Sunday, March 13, 2011

Distro Hoppin`: Joli OS 1.2

Aaah... what a fine day for a relaxing distro hoppin`, I thought to myself. Little did I know, this wasn’t going to be a regular, down to earth, good old fashioned OS. No, no, it’s time to put on your Amelia Earhart glasses and grab your pilot leather jacket, as we’re heading for the clouuuuds.

I’m sure most of you heard of Jolicloud, the Ubuntu-based, cloud-residing operating system that took the netbooks by storm. As I don’t own such a device, I didn’t get around to test it properly. But, following the enthusiasm with which the previous release was received by critics, I promised myself that I shall take a look at it. Procrastination prevailed once again, but no more! Joli OS 1.2 (yep, name change! - better differentiation between the web app and the distro) was released a few days ago so here I am, sharing my thoughts on it.

Weighing in at an average ~700 MBs, the download doesn’t take that long and a 1 GB thumb drive or a CD will fit it just right. Firing up the live environment isn’t lightning fast, but it gets there in about 3-4 coffee sips, after which everything is snappy. The installation doesn’t yield any surprises and, in no time, you get to the beautiful slideshow, covering some of Joli’s main features. Less than 10 minutes later, a reboot is in order to fully activate the Joli experience.

The NVIDIA drivers were automatically installed and configured during the first boot, so thumbs up for that, Joli team! Also, whoever designed the Plymouth animation deserves some kind of award. :D Before getting to the “cloudtop”, you will have to provide your login information, be it a previously created Jolicloud user or your Facebook credentials. If you have neither of these, you can easily create a new account from the same window. Once that is complete you will need to provide some info about the machine you’re using Joli OS on - netbook, desktop, etc. I chose desktop and was asked to provide the brand of my computer. As this is a custom build, I had to choose other and type something in the info box, as I couldn’t proceed without some input. A bit annoying, but totally understandable, as this will help the team figure out their main audience and other relevant information.

The desktop loads to impress you with a tablet/touchscreen-like interface that is not only very sexy but also unexpectedly functional on a desktop computer. At the very top, there’s a thin black bar that hosts the Jolicloud logo for quick desktop access (also activated by pressing the “Super (Windows)” key), followed by an icons-only application switcher and, finally, at the right hand side, notification area plus volume control and clock.

Below this “gnome-ish” area, the cloud begins. The desktop is actually a web page that looks exactly like it looks if you access your Jolicloud through a web browser. How to tell? Right click anywhere, and you will get the familiar Chromium contextual menu, with back, forward, reload, etc.

This is where Joli’s true power stands. You create an account, you add whatever applications you want to (not from the myriad offered by Debian, but from a still impressive selection) and when you login from another computer, there they are, floating around in your own fluffy, cosy cloud.

But what about the files you create? Joli OS comes with its own file management system and a fully integrated and fast Dropbox experience. Why fast? Because it doesn’t actually download all of your files from your account (which can take quite a lot of time), but directly connects you to the web service so you have instant access to the files you need. Sure, there’s only so much you can do inside Joli’s file browser (no multiple selections, no copy/paste), but it’s a start! Plus, whenever you need to really get your hands dirty, hit the “Open in folder” button in the bottom-right corner of the screen and good old Nautilus pops up.

Speaking of getting your hands dirty, some of you hardened Linux users will surely miss the terminal and a few apps that you normally use. I, for one, love Phatch and I trust it to place the IT Lure watermark on my screenshots. Sadly, I couldn’t find it inside the Joli “repositories” so I went looking for Synaptic or the Software Center. As both were hiding from me, I pressed the lucky ALT+F2 combination, typed “sudo apt-get install phatch”, checked the “Run in terminal” box, typed my password inside the terminal window that popped up and seconds later, the Phatch app was installed on my system. Another ALT+F2 enabled me to type the first few letters of the app and there it was, one Enter away from me. Yay! Of course, Joli OS’ target audience surely will live perfectly fine with the hundreds of apps made available by the team.

