Kevin Kempf's Blog

May 5, 2011

A mini-deviation from the norm

Filed under: Linux, Windows 7 — kkempf @ 10:47 am

Mini-me

A geeky detour

If you regularly read any of  my ramblings, you’ve probably gleaned that you’re unlikely to catch me running around advocating Microsoft products.  At the office, I run Ubuntu Linux on my Dell Latitude E5510.  It’s awesome.  At home, I run Windows 7 on our primary Desktop and Notebook.  Until recently, I ran Ubuntu on the Dell Mini 10v netbook he own.  One can weigh and argue the merits of a netbook (or a tablet, for that matter), but until you own one, you won’t “get it”.  I’m not going to advocate them any more than that in this post.  But here’s what I want/expect out of a netbook, which I can’t get from a notebook:

  • Very fast wakeup from sleep
  • Very fast boot
  • Immediate access to lightweight, web applications
  • Most applications are browser-centric
  • Get on, get the information I need, get out
  • Don’t nag me every 10 minutes about some stupid update
  • Don’t spin the hard drive incessantly while all I want to do is log in and check my gmail

Unacceptably Slow and Useless

The Mini 10v came with Windows 7 starter.  The only advantage I could figure out was that it had a familiar desktop, and I could install all my familiar programs.  It did a terrible job at everything else a netbook should do.  In fact, there was no compelling advantage to using a netbook with Windows 7 starter versus using a notebook.

Ubuntu Frustrations

Recently, I began to have various problems with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix 10.04 (LTS).  First, Utube videos were all pink (some bug, hack, fix with deleting a cache as I recall).  Then the wireless failed in various ways.  Sometimes it would connect and then drop the connection.   It would never successfully re-establish a connection after I closed the lid and put it in sleep mode, that required a reboot.  Some of this is the fault of the wireless card, I admit.  The Broadcom card Dell puts in there must cost about 12 cents for Dell.  It uses a closed-source driver, meaning that Linux will have a hard time making it work (or at least, that the steps will be somewhat manual).  I know all of this, and yet even with going through the Ubuntu hassles of searching for 3rd party drivers and installing them fresh, it didn’t work most of the time.  So I decided I’d try their 11.04 Ubuntu beta.  Wow this version is a big step back with their new Unity interface.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way; it’s easy to find about 50/50 on critics versus advocates of this new GUI (which is basically a crippled version of Ubuntu Netbook Remix’ interface from 10.04 as far as I can tell).  I even tried installing 10.10 to see if I could find a happy medium.  Nope, too complicated for a mini.  I just want a simple OS with good presentation/formatting on a mini.

Something Joli

Finally, a use for the cloud?

So I happened upon a distro which showed some real promise.  It’s 100% Ubuntu behind the scenes, and had a twist: it touted itself as a Cloud desktop.   Basically, here’s the premise:  have a desktop which has all your preferences and applications stored in the cloud.  You log in, either from the Joli OS desktop, or from any browser of a PC not running Joli OS, and you get the same desktop.  If you look at my desktop, you’ll notice that most of the applications aren’t what you would call applications in the traditional sense:  they’re basically website shortcuts.    The exception to that would be something like pidgin (instant messaging) or chromium (open source chrome):

Basically, there’s 2 parts to Joli:

  • The desktop
    • Anyone, including a Windows user, can create an account for and use
    • Displayed in any browser and your applications and preferences are stored in the cloud
    • When used from the web, “installed” applications, such as Chromium and Pidgin, are “greyed out” and unusuable
  • The operating System
    • Ubuntu behind the scenes
    • Lightweight, fast with a simple, attractive GUI
    • Works on most hardware

Why I’m running Joli OS now

Really, what did it take to win, and become my new OS and desktop?  A few tests, which it passed with flying colors.  First, the USB-key creation of the install was a snap.   Second, when I ran the OS from the USB key, it came up fast, immediately saw my home wireless network (WPA-2 secured) and was able to connect without fussing with a bunch of drivers.

Here’s a features comparison grid

Feature Joli Cloud OS Ubuntu Windows 7 Starter
Wireless Works “Out of the Box”  √
Boot Time
Wake Up from Sleep and get on the web
Simple, Functional Desktop
Lightweight
Runs Traditional Windows Apps  √

The short of it is this: If you’re like me, consider for a moment, why you have a mini. If it’s not to run MS Word, Outlook, or Internet Explorer and replace your Desktop/Notebook, but rather to augment it as a quick look up from the living room, or a way to read a recipe in the kitchen, you might at least consider looking at this operating system. If you’re unhappy with Windows 7 starter, especially due to performance, there’s no reason not to create a USB install and take a test drive of this operating system from the USB key (“live key”). It will not affect your Windows 7 install at all, and in fact if you like Joli but still can’t pull the trigger, you can install it as a dual boot configuration side by side with Windows.

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