Jolicloud saved my 5-year old!

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.

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Jolicloud Alpha 2c on EeePC 700

jolicloud desktop
jolicloud desktop

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.

love + hate = netbook

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.

Blogwriter Test Post

This is a test post from my iPhone to my blog via Blogwriter Lite. One of the reasons why I haven’t blogged as much lately is because it’s just too inconvenient to fire up the portable when I’m home. I use computers at work all day long; the last thing I want to do when I get home is mess around with computers some more. This might be a good compromise solution. Also, I’m getting pretty fast at typing blog posts on the iPhone. The auto-correct feature is very slick and helpful, once you’ve gotten used to it.

Of Groceries and Geography

I’ve always taken groceries for granted. You go to a grocery, you buy what you need, you forget about it until the next time; that’s how it is for most people, I’ll bet. That’s how it was for me in New Jersey, when we lived there, and also in upstate New York, where we lived most recently before now. It’s one of those things that you take for granted.

Well, I’m here to say that a) you don’t value what you have until it’s gone, and b) the quality of the grocery really does depend on where you are.

In New Jersey, we had Shop-Rite, which handled our basic needs adequately. In fact, I would say that we were very happy with Shop-Rite. It had what we needed when we needed it; rarely were essential items out of stock. Every so often, Shop-Rite would have promotions like their “Can-Can” sale, in which all canned goods were heavily discounted. Aside from the fact that our local Shop-Rite could get a little crowded during the holiday rush, it was a satisfying grocery. We took it for granted, because it did what it was supposed to do for us, without fuss.

When we moved to upstate New York, we didn’t miss Shop-Rite, because that’s where we discovered Wegman’s. Wegman’s is, in a word, awesome. In a few more words: Wegman’s is, in our experience, the gold standard by which all other groceries must be judged. Why is Wegman’s so awesome? Think about a grocery that excels at pretty much every category by which a grocery can be judged. Clean and appealing interior and decor: check. Friendly, helpful, cheerful, motivated staff: check (for over a decade, Wegman’s has been a perennial member of Fortune magazine’s list of Top 100 companies to work for, usually occupying one of the top three spots). Comprehensive, thoughtful, well-stocked selection of grocery items: check. Excellent deli section with lip-smacking sub sandwiches: check. Complete, top-quality produce section: check. I could go on, but you get the idea: Wegman’s simply outperforms any other grocery chain I have ever tried, and I’ve tried a lot. If you live near a Wegman’s, consider yourself lucky, and cherish what you have. If Shop-Rite is a Toyota Corolla, then Wegman’s is a Lexus.

Now that we’ve moved to Northern California, we miss Wegman’s. I don’t mean that usual kind of missing something where you start out missing it a lot, then less as time goes on, until eventually it becomes a dull ache, dimly remembered. I mean that I’ve been here for five months, and I miss Wegman’s profoundly each and every time we go to the grocery over here. Exhibit A: in New Jersey, we only found it necessary to go to one Shop-Rite, the Nutley Shop-Rite, got everything we needed every single time, and didn’t feel the need to shop anywhere else. Exhibit B: in New York, we only ever found it necessary to patronize one Wegman’s, the large and newly-built Liverpool Wegman’s, less than 5 minutes from our house. Here in Silicon Valley, practically each time we go grocery shopping, we find ourselves having to flit from one grocery store to another, like pollinating bees, just to be able to find everything we are looking for. We go to Safeway, they have some things but not others, or their produce section flat-out sucks compared to Wegman’s or even Shop-Rite. So we are forced to go to another Safeway, or a Lucky, just to find everything we need, except those other place don’t have everything we need, either. We even tried a Save Mart, but it featured the sorriest-looking meat section I have ever seen in a major chain grocery, so we quickly got out of there. There was one day where we hit no fewer than five different grocery stores, including the much-hyped Whole Foods Market, in search of The One Grocery Store to satisfy all our needs, like we had in New Jersey and New York; is that too much to ask? Is it too much to ask that we find one, just one signle grocery store here in San Jose that can measure up to Wegman’s, or even just Shop-Rite?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes, that’s apparently too much to ask, and no, we still haven’t found that one grocery store. Even the two Costco branches near our house over here are strangely lacking in some basic items that we easily found in our New Jersey Costco, or our New York BJ’s. Sad to say, we are coming to the inescapable conclusion that when it comes to a satisfying grocery shopping experience, San Jose will never measure up to the other places where we’ve lived.

If you have a favorite grocery in the San Jose area that could change our minds, please let us know in the comments section. I’d love to be proven wrong!

R.I.P., SpyMac

Does anyone remember SpyMac? Several years ago, it used to be a vibrant Mac-centric online community that offered some great free or low-cost alternatives to dot-mac products such as mail and iDisk. SpyMac used to offer free email as well as one gig of online storage (at a time when such things were rare and unheard of). SpyMac was one place online where the Mac force was strong, and attracted Mac fans of every stripe.

I just visited spymac.com today, and was shocked to find it unrecognizable. It has transmogrified into “Leapfrog,” some kind of Web 2.0 social networking and video site, where people can upload their home-made videos and receive payouts. It also boasts of face-to-face chat and post pictures of each other. It seems to be a generic hodge-podge of Youtube, MySpace and Facebook that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Mac. The only vestige that remains from the old, Mac days is the logo.

Digging deeper, I discovered that the old school Mac-centric SpyMac site is still up at classic.spymac.com, but it hasn’t been updated in a long time. If you’re feeling industrious, dedicated or nostalgic, the whole sordid story of what happened to SpyMac can be read in this thread. The beginning of the end was the advent of Leapfrog, summarized in this press release. The long and short of it, as I see it: SpyMac grew too big, too fast; it incorrectly identified the needs of its audience, leading to bad decisions and resources being allocated where they shouldn’t have gone. SpyMac, the site and its services, were down more often, and members stopped visiting the site, and stopped caring. Stuck with a whole bunch of expensive server hardware and infrastructure to service an audience that no longer cared, apparently the site’s owners decided to launch Leapfrog as an attempt to recoup their losses.

The end result: a tragic and ignominious descent into mediocrity. So long, SpyMac; I prefer to think of you as you were, not as you are.

Advice For The Young At Heart

A young friend of mine was complaining about how older freelance web designers seem to talk down to younger freelance web designers because of their age and relative inexperience. I gave him this advice:

My advice to you is to believe in yourself, and be brutally honest with yourself about your abilities and your limitations.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, because only you can be the judge of that.

If you ever happen to hit a wall because of your relative inexperience, learn from it, and don’t make the same mistake in the future. Marc Andreessen was 17 when Netscape became a multi-million dollar company. Filo and Wang were in college when Yahoo! made it big.

Listen to everyone’s advice, young, old or middle-aged; everyone’s got some truth to share or experience to pass on. Use your own internal BS filter to separate the useful nuggets from the useless crap.

Be humble. No one likes an arrogant smart ass, no matter what age he or she is.

Here endeth the lecture. (Steps off soap box)