Jolicloud & Joli OS 1.2 Extensive Review
I heard about Jolicloud on Engadget back last July before it came out of beta. I even contemplated installing it on my netbook when version 1.0 came out, but decided I wasn’t brave enough yet. I continued reading the news about it & the Jolibook over next few months, but it wasn’t until Jolicloud 1.1 came out that I made the jump. I first installed it right before Christmas & immediately fell in love. I first started out by running the Live version from a 4gb USB key on my little 10″ eMachines netbook. After about a week of that I got brave enough to actually install it using the Jolicloud Express Windows Installer. It wasn’t an easy decision to make since this was my first experience ever with Linux. However, I figured that if I didn’t like it, I could easily uninstall it. But what end up happening was that I totally abandoned my desktop running Windows XP & embraced the cloud. I pretty much took complete control of the netbook till this day & never once used the desktop running Windows XP. I’m not sure my wife was real happy about that since I had bought the netbook for her over a year ago. ;) We originally planned on buying her a bigger laptop with a DVD drive so she could watch movies, but a lot of unforeseen expenses came up & we no longer could afford to buy one. That’s when I decided that maybe it was time to install Joli OS on the desktop.
Our desktop has been our primary means of streaming TV content like Hulu to our TV & Xbox 360 via a Windows DLNA server called PlayOn. Without that program we can’t watch our favorite shows on the big screen. Unfortunately they don’t have a Linux version of their app and that’s the biggest reason why I’ve dragged my feet about installing Jolicloud on it. Last night I finally downloaded the Express edition & installed it. I wanted to get some feedback for this review. The install & everything else seemed to run fine, but I noticed that the Windows Boot Manager never showed up on the first boot & it went straight to Joli OS. At first I thought it might have been temporary because of the install, but after the install finished I rebooted & it still never showed. I started getting worried that I lost Windows. I frantically searched the Jolicloud GetSatisfaction site looking for a way to fix it & finally came across a solution that was posted over a year ago. What had happened is somehow the Windows Boot Manager’s boot.ini file had incorrectly set the timeout value to 0. With it set to 0 it keeps the Boot Manager from showing up & since it was automatically defaulted to Joli OS it boot straight to it instead of Windows. Editing that file & setting it to a number greater than 0 fixed the problem. Whew! That was a close one! :)
Cloud computing appeal
Before I get to main review on the new features & changes in version 1.2, let me take a second explain my main appeal with the OS. First, as I’m not a programmer or in the content creation business, so my computing requirements are not as stringent. My computing uses are mostly relegated to using the Internet. I visit online discussion forums, blogs & other news sites. I read email, post & read Twitter and go to Facebook once in awhile. Sometimes I visit online shopping sites like Amazon or eBay. My music & video content is a streamed from the Internet & I don’t save or edit any of it. Though I do have a pretty large local library of photos that needs editing from time to time. But that’s about the extent of my computing. I don’t do much on my computer that doesn’t require the Internet. So I don’t need an expensive computer or expensive apps like Office or AutoCAD. Full-time Internet users like myself who have netbooks & laptops are the perfect candidates for Joli OS/Jolicloud. If you still do a lot computer work without the Internet or only use a desktop, then Jolicloud might not be for you. So I can understand why everybody might not “get” what Jolicloud is about. They don’t understand the appeal of web apps. Not all site bookmarks are worthy of being web apps. Some sites are better suited for a bookmark & some sites are better suited for a web app. Sites that are focused on providing you an app type service like email, social networking or video/music services are more suited for a web app. Something that you’re always running in the background & are not part of your usual Internet browsing flow. I think once more people start using the cloud more they will eventually get the appeal of what Jolicloud is trying to do. Jolicloud is about bringing your Internet life to the cloud & always being able to access it from any device. If you’re always using a bunch of local apps good luck trying to sync them on all your devices. That would be a total headache.
Jolicloud – The Online Desktop
For those that stuck around I suspect you’re still quite interested in Jolicloud. ;) It’s now time to get to the meat of the review. First of all, the majority of the rest of this review was originally done on my netbook until I finished it up using my desktop. I used a little text editor web app that supports Dropbox to write the whole thing before I posted it into WordPress. The app is called TextDrop and liked it so much I even made it into a custom web app. Search the App Center for it. You will find two versions of it. They’re both from me, but they’re exactly the same. I couldn’t remove the duplicate.
