First Look at Jolicloud

Dmitri Popov

Productivity Sauce

Jun 26, 2009 GMT
Dmitri Popov

Linux distributions designed for netbooks are a dime a dozen these days, so one really has to pull something extraordinary out of the hat to impress the mobile crowd. While Jolicloud's main goal is not to awe Linux geeks, the new distribution does offers a radically different take on a system for your netbook that might appeal to the non-technical user. Jolicloud has been in development for quite some time, and its developers managed to keep it under tight wraps, carefully dispensing invites to a few chosen users. Recently, yours truly found himself among the lucky ones. As an avid netbook user, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to take Jolicloud for a spin. The currently available version of Jolicloud is labeled as Alpha 2, so obviously it's still a work in progress. But even in its current state, the distro gives a good impression of things to come.


Right from the start, it becomes clear that Jolicloud's developers don't try to reinvent the wheel. Jolicloud is based on Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) with a slightly tweaked visual theme. According to Jolicloud's developers, the system is based on the kernel which provides support for many popular netbooks, including Acer Aspire One and various Eee PC models. The innovative part of the distro is the new Jolicloud interface that runs on top of the system. When you launch it for the first time, you are prompted to link your netbook to your Jolicloud account. Once you've done that, you are presented with Jolicloud's main interface consisting of four tabs: Dashboard, Applications, Settings, and Lab (disabled in the current version). The Dashboard section, in turn, contains three subsections: Notifications, Updates, and History. The Notifications subsection shows -- among other things -- updates from users you follow. The Updates subsection provides a relatively easy way to update both your distro and the Jolicloud system, while the History subsection contains a list of all your activities.


As you might have guessed, the Applications section acts as a repository for the software available in the Jolicloud channel. You can think of it as a user-friendly version of your favorite package manager. All applications in this section are divided into groups, and you can install any application by pressing the Install button. Once installed, the application appears in the appropriate section of the UNR interface. Obviously, you can do that using the Synaptic package manager or executing the apt-get install command, but this functionality is designed first and foremost for non-technical users. Besides the usual suspects like, VLC, and Evolution, the Applications section contains a wide selection of Web-based applications, such as Twitter, Google Docs, Zoho, Flickr, Twitter, Wikipedia, and others. These applications are based on the Mozilla Prism software that allows users to run Web-based applications directly on their desktops. Again, this is something you can do yourself, but Jolicloud takes all the hassle out of the process.


In addition to modifying profile info and managing computers linked to your Jolicloud account, you can use the Settings subsection to subscribe to other Jolicloud users. This feature is clearly inspired by Twitter, but it's not yet fully implemented.

Of course, it's too early to draw any conclusions, but the current alpha version of Jolicloud does make a good first impression. The fact that Jolicloud is based on Ubuntu means that you can run it on pretty much any netbook and tweak the system to your liking. Jolicloud's slick graphical interface makes it easy to install desktop and Web-based applications as well as keep your system up-to-date, which can prove to be popular with average users. In addition, Jolicloud does a good job of providing seamless integration between your netbook and the cloud. Despite the recent progress, time is not on Jolicloud's side. The market for netbook-based Linux distros is rapidly becoming saturated, with Ubuntu Netbook Remix and Moblin gaining momentum, so capturing the imagination of netbook users could be a hard nut to crack for Jolicloud.


  • Why Jolicloud over UNR?

    I tried UNR, and liked it a lot. Like, love at first sight kind of lot. But there was one major irritation: it didn't connect my Aspire One with a built-in 3G modem to the internet the moment the netbook was finished starting up and ready to use. No amount of tweaking could make it do that, I tried every tip I could get from Linux-savvy friends. I am no expert on computers, let alone Linux. I just want a cool-looking OS that is ready to use when I want it to be without extra fuss. Jolicloud does just that. Maybe UNR works wonders for others, but it didn't for me. I am very happy, that I got my invitation and got to use this wonderful OS so soon. I guess the team doesn't mind us non-experts among the alpha users, since they didn't ask for developer skills. :P
  • jolicloud

    @ebug I totally agree with you. Jolicloud's approach is the way to go. Most distros (even the popular ones) only have a different theme but all else about the interface looks like Windows. Thus, users who are used to Windows can't help but compare. They don't care about the fact that Linux is more stable and that it's highly customizable. This entirely fresh interface with all the hottest web based apps will allow the average user to feel right at home right away.

