Long boring background story: at home I have a broadband router and three desktop computer (plus one laser printer) plugged into it by cable. Any of them are capable of running Linux Mint and connecting to the Internet and other PCs, though at the moment only one of them does.
I also have an Acer Aspire 5315 laptop which is about four years old. It was bought during a period of enthusiasm for laptops, at a time when I thought we might get rid of the desktop PCs for good, but after a few months’ experience of using a laptop for all our major work I came to my senses. The Acer is capable of running Mint and connecting to the router by cable, but there are no more cables available for it to plug in. It does have Wi-Fi, but unfortunately Mint and the particular Wi-Fi driver it uses don’t go together, and I can’t get it to connect to the network using Mint.
(Parenthetically, the Acer was one of two similar laptops that both had Vista on when I bought them. Both had Windows Vista installed. I took it off this one deliberately so I could try a Linux distro, but on the companion laptop — which my son now uses with Mint at University — Vista spontaneously uninstalled itself, along with a large chunk of all the data and other software on the hard disk. It was at that point I realised that Microsoft hadn’t supplied a reinstallation CD. To say I was not impressed would be putting it mildly. And when I bought and installed Windows XP in place of Vista, I had to download hundreds of megabytes of specialised drivers before it would work, because Acer were far too precious to actually use standard equipment or standard drivers on their blasted laptop.)
And I have a Asus EEE, acquired last year, which currently runs Windows 7 from the hard drive; but it’s also capable of being booted from a SD Card, so I can use this to experiment with Linux distros. Unfortunately it has the same problem as the Acer — Mint can’t pick up the wireless driver, so I am restricted to distros which can. So far I have found three:
- Puppy Linux. It’s cute, it works, it’s as fast as buggery and it picks up the wireless with no trouble. It’s just a little unfamiliar and a little Spartan for my tastes. Look, I’m sorry. It just is.
- Fedora 14. I have flirted a little in the past with Mandriva and OpenSUSE, but this was my first serious involvement with the Other Side — Ubuntu (and Mint’s) main and most credible rival. It worked nicely, it supported GNOME, it found the wireless driver; but it also chewed up most of a 4Gb SD card, and somehow I never felt comfortable with it. Running Fedora 14 on a netbook just seemed like putting racing stripes on a Smart Car.
- And just recently the latest successful contender: Jolicloud. Jolicloud also picks up the wireless link with no problems. It runs fast, it installs smoothly, and it’s built to cater for small screens and touchpads. In fact I am so impressed with Jolicloud on the EEE that I have also installed it on the Acer; where again, it picks up the wireless with no trouble.
You’re probably wondering why I am so keen on Jolicloud, which is also a radically different OS, when I found Unity such a pain. So am I; it’s puzzling me too. So far the only ideas I can come up with are:
- Unity merely looks different. Underneath it has the same old stuff. Jolicloud actually has new stuff, largely — as its name suggests — cloud-based: a fun paint program called Jackson Pollock, a simple sequencer, immediate access to Google Docs, and a browser-based applications system.
- But it is based on Ubuntu, so it installs smoothly without mucking up anything else, and all the old familiar stuff is there if you need it.
- Most important, and unlike Unity, Jolicloud offers affordances. This is a term coined by Donald Norman in his book The Psychology of Everyday Things — later re-issued as The Design of Everyday Things. Affordances are the features of a product which tell you in advance what it can do: thus a push plate on a door tells you before you get there that you need to push on that side because the door is hinged on the other side, and a handle on a kettle tells you it is designed to be picked up in one hand. Affordances are a big feature of successful software, and Unity just doesn’t have any — no panel, no menus, just a scary column of buttons.
So Jolicloud has lots of bright distinct colourful buttons to click — some of which do exciting new things — and Unity doesn’t. Is it really as simple as that? Maybe it is, because maybe that represents the thinking behind it. Maybe Canonical were thinking: ‘Let’s make this different’, and Jolicloud were thinking: ‘Let’s make this fun!’
That’s the best idea why one works and the other doesn’t that I can come up with at the moment. Try Jolicloud yourself (a Live CD is available to download as an ISO) and see if you agree with me.