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Jolicloud review, a netbook in the sky

Monday, June 8th, 2009


Jolicloud is a new OS optimised for netbooks and working in the cloud.

What’s a netbook?

Have you seen those little laptops which are too small to do any real work on? Well they are great and actually boost productivity. I have been a big fan of netbooks for a long time. They are often most useful when used with applications that are online and in the cloud. I will apologise now for the overuse of internet buzzwords in the following paragraphs.

And what’s cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a style of computing that is scalable and uses resources provided as a service on the internet. An application that uses cloud computing often requires an internet connection and is accessed though a browser. Google Docs is a good example of an app that uses cloud computing.

So Jolicloud is…

A happy mass of water vapour high in the sky? No, it’s a great new operating system that has been designed especially for netbooks. No stripped down version of XP for them. Jolicloud has been described as “A social Operating system” and “An OS in the cloud” but I think of it as an OS that is “properly” optimised for netbooks.

The Review

get-started-iconJolicloud is in its alpha stage at the moment so there are one or two quirks. This is to be expected so I wont dwell on it too much. What I didn’t expect is that it would look as polished as it does. Small touches which I didn’t expect such as nice graphics on the volume control and brightness indicators. User interface/experience is always about the little things.

I installed it on a Samsung NC10 which has the default Windows XP that came with the netbook. In a matter of seconds, done! No issues at all. I am indeed quite Joli!

Jolicloud offers a way to test the OS without actually installing it on your machine. After the installation a click to “Get Started” and you are promptly thrown into the Jolicloud registration process. This is all very seamless.

Jolicloud Dashboard

The main feature of Jolicloud is the Jolicloud interface (this is not the entire operating system, more like an application within the OS). Inside it has all of the aspects of a social network and an app directory. All of the apps here are very much netbook orientated. VLC, Twitter, GMail, Google Docs, Facebook, etc. Mostly apps running in the cloud.

App Directory

App Directory - Listview

I had a little issue at first not being able to install any of the web style apps. This was fixed with a quick visit to the updates tab. All in the name of alpha!

The social aspect of the OS comes in the form of a follow-me-and-I’ll-follow-you style of interaction. Giving you a dashboard full of “This person is following that person” and “This person has installed Skype”. It’s a great way to discover new people and apps.

From a user experience point of view, managing your apps and social stream is very straight forward and intuitive. Once you have installed your apps and made your friend connections you then leave the nice Jolicloud interface. This is where the nice slick design seems to trail off.

Launch Apps

At this stage, for me, you lose the nice intuitive interface when you are launching your apps. It seems a little disjointed especially if your have never used Ubuntu before.

I would like to see a boot straight into the Jolicloud interface and within this have app launching capabilities. After seeing some of the early screenshots I was expecting this interface to be the entire OS. A small gripe I know but the experience seems to change so much once you are out of the Jolicloud interface.

So is it any good, really?

Yes, it really is. The issues I have are very small, maybe even a little bit picky. Like the fact that the ‘Home’ icon and the ‘Jolicloud’ icons are the same colour and that the menu bar is very cluttered with icons of different shapes and colours. These can and will be fixed in later versions (I hope). I’m trying to be a little more objective and look at the great stuff Jolicloud is actually providing.

Overall it’s a success and I’m looking forward to seeing what will come of this project in the future. It’s free but it’s looks expensive. It’s slick and it’s fast. It WILL be my netbook OS of choice when its released. Come on, you didn’t expected me to stay with windows XP, did you?

Google Chrome from a web design eye

Friday, September 5th, 2008

You have read comic of never-ending proportions, you have listened to the monster of hype that surrounds it, but one thing that is never really mentioned…

Is it any good for web designers… really?

Chrome is a new web browser from that little startup a few years ago called Google (stupid name it will never last, its not even a word!). First and foremost I will rant about the fact that their is no version for the mac. I have been testing it mostly through VMware Fusion so not a massive downer but I would prefer it to be native.

Two days ago I quit Safari and Firefox then made Chrome my browser of choice. All main development and browsing was done though this browser. Before I delve into the depths of why it helps or hinders the web design process I think I need to run through some of its features.

Features that are useful for web design

I spend far too much time with my hands on the keyboard to worry about the mouse. Shortcuts keys are productivity gold. In a very OS friendly way Google Chrome keeps to the conventions and goes with what you would expect. Unlike other big name companies, yes Adobe Photoshop on the Mac I am talking to you.

