Jolicloud's Beta Netbook OS: Run It With Windows

Jolicloud is an ambitious new netbook operating system from a European startup that offers some advantages over what Google’s upcoming Chrome OS will likely have. Here’s a look at this promising pre-release OS, delivered last week and intended to run alongside Windows.

Jolicloud’s operating system bears some similarity to Chrome OS, but it’s intended as a complementary, second OS for a single system. It could have a bright future in dual-OS netbooks.

As the hubbub surrounding Google’s offering continues (like Jolicloud it’s specifically aimed at netbooks), it’s worth remembering that it won’t arrive until late next year, and takes a number of significant gambles, not the least of which is that users will be required to work with all data exclusively in the cloud. Google may also be limiting its operating system’s prospects by delivering it only for a limited set of netbooks that meet pre-set hardware specifications.

By contrast, Jolicloud’s OS is targeted to run on almost any x86 netbook running Windows, and it installs alongside Windows. It also works with both local applications and cloud-based ones. You can store data on Jolicloud’s servers or locally, and you can use Jolicloud-provided cloud services, such as automatic application updates.

The Jolicloud OS is based on Debian and Ubuntu Linux, and you can download the 607MB installer here.  The operating system’s progress is being overseen by a heavy-hitting management team, including CEO Tariq Krim (who founded NetVibes, a successful European startup), and Niklas Zennström, co-founder of Atomico Ventures, Skype, Joost, Kazaa and JoltID, sits on Jolicloud’s board. It doesn’t look like the company’s business model will consist of charging for the operating system; instead, Jolicloud is likely to get its revenue from fee-based cloud services, and possibly fees for prominent placement in its UI for applications.

Upon installation, Jolicloud informed me that it was seeking out and loading the most recent drivers available for Wi-Fi, sound, Bluetooth, 3G, screen size, and more. It also said it supports hundreds of mobile operators, 3G modems, and the like. Following installation, my computer restarted and prompted me to select whether I would like to work in Jolicloud or in Windows 7. I chose Jolicloud.

Jolicloud’s App Directory, seen below, gives a good sense of how the operating system allows you to use cloud-based applications alongside local ones. For example, you can install and run VLC Media Player locally with the click of one button, or update and jump into Facebook quickly.

Jolicloud’s home screen includes links to tabbed panes that you can pull up for working with and organizing video, music, photos and much more. The panes appear and elegantly whisk away upon shutdown. The whole OS also places emphasis on easy access to social-networking applications.

The operating system has a slick look and feel, and I like the way it runs alongside Windows. It is in very early pre-release form, though, and that occasionally shows. For example, on a Windows 7 HP system system that I used it on, my mouse arrow occasionally freaked out and went careening around the screen. Also, when I went to quit the OS, it took over a minute to shut down.

I can easily see users running Jolicloud as a second operating system on their Windows netbooks, though, and while the final release of Jolicloud will arrive early next year, some may want to try it now. I’m convinced that its flexibility with local and cloud apps will be an advantage that it has over Google’s Chrome OS.