How to Make Your Crappy Netbook Awesome with Jolicloud

I have bought some stupid gear in my time.  Really stupid.

Now I’m never going to top this, which was undoubtedly the stupidest thing I’ve ever wasted my hard earned money on.

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Yes, I actually bought a Samsung Q1

Honestly, I can’t believe that someone who can get through grade school, much less college and grad school, would be dumb enough to buy one of those.  But this isn’t about that.  Thankfully.

This is about what could be the second stupidest thing I’ve ever bought.  An HP 2133 netbook.  After I was overcome by its itty bitty screen and general lameness (and that was before the iPad rendered all netbooks null), I quickly hid it in a cabinet in my study, hoping that no one would know.  As luck would have it, Cassidy found it the other day and asked me if she could have it.

I previously tried to install Ubuntu on it, specifically the Netbook Edition (which looks really, really cool), but was once again foiled by the Broadcom wireless card incompatibility, which kills Ubuntu buzzes the way sledgehammers kill gnats.  So I reinstalled Windows (let me say again how much I love TechNet).  And handed it to Cassidy, telling her she could have it as long as she told people she found it in a dumpster, and not in her daddy’s study.

It took about 3 minutes for her to declare it unusable.  With any version of Windows, the screen is just too small to do anything other than, maybe, read an email.  Opening programs is a crap shoot, with the success rate at actually opening the program you’re aiming for with the touchpad and tiny screen at around one in three.  Cassidy tried to work on a short story she is writing, and quickly gave up.  Just about anything drove the netbook to a screeching, time draining, hour glass spinning halt.

So she gave it back.  Emphatically.

Since it’s been sitting on the counter in my study, taunting me, I decided to try and save it.  And I decided to use Jolicloud to do so.  Jolicloud is described as “a super-optimized Linux that makes the most of your netbook hardware, battery, graphics and connectivity with a cool interface that will make your life easier.”

Let’s see how it goes.

Before

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I’d turn it on, but I’d die of old age before it booted into Windows.

Getting Jolicloud (Harder than it Should Be, But Worth It)

I almost abandoned this experiment, and turned this post into an anti-Jolicloud rant when I found out you can only get Jolicloud via a BitTorrent client.  I don’t know anything about torrents, and I don’t want to know anything about them.  This pissed me off, but I was invested so…

I went to download uTorrent.  And look at this little gem:

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Really?  Are you serious?  How completely bush league is this?  I must have been right to avoid all this torrent business.  How desperate must Ask.Com be to sneak onto computers to have to resort to semi-trojan status?

I was getting madder by the minute, but nothing is as bad as seeing that useless netbook on the counter, so I unchecked the boxes and proceeded. 

Torrent movies must be really fun, it’s telling me I have 11 hours to go to download a 689 MB file.  This is almost as fun as typing on a netbook.  At the end of the day, it took something less than 11 hours, but a long time nonetheless.  At a screaming 1.x kBs a second.

Creating a USB Installer

Next you download the USB Creator, thankfully without uTorrent.  Hopefully, now that I have the iso file things will be back to sane.

To create the USB installer, you install and run the USB Creator, and point the application to the downloaded iso file and an inserted USB stick.  The approach is identical to other USB installations I have done, including the lamentable Windows>Ubuntu>Windows installations on this netbook.

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Other than Microsoft Security Essentials asking about the Jolicloud files and whether I wanted to send them for a risk assessment, things went smoothly.  It took about 3 minutes to create the USB installer.  After uTorrent, this seemed like warp speed times infinity.

Installing Jolicloud

This is where things took a turn for the good.

I stuck the USB stick in the netbook and fired it up.  Well, maybe not fired.  I turned it on and it slowly chugged to life.

Jolicloud recognized and connected via the wireless card.  A+ for that!  Ubuntu still hasn’t gotten that part right.

Full installation is a 7-step, easy process, during which you choose your language, set your local time, pick your keyboard layout, decide if you want to delete any existing partitions (yes, in my case, as I want the netbook to be Jolicloud-only), decide if you want a single or side by side installation (single in my case, for the same reason), and pick a user and computer name.  This process seems really well implemented and takes just a few minutes.