First thing you’ll notice is that Native Apps, Add-ons & Web Apps are now segregated into their own categories. You’ll also notice that the little Chromium icon next to the native app name has been removed. Other that that the rest of the categories & app details are basically the same. Really no need to re-invent the wheel there, but I’m glad they did…
With version 1.2 they added the most requested feature: adding apps to your main desktop. You’ll find a green button for it at the bottom left of the page. The “Add New App” feature now allows you to add your own custom web apps(aka bookmarks by everybody else). Some people might be a little bummed that they didn’t allow custom local apps too, but it’s an excellent start & still might show up in the future. Anyway, when creating a custom web app it requires the app’s name, URL, description, category & an icon in JPG or PNG format. These custom apps are now shared with everybody on the App Center. A couple of pet peeves is that you can’t change their settings or remove them from the App Center. However, you have the option to “Report this app”. Unfortunately you can’t give any reasons and you’re never given any kind of notice of whether they are going to remove it or not. Eventually I did find that you can change some of your custom app settings, but you have to click on the “Edit Settings” button in the main settings section. Clicking on that opens a page in your web browser on the My.Jolicloud.com site where you can click on “My Apps”. There you can change the name, category, description & icon, but you can’t change the URL or even remove the app. You can tell which web apps are user-submitted by the little grey head silhouette icon next to the app name. These also show up in your friends stream app list too. Maybe they should add a custom-app category or at least a custom-app filter under Friends Picks? Even with a few of those pet peeves it’s one hell of a new feature. It’s been sorely needed & makes it worthy to upgrade just on it alone.
The launcher itself has probably seen the least amount of changes this go round. I’ve touched on these in previous blog posts. Basically they changed the graphic when you hover your mouse cursor over a icon & they removed the little bounce animation when you click on an app. It also looks like they dropped the size of the text for app names & added numerals to the dots representing which page you’re on. Other changes include adding 6 more wallpapers & a configuration option to stretch the image to fit the screen. The Launcher really did need a lot of changes & it’s nice to see they didn’t try to mess up a good thing.
In previous versions the Stream wasn’t really too useful, but it had some great potential. You’ll be glad to hear that in the latest update it’s been revamped. The Stream no longer shows when you install or remove an app. Some people had issues with that from a privacy point of view. They no longer need to worry about it anymore. Now you only see apps that you or your friends have shared(starred). You can even keep people from seeing this list on your Public Page by turning it off in your account settings. The premise here is it’s a way for you to discover & add new apps. There is an Add button next to the app so you can add them immediately. They also have a section called “Friends Picks” showing 3 seemingly random apps that your friends are using. However, in order to add them you have to click on them to get more info. It’s not something you can do on that page.
Below the Friends Picks section there is also an advertisement to download Joli OS 1.2. On bigger monitors there’s even another ad below that one to download the Jolicloud Chrome app. Makes you wonder if they are planning on using this space later for targeted advertising. Right now it’s pretty useless since you probably have both of them already installed. So what’s the point?
One interesting new feature(one that was never mentioned in the blog updates, but was on the web site tour), is a notification of new Facebook friends who have joined Jolicloud. Unfortunately I think it only works for new users as I haven’t seen it work on my account even after 2 of my Facebook friends joined. Though I did see this in action on my friend’s computer after he created a Jolicloud account. It makes it real easy for new users to find friends to follow. Maybe they should do this for Twitter too?
The File Browser is probably the second biggest change in the new update. Like the Stream it wasn’t totally useful as it was only a shortcut to the Nautilus file manager. Now it does a lot more. However, lets first get this straight: it’s a _browser_ & not a manager. That’s one big reason why they still have Nautilus installed. It only allows you to browse your local files/folders and only if you’re running Joli OS. If you’re using the Chrome app it only shows Dropbox. Anyway, the browser shows you the dates that they were modified & file size. There is also no way to change it to icon or simple list views. If the file is an image it automatically previews it in a pane on the right. There’s no ability to move, copy or delete files. You can open the file or open the folder it sits in. That’s it. If you open the folder the file sits in it will bring up that folder in Nautilus. While there you can do normal file manager operations. USB attached storage automatically shows up in the browser once it’s plugged in. It works exactly the same way as the local hard drive with one addition: it has an eject icon so you can remove it safely.
