that it can automatically update itself and any programs you have installed. There is an offline mode, however, just in case you unwisely travel somewhere without Wi-Fi.

After booting back into Windows, another oddity popped up: the system clock read four hours earlier than the actual time. I can’t conclusively blame this on Jolicloud, since I have plenty of junk on my PC and rarely reboot, and the clock within Jolicloud was correct.

I did search out the location of the 9GB Jolicloud used on my hard drive. Most operating systems will set up a separate partition for themselves, an inviolable section of the disk cordoned off from everything else. Not so here; instead, there was a 9GB file called “root.disk” sitting in my C:\jolicloud\disks\ folder. This explained, sorta, why I couldn’t read my Windows files from within Jolicloud — the computer had booted to an image on that very file system already. (It also means that if I erase my Windows installation for some reason, bam, there goes Jolicloud too.) The story might be different if using a bootable USB drive, CD or DVD.

Will I use it extensively? Honestly, no, probably not. I rarely use the Ubuntu partition taking up another 10GB of my hard drive either. But it sure is nice to have the option.


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