But let’s get back to the “cloudtop”, shall we? A thick grey bar, underneath the thinner “system” one, contains a bunch of elements: a big plus sign, that allows users to add applications (and also create new ones by simply providing the URL - kind of a Mozilla Prism thing), followed by an “A” button containing all of your installed apps (displayed on multiple screens, just like on any iPhone-esque/Android-esque device), a satellite antenna button that is a portal to your online Jolicloud/Facebook/Twitter communities (I have neither, so mine is empty :D), the file management screen and the settings page from where you can update your profile, share your favorite apps and set a few usage rules for your Jolicloud device.

On the middle of this bar, there’s a “Search apps and friends” field that does just what it says. On the far right, the Power button allows you to log out, restart or shut down the machine.

Many of the programs included by default are web apps themselves: Gmail, Flickr, YouTube, Google Docs, The Sixty One and, hear this: “Office Live”! Yes, Microsoft’s Office Live cloud service is right there, on the second page. Giggle giggle.

Wanting to test out Joli’s inter-computer sync capabilities and also to see if it can really bring back to life my old Compaq Evo N800c laptop, I installed a copy, logged into my account and, I’m happy to report, everything works perfectly. But! As this laptop’s only Internet connection is through a 3G modem, I was a bit worried that Joli won’t pick it up. It did in the end, fortunately, but I didn’t plug it right from the bat just to see what will happen with this Internet-addicted OS. The answer? It was not usable. You NEED a connection to be able to access Joli at all. But hey, it didn’t promise you otherwise. Still, I would love, in future versions, to be able to access my local files if the Internet is down.

Besides the default apps, I added three others on my desktop computer: Pidgin, Printing Add-On and Brasero. They did show up on my laptop’s workspace but they were transparent(er), meaning that they weren’t yet downloaded and installed. A click on the “sync ready” button and another one on “start” initiated the sync procedure which went on and on and on and on and on and on... you get the point. Eh, nothing a quick logout/login couldn’t solve. :)

Of course, Java and Flash come preinstalled, so you can enjoy the Web as it should be enjoyed. MP3s also played with no problems. Speaking of ear-pleasing noise, if you’re like me and don’t carry thousands of songs with you everywhere, but like the occasional tune every once in a while, “The Sixty One” is a great service for discovering and enjoying indie songs.

While I am undoubtedly very impressed with Joli OS 1.2, there are some nasty bugs still lingering around and also a couple of missing - necessary in my opinion - features.

First of all, on my desktop machine, flash videos, while playing, “leaked” all over the place. I could actually see parts of the video within random windows or the Jolicloud workspace. Weird. And not only that, but the videos were full of “artifacts” themselves. And the performance wasn’t great either. Oh, and a control panel for changing various local machine settings is needed. Sure, you can google the terminal commands for each configuration utility, but how many users will do that? Very few. And having the screensaver blank your screen every 5 minutes while watching some YouTube clips is kind of annoying, don’t you think?

On the laptop, after closing and opening the lid, the touchpad stopped working and I had to reboot to bring it back to life. And this was after changing the power management settings to only blank the screen rather than going to suspend mode.

Every cloud has a silver lining

Joli OS 1.2 along with the Jolicloud service is certainly THE cloud operating system to have. With it you can instantly feel like home wherever you go, even if you don’t have a portable device and need to use a friend’s computer. The distro itself is also decently fast even on older machines. Oh, and if you care about looks as much as you care about functionality, this is without a doubt a head-turner. The attention to detail transpires through every pixel and the end result is quite astonishing. Also, the community around Jolicloud is very very large and, if you’re a bit more social than I am, I’m sure you will enjoy Joli even more than I did. It may not be able to replace a “full-option” distribution, but, for most of the people nowadays who want their computers to be as simple as a microwave oven, Joli fits the role perfectly.

Download Joli OS 1.2 here.


