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Review: 3 free Linux alternatives for your netbook

By Howard Wen
November 3, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Jolicloud

Jolicloud is built upon Ubuntu Netbook Remix and features the same quick-launch menu interface as UNR.

Currently, you have to request an invite in order to try Jolicloud (the distro is in alpha). When you get the invite, you then have to register for a free user account at the Jolicloud site; the installed OS signs you onto the Jolicloud network whenever you go online. It's set up like Twitter -- you can "follow" other Jolicloud users and they can do the same to you.

In the official release version planned for later this year, your data and configuration settings will be synchronized to the cloud. So, for example, if you install Jolicloud on another netbook, your personal configuration settings would be downloaded from your Jolicloud account and installed onto the new computer.

Jolicloud features a one-click application directory, updated weekly, where you can peruse through an online catalog of software and shortcuts to Web services that you can download.

Installation: Installing Jolicloud on the Eee PC 1005HA took less than 13 minutes. The size of the installation file was 600MB, the smallest in this round-up.

What's to like: Unlike Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Jolicloud recognized the wireless networking chipset of the 1005HA and installed the necessary driver immediately. After going through the ordeal of getting the wireless working correctly on UNR, I found it both a relief and surprise to be able to go online without any hassle.

And MP3s played right away!

Even in its "alpha" state, Jolicloud proved itself to be stable and provided a great "out of the box" experience. Like Ubuntu Netbook Remix, Jolicloud ran smoothly on the 1005HA and was a pleasure to use.

The requirement that you have to sign up to virtually socialize with other Jolicloud users is compensated with the App Directory. This online software repository, presented as a professional and slick-looking app store front-end, allows registered users to conveniently install applications. With a single click, the selected application is automatically downloaded, installed, and its icon put into the appropriate category of the main quick-launch menu.

Linux for netbooks
Jolicloud features a one-click application directory where you can peruse through an online catalog of software.
Click to view larger image

You'll find most of the popular open-source applications listed in the App Directory, including GIMP, the OpenOffice suite, VLC media player, WINE and Skype. Additionally, shortcuts to Web services like Hulu, YouTube, Pandora and Google Docs can be installed from the App Directory.

Jolicloud can also be installed from within Windows. By running the Windows program Jolicloud Express, this Linux-based OS can be installed alongside Windows, so you can switch between the two.

What's not to like: The only problem I could come up with is that, as of this writing, Jolicloud is not yet offered for public consumption. You have to submit your e-mail address and wait for an invite to download it. Tariq Krim, the creator of Jolicloud, said in an e-mail to me that they have been granting invites to anyone; users should get their invites within two days of sign-up.

Worth replacing your current OS? As mentioned above, Jolicloud appears rather stable in its alpha state. Because it is in active development production, though, updates are becoming more frequent as its official release nears. So expect to be asked to download and install them.

Conclusion

Ubuntu Netbook Remix can be a solid and stable replacement for your netbook's OS -- if you can ensure that it works on your netbook model. Its installation file is large at nearly 1GB.

Moblin's method of switching between applications comes off as inefficient and awkward. But the biggest issue with Moblin right now is its Web browser, which gets bogged down rendering JavaScript-heavy Web sites.

Jolicloud is the next step up from Ubuntu Netbook Remix. Think of it as UNR, but it probably will work "right out of the box" when recognizing your netbook's networking -- and it plays MP3s immediately. It latches on a Twitter-like social network that you're required to sign up for, but Jolicloud's very cool-looking and convenient App Directory makes up for this.

Once Jolicloud is officially released to the public, it will be the best alternative OS -- Linux-based or otherwise -- with which to replace the built-in OS of a netbook, probably even more so on a slightly older (one year or more) model. Until we see what Google will offer netbook owners and how Windows 7 will shake out on this small computing platform, Jolicloud is the best alternative OS to consider right now.

Howard Wen is a frequent contributor to Computerworld.

Read more about Operating Systems in Computerworld's Operating Systems Topic Center.



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