    ... and yes, I AM smiling right now. how about some chicken joy while we're at it?
  • thx for your article

    thx for your article dmitri,

    happy you liked jolicloud, just a few things

    Our kernel is a new optimized kernel different from the other netbook array kernel we will provide more details on improvements.

    UNR is temporary we will introduce our own launcher soon.
  • thx for your articlegreat stuff

    Hi Dmitri

    thx for your article,
  • Why use up what little screen space is available?

    My wife and I each have a MSI Wind U100. What really bugs me about all these netbook Linux distros is how they make my computer look and act like a Cell Phone. Why the different interface? WinXP (as much as I dread having to use it...) sits perfectly on the screen. Why invent a new clunky interface? Simply get KDE or GNOME to use the proper resolution. The screens on these things are small enough without using it all up with huge icons.

    Everyone who's been willing to tell me their thoughts on the Linux netbooks available locally have said the same thing.. it doesn't look or act like their idea of a Computer. YES you can get to the browsers easily.. but people have a perfectly working paradigm that defines how they interact with computers. Since this paradigm actually works very well it's a very hard sell to get them to adopt an entirely new one.

    These netbook linux distro GUIs are clunky, ugly, and so unlike the most popular paradigm that people will just go to what they know. I use linux everywhere else except on my MSI Wind. I really don't want to have to learn yet another interface just so I can do the same thing I can do right now.. and I suspect most other people feel the same way.

  • same old, same old

    >Jolicloud is based on Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) with a slightly tweaked visual theme.

    Based? Slightly?
    Try exactly the same.

    As for the big icons spread across the screen, everyone has been doing that on netbooks.

    Im not a fan of Moblin's look but at least I give it high marks for some (visual) originality and trying something else. This is like debating the differences between PCLinuxOS and Mandriva or Mint and Ubuntu or counting the pubic hair on angels.

    I have no problems with the fact that most Linux distros look the same when they have the same desktop (tell me if there is a difference between Mandriva, Kubuntu or other KDE desktops) and people still get so excited when one distro changes a wallpaper and icons or a desktop moves to version X.26.

    But even in this context, this looks exactly what it is: an unimaginative variation on already existing concepts.

    Moblin has momentum? Or do you mean it has many reviews but no final product?
    Let it first come out, have people use it and maybe some people might like it.... THEN it might have momentum. Right now its theory or as one Reg article wrote "more alpha than beta".
    (my pet peeve is the way 'momentum' or what is 'popular' is decided in the FLOSS world. quick, how popular is Ubuntu? No one knows except through useless stats like Distrowatch visits or .com visits. We base all these things on perception which of course can be distorted and gamed.)
  • Re: why not use ubuntu remix

    Because it's not just a question of an easy-to-user and visually appealing interface. Unlike Jolicloud, UNR provides virtually no integration with cloud-based services and applications. Also, Jolicloud is based on UNR, so you can use it as such.
  • why not use ubuntu remix

    I don't understand why it would be an advantage to use Jolicloud over Ubuntu Netbook Remix. I have been testing Remix and it is backed by Canonicals engineers who are superb. With Shuttleworth hiring a number of interface designers I think Ubuntu is the best bet and safest in the longrun.
  • jolicloud

    The layout looks fantastic. Am I overrating? No. This is what a distro need, simple layout and a way to promote the applications exactly like Jolicloud have done...right on the users face. Simple install button and unmistakable icons. That's it! If someone can't live without facebook, he doesn't care what os in the pc. If he seas the facebook logo on the screen, he'll jump in. To all distros, please PROMOTE AND SUPPORT THE BEST APPLICATIONS FIRST before you promote yourself. Please know what the masses are wild about. Somehow they will come to know linux in this way. I like the way Jolicloud looks like. I can't wait to try it., seems like joli...bee =) Somebody out there is smiling right now.
comments powered by Disqus
Subscribe to our Linux Newsletters
Find Linux and Open Source Jobs
Subscribe to our ADMIN Newsletters

Support Our Work

Linux Magazine content is made possible with support from readers like you. Please consider contributing when you’ve found an article to be beneficial.

Learn More