The biggest & best feature to grace the new Jolicloud is Dropbox integration in the File Browser. It has the same limitations as the local hard drive view, but a few more too. You can only open the file. When you do open the file it downloads via the web browser & then you can open the file. It will automatically open images & text files in the browser, but most other files will sit in the download bar waiting for you to click them to open them. There’s also no links to the Dropbox web site. So if you want to rename, move, copy, delete or share your files you’ll probably still want to use the Dropbox web app. Oddly it does provide a link to your “Connections”, which is where you connect your Facebook & Dropbox accounts to your Jolicloud account. If you’ve already added those connections, your only option is to remove them. All-in-all, this is probably my most favorite new feature next to custom web apps. It definitely makes the Chrome app infinitely more useful on non-Joli OS systems. I’ve also considered upgrading my Dropbox account to more space, but it irks me to have to pay for that. It would be nice if they integrated other cloud storage solutions like Pogoplug, that way we wouldn’t need to pay for a subscription for more storage.
The main settings page doesn’t look like it has changed much. You might notice that “Subscriptions” are now called “Badges”. People who install Joli OS on a least one device will get the coveted “Recycler” badge. There are also “Founding Member” & “Team Member” badges. No idea if they will create more. But it could be neat if they started offering more badges for doing stuff in Jolicloud or web apps ala Xbox Live Achievements or foursquare. “Favorites” are now known as “Shared Apps”. The rest of the options are pretty much the same. Under “This Device” you have 2 new options for the new Auto-Login & Guest Mode features. This is also where you can install OS updates & manually sync your apps.
Originally when I started playing with Jolicloud 1.1 I didn’t like the idea that you basically have 2 logins. One login for the Linux OS & one for your Jolicloud account. I didn’t want one login much less two. So I scoured the support pages looking for a way to auto login. There was a way to do it, but it wasn’t very user friendly. So it’s great to see that they have added it as a new feature in 1.2. BTW, I’ve since decided that I like the idea of user logins. This is mainly due to the fact that I’m not the only person to use my computers. So, I don’t want other users using my login & messing up my saved username & passwords in Facebook, Google & all the other sites we share in common. I want them to be saved so I don’t have to type them anymore. This is where having a Guest account is so nice to have. I can give my wife a regular device account since we’re the biggest users, but our kids can use a Guest account.
Here’s a few details on how Guest Mode works:
- According to the support site the web browser & all web apps run in Incognito mode. However, I was able to create regular mode windows after opening Chrome, but don’t really see the point because…
- Anything you stored while in Guest Mode is erased once you log out. This is most likely due to…
- You get 300mb of local storage, but it’s in RAM & not on the local hard drive. That’s a pretty cool idea.
- You can’t run local apps that are associated with your account that the admin hasn’t installed. You also can’t install new ones. The same goes for local apps too. If they’re already installed by the admin you can run them. Unfortunately they don’t have a Local Apps folder icon in the Launcher to access them. However, you can still get to them by using the Menu key to the right of the spacebar to bring up the application menu.
- Like the missing Local Apps folder icon, there’s also no Local Settings folder icon either. You can still access its content via the Menu key.
I waited till the last to talk about the Account Info page & how you edit your profile through the “Edit Settings” link. This is mainly due to the fact the account settings are accessed outside the Desktop & therefore is not consistent with the rest of the Jolicloud experience. What’s confusing is that in order to edit your profile info & settings you’re taken to a page on My.Jolicloud.com in a separate browser window. This place is only directly linked from the main Desktop interface & nowhere else. I know this is carry over from previous versions, but why isn’t this now a part of the Jolicloud Desktop?
As for the new Public Page, I kept using the “Edit Settings” link to get access to it. I kept passing over the Info tab since I didn’t realize it was there & click-able. Why isn’t this page more publicly accessible? Why can’t it be accessed from the main Jolicloud web site? Or from the Users page after you search for them in the search bar? Seems like it’s hidden on purpose.
Anyway, once your in account settings you can change things like your username, email address, password, name, bio, profile pic, custom apps, connections to Facebook & Dropbox, email notices & even invite friends to Jolicloud. It still confounds me that these things are not available in the main Desktop experience. Hopefully that’s something that will change in a future update.
