So the airport antenna on my 5-year-old son’s PowerMac G5 (coincidentally also 5 years old) has been gradually degrading over the past couple of weeks, deteriorating into complete failure this weekend. This isn’t good, because without his Airport antenna, son has no Internet, and without Internet son has no Spongebob Squarepants on his computer, and without Spongebob, he keeps bugging Mom to use her computer, which upsets Mom, which then eventually means that I never hear the end of it.
Rather than spend $30 on a second-hand Airport antenna on eBay, my temporary solution was to set up my son with my Asus EeePC 701 running Jolicloud, connected to an old 17-inch VGA display. Son gets access to internet, Spongebob and other flash games (via Friv), therefore doesn’t bug mom, and everyone’s happy. I would never have thought that my EeePC under previous OSes such as EeeBuntu or CrashBang Linux would have been usable by my five-year-old, but Jolicloud is very accessible.
Jolicloud OS for Netbooks (currently in private alpha) invitation arrived two weeks after I signed up for it.
I was amazed at how well it supports my Asus EeePC 700 out of the box. Normally when I install an alternative OS on my EeePC, I have to tweak the OS extensively post-install to force it to recognize my wireless card, to support onscreen brightness and volume indicators, processor throttling, etc. Jolicloud, however, supports all these things on the EeePC 700 directly after installation; especially impressive considering Jolicloud supports many other Netbooks aside from the EeePC.
Jolicloud is built upon Ubuntu Linux, and as you can see from the image above, its interface resembles Ubuntu Netbook Remix. However, the installed size is smaller than a default Ubuntu installation, taking up just 2.5 gigs of my EeePC’s 4GB SSD. Jolicloud is a stripped-down Ubuntu install, de-emphasizing local applications and skewing heavily toward web-based apps that live in the cloud. So, for instance, Open Office isn’t installed by default; sure, you’re free to install it afterward from Jolicloud, but you can also just as easily choose Zoho or Google Docs. Jolicloud treats local and cloud-based apps equally, blurring any distinction between them. The message seemsto be that with Jolicloud, it really doesn’t matter where your apps reside; what matters is what you can do with them.
I’ve tried many different OSes on my EeePC: the default Xandros Linux (very poor), EeeXubuntu (a custom version 0f Ubuntu 7.10, hasn’t been updated in a while), Eeebuntu (very nice EeePC-specific version of Ubuntu, constantly updated) and CrunchEee (an EeePC-centric version of CrunchBang Linux, a lightweight Ubuntu variant using the Openbox window manager). My previous longtime favorite has been CrunchBang for its simplicity and economy, although the learning curve is rather steep for the average user. Jolicloud beats them all, in my opinion. Even as an alpha release, it is a more complete and seamless experience than anything else I’ve ever run on my EeePC.
Netbooks pre-installed with Linux reportedly suffer four times higher return rates than Windows XP. Jolicloud has the potential to reverse that trend because of some key innovations. First, it makes browsing for, adding, and removing apps drop-dead easy, thanks to the Jolicloud “My Applications.” This is a big ease-of-use improvement over Ubuntu’s Synaptic Package Manager, which can be a barrier to non-technical users.
Second, Jolicloud integrates very nicely and easily with the social web. It’s the first Netbook OS that rivals my iPhone in casual easy browsing of Facebook or posting Twitter status updates.
Third, it just works, as I explained earlier with its out-of-box support for all of my EeePC’s esoteric hardware and features. It runs all web apps full-screen in Prism, a simple browser without the normal browser interface.
Overall, Jolicloud is impressively polished for an alpha release. I can’t wait for future releases.
I have an on-again, off-again relationship with my netbook, an Asus EeePC 701 I bought two years ago, at the very dawn of the netbook era. In retrospect I should have waited before buying, because now I’m stuck with a netbook that’s too small, its keyboard too cramped, storage too tiny (non-upgradeable 4GB SSD) in comparison to today’s netbook offerings.
My Eee PC spends most of its time sitting on my desk, unused. I’ll dust it off every few months, when a new version of EeeBuntu or CrunchEee is released, to test the latest in EeePC-optimized distros (CrunchEee is my favorite), but mostly the thing sits idle.