You then create an account.  I used Facebook Connect, and was connected with my Facebook account instantly.  Then you create a Jolicloud name and password.  Easy peasy.

You are given the opportunity to connect with any of your Facebook friends who are already using Jolicloud.  My pal Rick was already using Jolicloud, and I was prompted to connect with him.  I’m not yet sure what happens after you connect, but it’s a cool feature.

Did I mention that I’m happy about the wireless card thing?

After the installation process is over, you restart and you’re ready to go.  And go you can.  Jolicloud boots up quickly and has the chops to perform all the usual tasks- only this time without pulling your hair out.

There are a ton of apps available, with more to come.  You can even see what your Facebook friends like.

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After

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Very nice.  Now if I can just keep Cassidy from taking it back.

Instant Desktop: We All Shine On (with Presto)

OK, I admit that I generally lump hardcore Linux users in the same category as carriage drivers, pursuit hunters and Wolfram Alpha users- people who make things way harder than they have to be.  A few years ago, I installed Linux on a computer I built.  Several hellish days later, I wiped the hard drive, grabbed my shotgun and went looking for some penguins to kill.  Since then I have avoided Linux the way Cormac McCarthy avoids punctuation.

But at the same time, I get extremely impatient waiting for my various computers to load.  Generations of moths are born, live a fine moth-life and die in the time it takes my desktop to boot.  And my various laptops aren’t much faster.  It’s semi-bearable at home, but it can be a real drag (pun intended) when I’m trying to access email or the web from the road via my laptop.  Windows is never going to get within sight of the “instant on” ballpark, so I decided to look for another solution for quick access to basic laptop functions.

Guess what I settled on. . .

Linux.  In the form of Presto (here’s the FAQ).  Presto is a stripped-down Linux system designed to load quickly on just about any computer.  It installs on your Windows hard drive, just like a regular Windows program.  Once installed, when you boot your computer you have an option to boot into Windows or Presto.  Pick Presto and, presto, you have an almost instant Linux desktop.

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I installed Presto on the 64 bit laptop I’m using to test Windows 7.  If I select Presto at bootup, less than 20 seconds later I have a completely loaded operating system, with immediate access to the web (via Firefox), email (via Gmail), Skype, and even Word documents (via OpenOffice).  There’s even an App Store where you can find additional software to install.

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Presto costs $20.00, but the fast loading time and preinstalled applications make it worth it for the impatient traveler.  I have found that I use it even more than I thought I would.  This tells me that speed is king in the new application age.  And that the cloud will be good for alternative operating systems, and probably bad for Microsoft.

I’m never going to use Linux as a primary operating system, but for quick access to email or the web, Presto is a fine alternative.

The Tree is Cooler, but the House is Familiar

Richard Stiennon has an article at ZDNet that shows via some interesting pictures why Windows is less secure than Linux. The theory, which sounds logical to me, is that “in its long evolution, Windows has grown so complicated that it is harder to secure.”

I suspect that is the case. Imagine a house on which you add new rooms and wings every year or so. Eventually, there are so many windows and doors that anyone who tries can find a way in and the original burglar alarm isn’t equipped to handle all the new stuff.

That’s probably a good way to think of the Windows security issues.

That, of course, and the fact that everyone lives in houses, so the crooks know that’s where the goods are kept. If everyone lived in trees, the crooks would focus on trees.

In other words, the fact that most people use Windows means that the virus and spyware writers focus on Windows.

Granted, you could use Linux if you wanted to have a more secure system, but I’ve used Linux and while I appreciate all that it can do, it is simply too hard to configure for the average computer user. Plus, a lot of the software that people are used to doesn’t have a Linux version. The smart choice may be Linux, but clearly the easy choice is Windows. In that race, I generally put my money on easy.

When forced to choose between safe in a tree or vulnerable in a house, most people pick the house. Even if the tree is cooler.

So we patch and firewall and hope, while Microsoft keeps building more rooms.

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