I’d like to make a few suggestions for the user’s bio. It would be nice if there was a bigger box. Also can you add a few fields so the bio field isn’t wasted on links to accounts or websites? Examples of individual fields could include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AIM, Live Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, Xbox Live, Wii or PSN. Also, you don’t allow clicking on followers or who you’re following to see all the users like you do on the user page in the Desktop app.
Joli OS 1.2 – What’s in a name?
Granted when I first heard about the name change it made me scratch my head. Why take the “cloud” out of Jolicloud? Especially now that it’s more of a cloud OS than ever? After a couple of days it’s grown on me. And I think I somewhat understand their reasoning. Jolicloud is really about the main desktop app that’s accessible via any device or browser. It really doesn’t need it’s own OS. The Linux-based OS might be the first platform to support their Jolicloud vision, but it definitely won’t be the last. So it makes sense to focus Jolicloud more on the Online Desktop than the Linux-based OS. Hopefully they won’t completely abandon the OS because right now I think it’s the best home for the Jolicloud experience. In fact, I think it could possibly be the best cloud OS ever. Granted Joli OS is the only Linux experience I’ve ever had. So I’m not really a good authority on the matter. ;) But from what I’ve read so far, Joli OS has probably one of the most trouble-free end-user experiences. I hear “it just works” alot. And with version 1.1, 1.1.1 & now 1.2 it seems they doubled their efforts to supporting a lot more hardware out there. It’s not just for netbooks anymore.
Like I mentioned earlier I’ve installed it on 2 of my devices. The netbook has a 93gb partition setup while the desktop has a 25gb partition. My experience with the netbook has been great, though I haven’t really noticed a great deal of speed increase. Not a lot to complain about with a single core Atom CPU & 1gb RAM. I had hoped the updates to Chromium 10 & Flash 10.2 would have made some noticeable speed increases, but I’m not seeing it yet.
The desktop is where I thought I would have the least problems & faster access. But right out of the gate I experienced problems. It’s an HP Pavillion a1600n with a AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800 with 1gb RAM & a NVIDIA GeForce 6150 LE. The boot manager snafu really surprised me. That’s something that shouldn’t still be happening. Especially considering they knew of the problem a year ago. Another problem I encountered was syncing my Chrome settings. I had them synced on my netbook with no problems, but I attempted to do the same on the desktop & it locked up the whole Chromium desktop. Eventually I was able to sync, but only after disabling syncing of apps, extensions & themes. I only had 3 apps(Jolicloud, Gmail & Chrome Store) & no extensions or themes installed. Never attempted to sync again to see if it was fixed & I don’t plan to as it’s not really needed. Another issue I seem to be experiencing is some major slow downs with excessive hard drive thrashing. It can’t be due to the 25gb partition size can it? I really think it has to do with Flash. I had a site or two running in the browser that had some advertisements using Flash & other Flash videos. Took over 10 minutes before the hard drive would stop accessing where I had enough control where I could close the sites. Once they were closed, it ran fine. If the problem is hard drive related, I might consider buying a larger second drive just for Joli OS, but something tells me that’s not it. Either way the hard drive thrashing is very disconcerting.
Man, what else can be said? Not a whole lot more I promise! :) I do want to clarify that a lot of problems & criticisms in no way mean I’m unhappy with the new updates. Don’t get too fixated on the problems. They’re minor things in the whole grand scheme of things. I’m completely in love with the OS on my primary computer: the netbook & I think that for a lot people like myself it’s something that they really need to try out. Although cloud computing is an awesome feature in itself, I think that regular users will also like the fact that they really don’t have to worry about viruses & spyware. That’s a massive relief, but realize that it isn’t an inherit feature of Joli OS. It’s a benefit of the security built into all Linux-based OS. I just think Jolicloud’s installation simplicity via the Windows Installer or the Live version installed on thumb drive make it the easiest way for first-timers to try Linux. For those upgrading from previous versions or those that tried previous versions & removed it, I say go get it now! :) It’s a massive update worthy of your attention & you won’t be disappointed. Jolicloud should be applauded for such an excellent update. You definitely have a hit on your hands. I hope it brings you much success.