Coming Soon: Jolicoud, the Netbook-Specific OS

Some folks would argue that trying to use any of today's existing operating systems on a netbook or nettop PC is like trying to stick a Porsche engine into a Volkswagon Beetle. It can be done, but it's not really the best use of the engine or the car. These days, netbooks and nettops tend to come with either Windows XP or Linux installed on them. Low-powered systems might struggle with Windows; and even those units that have the necessary horsepower, typically can't utilize the full functionality of the OS and chew up precious hard drive space with the bloated OS. Linux installs can be streamlined to take up less hard drive space, but Linux is not the most user-friendly OS available--and the OS and its apps tend to intimidate less than tech-savvy users.

One solution that a number of vendors are now exploring is an OS designed explicitly to be used on netbooks and nettops. Good OS is developing a lightweight, quick-booting OS for netbooks and nettops, simply called Cloud. The Cloud OS has minimal hardware requirements (x86 processor, 128MB RAM, 35MB storage space) and uses Internet-based apps, such as Google Apps, as much as possible. Cloud is scheduled to make its official debut at CES on January 8, 2009.

 Jolicloud's main user interface as captured by Michael Arrington's phone.
(Credit: TechCrunch)

According to TechCrunch, a second player is looking to get into the netbooks and nettop OS game: Tariq Krim, the founder of the personalized homepage site Netvibes, is working on a netbook and nettop-specific OS called Jolicloud. There is still a lot not known about this OS--it isn't even in private beta yet (you can sign up to be a Jolicloud beta tester here). TechCruch's Michael Arrington, however, was able to spend some time with Krim in Paris and get a demo of the work-in-progress.

As with Good OS's Cloud OS, Jolicloud is based on streamlined version of Linux--meant to have as small an installed footprint as possible. Jolicloud's minimum hardware requirements are not know yet either, but it is likely that they will probably be similar to the very low-end requirements of the Good OS. Jolicloud will eventually be made available as a download to netbook and nettop users, who would then install Jolicloud on their systems--replacing the existing OS and apps with Jolicloud (presumably, users will back up any data stored on the systems first). It is still unclear how Krim will profit from Jolicloud; the two most likely scenarios are that Jolicloud will be ad-driven or users will have to purchase the OS.

The key to Jolicloud is its main user interface made up of large icons--as Arrington points out, the interface looks similar to that of the iPhone. And similar to the iPhone, Jolicloud will also support touchscreen interfaces. Arrington further states:

"There are a ton of other features as well, including a planned application platform for third party developers, but the company has asked us to keep our reporting to a minimum until they are ready to release Jolicloud into private beta."

It's good to see developers working on ways to make the burgeoning netbook and nettop product categories more functional. Retrofitting existing operating systems into these new platforms has raised some questions as to their actual usefulness. But operating systems and apps developed exclusively for netbooks and nettops creates the opportunity to have more useful niches for these products. This coming year just might be the year of the netbook.