Ctrl+L – Gives focus to the address bar.
Ctrl+T – New tab, my most used shortcut.
Ctrl+U – View the page source.
Ctrl+F – Find.
Ctrl+Click a link – Opens the link in a new tab.
Alt+Click a link – Allows you to download the contents of the link.

The view source has code highlighting and line numbering. The links inside the source are clickable, again a great time saver.

Google Chrome has no status bar running along the bottom of the browser to take up precious web design real estate. When you rollover a link it pops up a small bar in this area. Its only visible when its needed. A few more pixels available for that unnecessarily large footer.

Dragging links from the page to make a new tab is all very cool but you can also do this with images. Great for testing and just that little bit fast than having to open the inspector every time.

Well that was a good list of features… I seem to be missing the main one. Oh yeah, because the browser is based on the Webkit rendering engine you get the super inspector. Simply right click on any element and get a barrage of helpful info from it like css/html. Its no Firebug but for a built in feature its a great addition.

A feature not so well publicised is the advanced memory page. Type ‘about:memory’ into the location bar and you get a better breakdown of the memory consumption plus it also shows you the memory of other browser too. A nice comparison but not massively useful for a web designer.

Incognito tab or porn mode

Yeah! I can now surf anonymously without any digital trail being left behind for any unsuspecting third party to see what kind of a deviant double life I lead. Apart from the added perk of my partner not discovering my hula hoop fetish the incognito tab is actually a fantastic tool for testing.

At BigRedCircle we build a lot of web apps as well and web sites. One thing that is needed often is to test these apps from the perspective of a new user. With the incognito tab open I can log into a web app using completely different user details and nothing is stored so my session in the regular tab is safe. This is a massive time saver and annoyance saver. No need to delete all of my browser cookies just for a quick test.

Not another browser to test in!

Great, another browser to take into consideration! The bain of a web designers existence. Chrome uses the Webkit rendering engine so if you have built a site and it works in Safari 3 then it will almost certainly look the same in Chrome. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check it in Chrome but I don’t ever see a need to have some crazy css hack to target this browser.

Is Chrome my weapon of choice in this armoire of web weapons?

No! But it is good. The best kind of browser is a fast one and Chrome sure is fast. As far as the browsers go it ticks a lot of the boxes but will it replace Firefox as my own personal development browser of choice? If the Web Developer Tool Bar and Firebug were available for Chrome it would. Again Firefox has become better than the sum of its parts and takes the lead but only by a whisker.

Although Google keep telling us that this is just the first Beta, maybe “we ain’t seen nothing yet”.

A Surfer in the Waves of Social Aggregation

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Social aggregators – who are they, what are they and what do they want?

They want to eat your social network profiles and they are hungry. SocialThing! is an aggregator that helps speed up the process of checking every last social network you have signed up to in one easy to use web app.

What’s the problem anyway?

So you have joined 101 of the coolest social networking websites that have come out in the last two weeks in a vain attempt at pretending that you have more friends than you actually do. Wait, there is a problem…! It just took me until lunch time to check all of my social goings-on.

Let me paint you a picture with my imagination brush:

You get to work, your boss is on your back, he is all like “hey I want that spreadsheet ASAP”, you are all like “Ok, right away sir” whilst flipping the bird from behind your monitor in a child like passive aggressive fight the power kinda way.

You then have to check your emails and make that all important cup of coffee to pep you up for a day of servitude and mundane data input. You have to check your all important social networks to remind yourself that you have a life outside of work. Herein lies the problem! You don’t have time to sit there until 11:30 just to find out that the guy who used to give you wedgies at school has just added 20 new photos to “Bozza’s piss up in Faliraki”. What you do need is SocialThing!

Social Networks… not another one

Its ok, its not a social network don’t hit that close button just yet. Its a social network helping hand. A social network friend who helps carry your shopping from the car into the house. It combines all of your social profiles into one web app using a “river of information” style view.

As its relatively new only a few networks are available but as I mainly use pownce, facebook, twitter, flickr and a few others SocialThing serves me well. You can vote for other networks that you want on.

When you are presented with your wave of social activity those annoying people who twitter 20 times every hour are grouped together so they don’t monopolise your social pleasure. If you follow people on different socials networks, say you have the same friend who is on pownce and twitter it puts all their activity nicely together cross network.

The main interface is ordered by time so you can quickly see whats been happening in the last 24 hours across multiple networks in one click on one website. Simplicity personified.

Everything has its problems

There are a few other features that fade into insignificance against the main function of the app, like being able to post to more than one network at a time.

Reliability is an issue too. I had to reload SocialThing 8 times to get a screen shot which had pownce working. I hope these are all teething problems because a service as good as this one could be brought to its knees with stupid niggly issues like this. Social spam and network availability aside its a good little package.

