Jolicloud

A couple of years ago, I was in the market for a new portable computer for my mother. She was using a hand-me-down Dell Inspiron 710m which was getting old and tired. Even though it was a 12-inch notebook, it felt quite heavy with the battery and the DVD-ROM. Running on Intel Centrino at the clock speed of 1.6MHz with 768MB of RAM, the Windows XP notebook has been serving me (and later my mother) well and long enough (4 plus years to be exact) that it deserved a retirement.

That was the time when the world was in recession and affordability (in other words, cheap) is the key to making any purchases. Netbooks of different flavours are springing up like mushrooms after the rain but I was turned off by the small screen size and the puny keyboards. However, there was one model that caught my eye. A little while before this model was launched, Apple Macbook Air made its debut and grabbed all the headlines when Steve Jobs retrieved the almost razor thin notebook from a normal A4 sized envelope. However, I could never afford to fork out RM6k+ therefore have to set my sight at the level where my wallet felt more comfortable.

That was when Dell came up with Inspiron Mini 12. Retailing at RM1.5k, it costs just a quarter of the Macbook Air with comparable dimensions to the shiny device. While I fell in love with the Dell Mini 12 almost at first sight, I failed to do enough research before making the purchase online.

This attractive little netbook (the largest netbook back then with a screen size of 12-inch) runs on Intel Atom Z530 at a clock speed of 1.6MHz (same as the 710m) with a memory of 1GB (non-upgradable). On paper, the specifications seem to be good enough for my mother to do her online browsing, chatting, video-calling and occasional gaming. What escaped my attention was that the GMA500 chipset and its driver was having a lot of problems as it was not developed by Intel themselves. This fatal problem was hotly discussed in the forums from day one this model was announced. It was no wonder that Dell decided to discontinue this model shortly after launching it.

The second killer punch was that this model came with Windows Vista Basic. It was a well-known fact that even computers with 2GB of RAM have problems running Windows Vista smoothly, so I was not surprised when my mother eventually decided to go back to the 710m.

Now this poor thing was sitting there collecting dust. I have read enough forums to conclude that running Vista on this netbook is a dead end and I have to either go with Windows XP or Ubuntu. While I have already paid for the OS that came with this netbook, I am not willing to pay for a new copy of Windows XP (when Windows Vista is already one-year-old and I am running the beta version of Windows 7 on my desktop). I have tried instally Ubuntu Netbook Remix and ran into problems mostly caused by the GMA500 chipset, not to mention that the whole OS felt more lag than the Vista. I even contemplated on running a bootleg copy of Mac Leopard OS. Until I came across Jolicloud.

I downloaded a copy of Jolicloud pre-beta and it installed without requiring much input from me. Even though initially I was put off by the screen resolution of 1024 x 768 (but they have later fixed the chipset driver for GMA500 and I am running at 1280 x 800 now) but was happy enough to ignore the distorted display.

Subsequent releases of Jolicloud updates (all with just a click of a button) have made my experience with my almost-ended-in-the-recycle-bin netbook more and more pleasant. Their friendly support team will frequently solve the issues brought up on getsatisfaction.com/jolicloud. The interface of Jolicloud is simple and intuitive, even my mother was using it with ease. Who would have ever expected that my mother will ever feel at home with Linux-based OS?!

Even though Jolicloud is mainly web-based, I was able to run a word processor (OpenOffice) while offline. I could also listen to music and watch some videos from my portable hard disk. It would be a blue moon night when I was not connected to the Internet therefore I think it is irrelevant to highlight the usage of the netbook while offline. While online, the apps offered (for free!) are more than enough to make me wish for a 48-hour day. This really is cloud nine.

I wrote this blog entry on my Mini 12 running with Jolicloud. There are free online photo editors for me to touch-up my photos before uploading to my blog.

Although I have nothing but praise for Jolicloud, there are still one main shortcoming that was not their fault. Flash player has not been too kind to netbooks and I will avoid playing flash games on this netbook. It hung on me a few times and even with the latest Flash player beta version 10.1, it did not fare much better. I would have to agree with Steve Jobs that Flash is very buggy.

In conclusion, I would bring this netbook with me whenever I have to travel to keep in touch with the cyber world and to keep myself entertained. While the newly released Apple iPad is very very appealing, the price tag is not. Before Apple decides to drop the iPad’s price to an affordable (read:cheap) price, I will stick with my Dell Mini 12 running on Jolicloud for a long while more.