Netbook OS Refresh

My poor little Netbook has been gathering dust since I picked up my shiny MacBook Pro back in April. Soon after receiving it I left it as a beta device for some random Linux installs I was trying out. I eventually settled on trying both MeeGo and Jolicloud for a bit which I last wrote about some months ago.

I decided to poke around and see if there were any new updates and tools out there for both OS’s. Unfortunately, MeeGo seems to be languishing with no new updates to it’s preview build but lots of announcements for new hardware formats that the OS will support such as BMW Group’s line of autos.

On the Jolicloud front I found that I longed for the OS to use some of my hardware in a more useful way. In its effort to provide a repeatable experience across a large slate of devices, they neglected to actually allow the OS to interact with the hardware in a more useful way. I had loads of web apps, shell based front-ends, but not a lot of actual useful applications. One of the more strange bugs was certain apps would be installed through the JoliCloud loader, but show up as slightly opaque even after a reboot. Dropbox was one of those apps that I couldn’t get to work properly no matter what I tried.

So I finally decided to wipe it. Ironically, I went back to an OS that was on the device when I first received it almost 2 years ago now: Ubuntu. Ubuntu is one of the nicer Linux distributions around and from what I’ve read about it, one of the most stable and easiest to use coming from a Windows environment. Aside from a horrible name for the most recent release, Maverick Meerkat, version 10.10 is very stable and runs fairly well on my aging Netbook.

Setup was a breeze– I did the USB stick install through Windows and was up and running in about 15 minutes. I did experience a bit a hiccup with proprietary wireless drivers (Broadcom) and had to hard connect over Ethernet in order to get new drivers. Once I did, everything was fairly straightforward.

As far as the Netbook build goes there’s a new UI called “Unity” that includes support for larger icons and some included service-like apps that make it easy to get back online and tapped into your social streams: Twitter, IM, Email, and other “broadcast” services are bundled in right out of the box.

Social Features in Ubuntu

Twitter support right out of the box.

So far its been very smooth sailing. I think my biggest realization is that I just don’t need a portable device this small and wimpy anymore. I can get by with my iPhone, and I guess I’m one of the few people left who don’t mind toting a 17″ laptop around everywhere. I’m expecting an iPad under the tree this year for myself so I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be fooling around with this thing.

Alternative OS: MeeGo + Jolicloud

I spent the weekend doing a bit of searching around the web on alternative OS’s. Now that my little Hackintosh has been superceded by my mighty MacBook Pro, the poor thing sits unused in my home office just colleting dust. It was never a mighty machine, an Atom-based N450 in the Dell Mini 9 shell. The keyboard is cramped; function keys are mapped funny, and it wasn’t terribly large. At 9 inches everything was just a little bit different and frustrating to use on it. Bonus points were its 16-gig SSD that Dell later stopped offering as an option, an SD card reader, and it’s price: $299 on a one day sale.

I spent some time digging into two OS’s, with somewhat of the same aims: MeeGo and JoliCloud. I should mention that I installed both only in the USB key scenario, not actually loading a full installation.

Jolicloud promised to be the OS with the most initial satistfaction for me. It supports the vast majority of “netbook” systems already out there, and aside from needing to jury-rig my Wireless the first time worked quite well. The entire system promises a bevy of new, recommended, and lightweight cloud-based apps to help you get everything done.

Jolicloud App Directory

Jolicloud App Directory

The staples are there: Chrome, Gmail, VLC, Twitter, and other social networking toolsets. Generally it was was snappy, colorful and seemed well designed. It fit well with my small 9″ screen.

MeeGo also promised a cloud-based experience. The UI interface reminds me a bit of TweetDeck’s– things are running in a 3-column layout and are mostly very easy to read.

Meego Desktop

Meego Desktop

Apps are launched from category buckets and that’s how your “installed” programs are organized and sought out. I ran MeeGo in the same USB-boot key method as Jolicloud, but drivers for my device weren’t readily apparent. Video and audio worked; WLAN did not. Apparently I’m not alone in this. My entire trial was based upon being in a hard LAN environment which may have tainted my final review of the OS. What’s really promising about MeeGo is the variety of devices it wants to run on: mainly in-car devices, and connected TV embedded OS opportunities. They’ve got some substantial backing from Nokia (which I can only assume means there’s a Tablet-like device somewhere in the wings), and today Acer announced they will have MeeGo running on their future devices as well.

That seems to be a substantial alliance going against Google’s Chrome OS— I’m not sure what the ramifications of that are yet because the Chrome OS still isn’t out. I’m going to keep scouting for alternative OS’s, but for right now I think I’ll wipe the ol MacOS and load up Jolicloud for a bit. If I hate it, I can always continue my tour.