  1. Haven't tested 1.2, but here are 1.1 Shortcuts:

    * Windows Key - Launcher
    * Alt-Tab - switches between apps
    * Alt-F1 - Terminal
    * Alt-F2 - Application Text Launcher
    * Alt-F4 - closes the current app
    * Menu Key - the old application menu

    You don't need to log in to any service. Press the Menu Key, and you'll get a menu like you are running XFCE.

    Useful Links:

  2. Nice review!
    And I think direction for this distro development is generally good. This is what Chrome OS intends for, I believe. But they are far beyond the schedule now, I think.
    Another similar OS may be xPUD (, but it is much lighter.

  3. I was hoping to put Joli OS onto an old Dell laptop. Unfortunately the automatic NVidia driver setup uses a drive that has a bug so I get a black screen. Tried changing to nomodeset but still goes with the nvidia driver. Your post makes me want to try it even more.

  4. same problem the automatic NVidia driver setup get a black screen
    what is the solution

  5. I have ThinkPad T42 and installed Joli-OS. I like Joli-OS because it is cloud based and also desktop based. But I sometimes use Ubuntu like application menu. I know we can open it by pressing Menu key, but my ThinkPad doesn't have Menu key. Could you please how to open application menu without pressing Menu key?

  6. Plus I tried pressing Shift + F10, but application menu didn't appear. What should I do?

  7. O wow, I didn't even know you could do that! :)) Thanks!
    Aaand I found a solution. Press ALT+F2, type in gnome-keybinding-properties, go to "Show the panel's main menu" inside the "Desktop" category and change the shortcut.

  8. Hi Danny,
    I changed the shortcut as you said and I opened the application menu.
    Thank you very much!

  9. Thank you Danny for your review!

    Regarding the offline mode, you should be able to access all your local files. We pushed a fix last week. To make sure your desktop is up-to-date, connect to the Internet and refresh your desktop twice with F5.

    After that, in the same time, check your launcher: you should see 2 folders called "Local Apps" and "Local Settings" ;)

  10. How nice of you to drop by! Thanks a lot for letting me and the readers know about the fixes!

  11. You're welcome!

    By the way, I guess you also noticed (or you will) the Google Docs integration that has been added?

  12. Oh, this is getting better and better! :D

  13. BTW, RWDub, if you still follow these article comments:

    The command line you're using is weird. If you know that its nouveau, nomodeset doesn't do anything I think.

    Instead you should use 'nouveau.modeset=0' to disable KMS on startup.

  14. Now you see, all the geeky Linux talk in the last several comments is what will turn users from Joli to the commercial giants.

    Really helpful review for me and my XPS Dell.

  15. We're here to help for the isolated issues, isn't it laudable? ;)

  16. If you go to /usr/share/applications all the apps are there, I wouldn't be able to use a distro without Terminal. Synaptic Package Manager too!

    Just installed, love it :)

  17. In the Local Apps folder, you'll find everything you need. And if it's not there, just click Add :)

  18. I just installed it on my dad's old netbook. Took me some time, but I finally figured out that all you need to do to restore the main menu to the desktop(instead of having to press the keyboard MENU button to call it up), was simply to right click on the thin Gnome bar/panel at the top, then "Add to Panel", and choose to add the Main Menu to the said panel. What irked me was that the Main menu that dropped down did not include the Control Centre by default. I had to change the settings that governed what showed up on the dropdown main menu.

  19. I ran into a problem when updating to Joli 1.2 with an acer aspire one. You write in the review (which I really enjoyed) that you experienced that the touchpad stopped working when closing the lid. For me it just stopped working at all which is rather very annoying since I use Joli OS when travelling and not bringing my usb mouse. Anyone else experienced this and if so got a solution to the problem?

  20. Can't seem to get it to work on dell 1501. graphic drivers has lines straight up and down. Want to try it out so bad and get rid of windows grrr.

  21. anyone know how i can install Huawei USB broadband on the cloud in first boot up??