On the $250 dollar laptop I’m writing this on right now (pictured with a lighter for perspective), I don’t run Windows or Apple. It shipped with a clunky version of Linux on it, but a couple weeks ago I installed Jolicloud. Jolicloud is awesome, and for mobile computing, I don’t need anything else. Jolicloud is an operating system designed by a little company in Paris run by a fellow named Tariq Krim. It’s a customized form of Linux, and Jolicloud makes it official: Linux is not just for geeks anymore.
I first heard of Linux years ago, when I was on a crash course through the digital divide (I used a manual typewriter until I was 20). It was all new to me, and the idea that there was an operating system out there that was cobbled together by hackers excited me. A DIY computer system – how cool, right? It ran against the overwhelmingly profit and business-driven world of computing. It was totally free, and most of the software for the platform was free, too. It was popular in developing countries, and the pet system of hackers and hardcore computer geeks.
Alas, despite my now nearly constant connection to these devices, I have always liked doing things with computers more than computers themselves. If spending hours on internet forums just to learn how to do simple things like run a program or move files around wasn’t your thing, Linux really wasn’t for you. My first experiences installing Linux distros (customized versions of Linux that vary in size and nature) were futile. The sluggish old PC I was trying to turn into a Linux box would sputter helplessly and become completely unresponsive.
But these days, things are changing. Linux is increasingly functional and user-friendly. Pictured below is the main navigation screen of Jolicloud. Jolicloud is built on top of a version of Linux called Ubuntu Netbook Remix, a version with easy navigation for tiny netbook computers like mine, and it looks very similar.
What makes Jolicloud so cool is that it makes Linux 3 things it was not: easy, web-oriented, and aesthetically pleasing. It makes things that were a pain in the ass in Linux simple, like adding programs. Not only that, it remembers your configuration – all the programs and web apps you have set up. So if your computer dies, you can have the exact same version of Jolicloud on your next one. Pictured is the installer you use to manage your programs and apps.
Installing programs and web apps is easy. The essentials are: Dropbox, for sharing files with your home computer; Google Chrome, super fast browser; and GIMP, a free version of Photoshop, which of course is not as slick, but if all you need to do is some light photo editing on the go, it’s fine. OpenOffice is also essential, which is free software similar to Microsoft Office. If you really need to run other programs on your laptop, you can install WINE, a program that supposedly lets you run Windows programs on Linux.
But is that really even necessary?
So much of what we do these days is online, and Jolicloud is built around this assumption. A lot of the web apps are really just websites that do a whole lot, like Google Reader. Like on a phone, these apps have shortcuts, like programs, on the home menu. One click and you’re there, doing what you need to do.
Even though Jolicloud is in “alpha mode” (not quite ready for prime time) I haven’t had a single problem with it. It automatically scans for wireless networks, and once I log into one once, it remembers the password and logs in again automatically. It also tells you when updates are ready for the system or for apps.
You may have heard that Google is coming out with an operating system. When it does, it’s going to be very similar to Jolicloud. Basically it will be a very functional version of Linux, slimmed down to work on cheap, lightweight computers. But if you hate Windows like I do, and what you want in a mobile machine is something super-cheap, lightweight, and durable, Jolicloud will give you what you want right now.
Since it’s only available now in an “alpha mode”, you go to the Jolicloud site and enter your email, then they send you a download key. You install it on a thumb drive, put it in the USB and there you go. Don’t forget to give the online forums a read – this is the only part that gave me a little difficulty – if you decide to install it on a thumb drive (you need to make sure the BIOS is looking for a drive on your USB ports).
Even if there are small inconveniences (I haven’t found them yet) what Jolicloud represents makes it worth it to me. It’s a step away from the corporate behemoths of IT and towards a more customized, small-scale, internet focused world of using computers. It’s lower-cost, less copyright-obsessed. And friendlier.