Cloud Computing with Chromium and Jolicloud: Two Steps Back: Page 2

Posted December 21, 2009

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 2 of 2)

Jolicloud: Once More into the Cloud

The same can be said of Jolicloud, although to a lesser extent.

Jolicloud is an adoption of Easy Peasy Linux, the netbook interface for Ubuntu. This pedigree makes Jolicloud less of an innovation than Chrome, because it still has a strong desktop orientation. The interface is not the GNOME desktop familiar to mainstream Ubuntu users, but rather a top-level menu on the left, and a collection of home directory locations on the right, with the current menu's items listed in the middle. These menus include not only preferences and administration tools, but also standard desktop applications like the F-Spot Photo Manager.

All the same, as I explored the desktop, I was aware of a lack of the usual open source productivity apps, and soon felt -- much as I did with Chrome -- was that the design assumption was that Jolicloud would not be used for serious work. I mean, a Linux distribution without a sound editor, let along one for graphics? One that only includes a dictionary in the Office menu, and no word processor or spreadsheet?

The reason, of course, is that the emphasis is online. You can see that from the fact that the Internet menu is the only one that has a complete set of tools when you first start Jolicloud.

Moreover, as you log into Jolicloud, one of the first icons you encounter is Getting Started. Clicking this icon, you are presented with the chance to register and create your personal dashboard. This dashboard is a combination of a center for your participation in the Jolicloud social networking services, and a graphical package manager called the App Directory.

jolicloud open source cloud computing


The App Directory includes desktop productivity tools like OpenOffice.org, but its emphasis is on online applications. Its selection is somewhat broader than Chrome's, and, so far, Jolicloud is not promoting its own selection of applications, the way that Google does. Yet, all the same, I wonder why this administrative option is moved off the desktop and into the cloud. Simply because it can be?

Considering that the dashboard immediately starts broadcasting messages that you have joined Jolicloud and are using a particular brand of machine and are now following Jolicloud, the obvious answer is that Jolicloud wants to keep track of your computing. Although there is no reason to suspect Jolicloud of nefarious purposes, this practice still seems a breach of privacy -- all the more so because the information collection starts without your approval and you cannot stop it without foregoing the use of the dashboard altogether.

Jolicloud is not as large or as dominant as Google in its field. Yet, in the end, the purpose of moving the core of computing into the cloud feels to me like a reduction of my personal control. You don't have to be paranoid to feel that such a move runs counter to the mainstream of FOSS, as well as of basic security practices.

The Wrong Solution

Cloud solutions like Chrome and Jolicloud are efforts to end the division between the browser and the desktop that has existed since the Internet started being widely used. This division is awkward, and, in one sense, I can only applaud efforts to overcome it.

However, after using these two cloud-oriented operating systems, I am more convinced than ever that their solution is not the right one. Going online for social interaction is one thing, but going online for productivity is clumsy, slow, and less private than using desktop open source applications. Nor are online productivity apps remotely comparable to their desktop equivalents in terms of features, even after several years of development.

More importantly, it funnels your computing through your Internet connection, as well as through organizations who can offer no real guarantee that the information that you store with them is secure and will remain uncracked.

Even if you have no reason to distrust the organization (and I have no reason to condemn either Google or Jolicloud as avatars of evil), the fact that the information of countless users is centralized in their services means that, if a security breach occurs, it is likely to affect more users than if everyone kept their information on their own computers, no matter how insecure those computers are.

Naturally, I would not care to see the end of all online applications. But, rather than exchanging a one-sided emphasis on the desktop for an equally one-sided emphasis on the Internet, I would prefer online services dispersed over the desktop, the way that KDE is arranging things, with the option to turn them on or off as local administrators choose.

That, to me seems the way to balance the desktop and Internet connections. Cloud-based solutions only replace one imbalance with another -- and create a whole new set of problems as they do so.

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