One side effect I did not expect from SocialThing is that I ended up using my social networks more. My initial thoughts were “yeh I can see them all, will never bother going to the actual website again”. The RSS syndrome, where you only read a sites content in your RSS reader but never actually go to it. The reality of it was quite the opposite. Points lost to my productivity.

Private beta nightmare

Why launch a product if you don’t want anyone to use it. Well I know you all think it so I went and said it. I do know that there are many reasons to do this. A lot of the time it’s valid but it does frustrate me… I want to play with that new thing!

With the kind of problems twitter has been having lately I would hope that new super social sites have got there scaling and redundancy in order before they meet critical mass and steam roll there hosting companies into the ground. So private betas are ok, I suppose.

I have some beta invites if anyone needs one, drop me a tweet or a pownce or a comment or contact me in any other social way possible and I will hook you up.

Go Forth and socialise.

Update 20/06/08

SocialThing 2.0 has been release and it looks very nice. They have overhauled the interface and added a few new networks and features. Still a little slow at times! Let me know what you think of it.

RSS readers never looked so good

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

Times RSS reader

Morning Ritual

I get up. Have a cup of green tea. Breakfast. Check my emails. Then get down and dirty with my RSS reader full of 1000+ new pieces of the internet.

This is something I do every morning, it makes me happy. What do I need to make this happen? An RSS reader. Why am I telling you this? I have found something new.

Times from Acrylic

For the last year or so I have been into RSS feeds in a big way and almost everyday I use Google Reader to get my fix. For the last week I have been using something else. Something different, something unique, something strange but not unpleasant.

Times screen shot

As you can see Times is not your usual list/email style of feed reader. It presents you with an interface non too dissimilar to a newspaper. It has been exquisitely crafted and integrates well with OSX. Considering all of the information is dynamic and from different sources the visual layout is captivating and slick.

“Its the best non-newspaper I have ever read”

Once my initial ooh’s and arrr’s had died down from the main page I clicked on a story… Like a child at a fireworks display my ooh’s and arrr’s returned. Times uses OSX’s Core Animation to literally peel back the page and reveal the whole story. It felt as natural as flicking through a real newspaper. Well, as natural as a computer simulation of such an activity can be.

Screen Shot - Open a story

When you fire up Times for the first time its filled with all of your common or garden feeds. Now this is where the magic happens – its fully customisable! Import all the feeds that you know and love directly from Mail or Safari. Or go it old school and add the url by hand.

In less time that it takes Doc Brown to explain the concept of an alternative 1985 I made and configured a bespoke BigRedCircle page with all the feeds I love. Like this:

Screen Shot - Custom page

It’s almost too easy!

In this world of “everything for free on the internet” why would I pay?

Yes Times is a desktop application that costs $30, or it did the last time I looked. This is the kind of money that I could be spending or an over hyped summer blockbuster DVD. Why should I deprive myself of such mediocre dialogue and high octane action?

Bring the Noise!

Google Reader can help me scoff through 200 bits of RSS shaped cake in less than 5 minutes. This is its beauty. This is also where the beauty stops. With Times I tend to read every story in every feed I subscribe to.

I very rarely buy newspapers anymore, but if I am going on a long train journey I will buy a paper from the station and read it cover to cover. Times has this effect on me too.

It gives me more of an experience. Not just a quick way to get info from all corners of the internet. Although this has its shortcomings. I don’t get any work done whilst I am digesting every morsel of today’s Lifehacker stories or finding out every single new (depressing) 3G iPhone rumour.

My 14 day trial is coming to an end

Times iconWhat do I do now? Should I throw some hard earned cash at it and purchase RSS designer chic. Unfortunately no! Although I do love what they have done. Reading RSS feeds can be an experience too and Times makes it a very pleasant one.

I still can’t take myself away from the wonders that is Google Reader. I have a small but active Google Reader friend base who share their stories. Times doesn’t come with a pre configured social network. When I get up in the morning I need to get my web designer hat on as quickly as possible, Google Reader is simply the most efficient way to do this.

The last of nails to be put in this Times shaped coffin is that fact that I do a good percentage of my feed reading on my iPhone. I want my information everywhere, on any computer, any device. A desktop RSS reader is just not the way to go for this. This is not a problem with Times its a task that online RSS readers can simply do better.

If I had the Time I would use Times! Unfortunately I don’t

Check it out yourself, take a week to revel in the uber slick animation and see if you will switch. If Google Reader didn’t exists maybe I would be using Times right now.

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