The fact that the current most popular OS for Netbooks is a stock install of Windows XP tells us that there is a need for a netbook OS that doesn’t suck. Windows is fine on a desktop or laptop, but it just wasn’t made to be scaled onto a 9″ screen, much less a keyboard. Jolicloud promises to be that netbook OS that really works.
Upon booting Jolicloud, you’ll notice instantly that it’s basically Ubuntu with some modifications. Specifically, it’s based on Ubuntu Netbook Remix. In fact, the default login sound, which sounds quite out of place in the modern-looking Jolicloud, hasn’t even been changed.
Jolicloud keeps the launcher application and basic design of Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR), too. If your not familiar with UNR, this basically means three things:
First, all of your applications are sorted into category-based tabs (like in the GNOME menu). Clicking on a tab displays a page with large icons for each application. A single click opens the application. Additionally, on the right of the screen are links to your home folder, documents folder, and so on. These folder links are not as well integrated, though, and open up an instance of Nautilus (the file browser).
Second, all windows are maximized (or should be). Rather than letting users place applications side by side, UNR forces users to work with one application at a time. This actually makes a lot of sense with some applications, because there really isn’t enough space to work with multiple applications on a netbook. Other applications, though, don’t work as well this way.
Finally, the windows list (think of the Windows taskbar) only displays the full name of the current application. Other open applications are represented with just an icon. This is quite similar to the new Windows 7 taskbar. I’m not a huge fan of either implementation.
Jolicloud starts to introduce new features with a new interface for installing applications. For starters, they have the sense not to offer applications like GIMP, which really doesn’t work well with the concept of one window at a time. More importantly, though, Jolicloud makes installing applications a one-click process. After clicking the install button under any application, it gets added to a que of software updates and installs. This means no more waiting for Synaptic to close before performing updates.
Even cooler, though, is the integration of web applications into the application area. There is no distinction between standard applications and web applications (which run in Mozilla Prism). When you’re offline, these applications will still launch, but can’t do much, unless they use Google Gears to store data offline.
The only significant complaint I have with Jolicloud is that there are some rough spots in the theme. It looks great in all the screenshots on the Jolicloud website, but there are some hidden (and not so hidden) unthemed parts.
For example, the volume control is taken straight out of default GNOME with no theming. It integrates just fine with Ubuntu, but it doesn’t look right with the dark, modern look of Jolicloud.
Another example is Skype, which is one of many applications that is not normally maximized. One non-maximized window sitting on a semi-transparent black background doesn’t really look right.
Jolicloud is currently in a private alpha state, so these theming inconsistencies should be fixed by the final release.
Jolicloud is certainly a much better OS for netbooks than most of what’s out there now, but it’s not revolutionary, especially given how much of it comes from Ubuntu Netbook Remix.
Jolicloud is really a more polished version of UNR. It has, for the most part, a very nice theme and it adds a simplified system for updating and installing software.
That may, actually, be exactly what is needed to bring the concepts of Ubuntu Netbook Remix to the masses. It’s too early to tell, but Jolicloud looks like it has a chance of being one of the first Linux-based netbook distros to take off, if they can get deals with hardware manufacturers.