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Linux on Netbooks Reloads With Ubuntu-based Jolicloud

Providing an Experience, not an Operating System

  • March 31, 2010
  • By Andy Patrizio
Linux was a resounding failure on netbooks, so what makes this French start-up firm think it can succeed with a Linux derivative?

Jolicloud, a French start-up with a netbook-oriented OS by the same name as the company, has released the final test version of its operating system in advance of a roll-out it believes will be the first true netbook OS.

Netbooks have been big sellers, accounting for about 15 percent of total portable PC sales. When they first hit the market a few years back, Linux was the initial operating system of choice, but consumers found it confusing and unfamiliar, and Linux was quickly supplanted by Windows XP. Windows XP now accounts for more than 90 percent of netbook operating systems and is slowly being replaced by Windows 7.

Jolicloud is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu aimed at netbooks. So what makes the firm think it can succeed? Because it is not trying to provide the "operating system" experience, says founder and CEO Tariq Krim.

"What differentiates us is that we're not trying to replicate the Windows XP experience. We wanted to go to the iPhone operating system and provide people that experience. We see ourselves as a service. We don't see ourselves as an OS. The OS is just to operate a system," he told InternetNews.com.

"We serve as a hybrid of an operating system and a Web site," he continued. "The promise of Jolicloud is we want to dissociate the OS from the machine." If you buy one netbook and install Jolicloud, once you connect to the Jolicloud Web site, all your data and apps are backed up. If you purchase a new netbook and sign on to the Jolicloud site on that system, the server synchronizes your new device with all the apps and data from the first machine.

Krim is also the founder of Netvibes.com, a portal site that allows the user to customize its Web site interface with information widgets, similar to what Google (with iGoogle) and Yahoo have done. He's gotten some backing for his new venture, raising $4.2 million in Series A funding from European venture firms Atomico Ventures and Mangrove Capital Partners.

Apps for Jolicloud are written in HTML5, but they can interact with the hardware layers of the PC without having to write specific code or device driver calls, said Krim. Gtk and Qt, two popular libraries used to build applications in Linux, didn't have the same level of quality assurance as HTML5, in his view, to provide a satisfactory user experience.

This new version, called Jolicould 0.9 Robby Pre-Final (available here as an ISO download), is what Microsoft would call a "release candidate." It's almost complete, but Jolicloud has made a number of hardware and software changes from earlier betas and still needs testing.

It's added support for Intel's new GMA 500 video chipset, allowing for 720p HD video playback, as well as full HD support for Intel's Atom N450 processor and GMA 3150 video chipset, known as "Pine Trail." Windows does not support full 1080p playback but Jolicloud claims it can.

They also added Nvidia ION support, new Wi-Fi card support, and a new network manager that supports 100+ 3G keys and VPNs, making it possible to use the operating system anywhere in the world.

Most significant, it changed from using the Mozilla Prism for Web application integration to using Google's Chromium. Jolicloud has its own app store with more than 600 applications, all written to support Chromium. One reason for this was the support for h.264 video in Chromium. Firefox remains the default browser in Jolicloud.

An iPhone-like interface

Jolicloud's interface does look more like an iPhone (with a display of icons organized in rows and columns) than your typical operating system, but should you run it on a netbook with a screen larger than 11 inches, it goes into "desktop mode," which means a full-blown GNOME desktop environment. You can switch between desktop mode and netbook mode through the Jolicloud desktop switcher.

Jolicloud plans to release an SDK to help port apps to its platform, but since apps are in HTML5, any developer writing HTML5 apps won't need to make a "port," per se, said Krim.

For now, Jolicloud is a free product. Krim said the company is looking at different ways to monetize the software and/or services but for now, "we want to provide a compelling user experience before charging people."

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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