Saturday, November 5, 2011

An Evening with Joli OS 1.2

I decided to spend an evening installing and playing with Joli OS 1.2.  The idea is pretty kewl.  It's a linux distro that's optimized for running on stinky old machines, like netbooks.  In an always-connected world, where "applications" are increasingly just web sites, you can slim down your computer to merely a kernel, a web browser, and a handful of "native" utilities.  (iPhone 1, anyone?)

Your login credentials are checked over the internet.  You use a account or your Facebook login to identify yourself and pull up your customized desktop.  You can use any computer that's running Joli, as long as the computer's owner has allowed guest access.  Or if you're on a completely foreign computer, you can access your stuff as a normal web site.

The interface is rendered in a build of Chromium, and offers you pretty much all the "apps" you'd want to start with.  You've got the usual suspects .. Twitter, Faceyspace, Flickr, YouTube ..  And you can link-up using Gmail, Skype, Google Voice, Pidgin.  Heck, add a link to chatroulette and it looks like just another application on the desktop.  It augments the social functions with work-stuff like Google Docs, Office Live,, and similar "my content lives in the tubes" stuff.  More apps are available for download, just a search away.

There are a few great use-cases for Joli OS.  Say your family has an iPad, but mom or dad take it with them to work, this is a way to use the old netbook (paperweight) to get roughly the same functions (Angry Birds) when you're "slumming it."  If you're reading a Pynchon book in bed, this makes a nice substitute for trying to look words up on your iPhone's dinky screen.  And the men in black can search your hard drive all they like, since your map of Area 51 is safely stored online.

Under the plastic, it's running Debian Squeeze.  Some portions of the configs are copypasted from Ubuntu.  They load a 2.6 kernel, chosen for your particular CPU, and boot through GRUB.  Note, whatever code line it's on, some Ubuntu-specific hacks/fixes don't work like you want them to.  Wanna take it apart?  Alt-F1 gives you a terminal, just like you'd expect, and you have sudo.

The whole install takes a little over 2 GB on disk, so it's not a big investment to throw it in a small partition on your hard drive.  Or, if you prefer, the LiveCD-style bootable usb disk is fully functional.  I'm gonna have a little more fun with it, locally installed, though I don't expect it to replace my "real" OS.  I *do* expect that I'll be able to recommend it to someone with a well-suited environment .. where shared access to old intel hardware is the norm and the users all have facebook accounts.

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