Penguines by dtl at Morguefile.com

Netbook Operating Systems: Kubuntu, Jolicloud

My Dell Inspiron Mini 9 is my regular portable, as it is small and easy to tote.  It came preloaded with Ubuntu and I have since used Windows XP on it and also multiple versions of Ubuntu (Lucid Lynx, Maverick Meerkat).  I was reading a post by a lawyer who had tried the Google Chrome OS – the Lawyer Who Fell from the Cloud – and it got me thinking about trying some of the other open source operating systems I might try.

Jolicloud

For some time I have been curious about the JoliOS and Jolicloud.  The screenshots are quite enticing, particularly if you are used to the out of the box Ubuntu desktop or if you have used the Ubuntu Unity netbook launcher.  Jolicloud has done a great job of making it easy for adoption.  Once you download the operating system ISO file (a large file containing all of the files you need to install the operating system), they also provide a utility to transfer the ISO to a USB drive.  The USB drive is prepared so that, when you restart your computer and boot from your USB drive instead of your hard drive, it will install Jolicloud for you.

The interface is quite nice but severely dumbed down from what I am used to.  The two screens of launcher icons were similar to many of the Google Web Store apps – icons that go to Web pages, rather than actual applications.  There is a heavy emphasis on social networking and news.  Many of the useful free applications common to a Linux operating system are hidden a number of layers down.  It wasn’t obvious to me how to customize the launcher, considering that most of the interface seemed designed for the novice.  In some ways it is like the Unity launcher, in that you get what is provided but heavy tweaking and customizing isn’t possible (or not obvious).  I could see using it in a school computer lab, for example, where a lot of effort was spent to develop a local set of icons and apps and then made available to students and staff.

In the end, I blasted Jolicloud off my netbook after about an hour playing with it.  One of the deal breakers was that it comes pre-installed with Google Chromium.  I am not completely clear on the distinctions but it does not work the same way as the Google Chrome standalone browser, and when I tried to activate the synchronization of my Google accounts (bookmarks, themes, etc.) within the browser, the system repeatedly stopped responding.  I did like that they adopted CTRL-ALT-DELETE so that I could call up a shut down menu!

Kubuntu

Kubuntu is like Ubuntu but with a K!  It’s not quite that simple but if you are used to Ubuntu, Kubuntu is a no-brainer.  The Kubuntu Plasma netbook launcher is much easier to use and customize than Ubuntu’s Unity.  That in itself was enough of a reason to give it a shot.  I had tried installing the launcher on Ubuntu and replace Unity but I ended up with some strange screen locks when I tried to toggle between open applications.  Installing from scratch has been far more successful.

As with Jolicloud, you download an ISO image of the Kubuntu operating system and then, in my case, transfer it to a USB drive.  You can download the unetbootin free utility to transfer the ISO file to the USB drive.  The utility is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.  When I attempted to use it on Windows 7, it crashed when I attempted to browse to the ISO file and Windows 7 couldn’t recover the program.  In the end, I typed in the path to the ISO file and unetbootin did its magic.

The installation went smoothly, as has been my experience with Jolicloud and Ubuntu.  As soon as Kubuntu was installed, it did the typical Ubuntu update, finding nearly 300 updates and processing them.

The Plasma launcher is very easy to navigate although I find the newspaper screen and opendesktop widgets to be a bit of a distraction.  Since my RSS sources and other social activities are through various sites, not a single community, this wasn’t an effective resource for me.  But the panels at the top are very useful out of the box, and there is a nice information panel that shows the system’s progress downloading files, accessing network shares, etc.  I am going to look for it on my other machine running Ubuntu to see if it exists there (it probably does).

The only thing that is annoying are how the Kubuntu applications are named.  A significant number of them start with K and the names do not necessarily help to know what the applications do.  Kate is the app that replaces Gedit, and I like how it looks, but it took awhile to locate it.  Similarly, KRDC is one of a number of applications that use K-based acronyms and I would just as soon have Kubuntu Remote Desktop Client spelled out.

I’ll stay with Kubuntu for the foreseeable future since it offers everything I love about Ubuntu – and the same problems, so I know the limitations of what I can do with it – but with the improved interface.  When Ubuntu comes out with an improved launcher,  I will take a look at it again.