Jolicloud: the OS for Grandma?

My mother-in-law lives in a rural home in middle Georgia.  She is 74 and has never used a computer in her life.  When we visit on weekends, we often show her photos on our iPhones.  But somehow that just feels unsatisfying; we wish we could show her full-size versions of our photos, and connect with her via email and instant messenger during the week.

I dug up an old Dell d610 laptop with 1GB of RAM, 100GB hard disk, and a single Pentium mobile processor.  There are not many operating systems made today that can run with such minimal hardware.  I figured a lightweight OS made for the puny hardware of a netbook might fit the bill.  Enter Jolicloud.

Jolicloud is a free, Ubuntu Linux-based OS tweaked for netbooks.  Its user interface is built on the fancy HTML5 standard, and looks gorgeous. Installation is done via a downloadable CDROM, available from the Jolicloud website.  Installation on the Dell took about 30 minutes, and it detected every bit of hardware with no issues.

Once installed, you get a simple black background with large icons and a slim toolbar across the top. Here is what it looks like:

Facebook.  Gmail.  Meebo.  The everyday applications you commonly use, presented in two neat rows.  Would you have any difficulty figuring out this interface?

Now, lets assume you want to access your documents.  Click the folder icon on the top toolbar and get taken to this screen:

Does it get any more intuitive?  You have folders for your documents, music, photos, and videos.  Also notice the inclusion of web-based file storage solutions, neatly presented below your local storage for seamless access.

Or lets say you want to see what this “Twitter” thing is all about, and you want to install a Twitter client.  Click on the “Add” button on the upper left corner of the toolbar, and you can browse installable applications by type. A single click will start the install.  Also notice that currently-installed programs are dimmed to indicate you already have them.

As you can clearly see, my mother-in-law won’t have any problems figuring out how to operate this computer.  And with the stable Linux operating system underneath, I don’t expect to get many support calls either.  Jolicloud is snappy and responsive with only 1GB of RAM, negating the need to purchase a RAM upgrade.  And did I mention Jolicloud is free?

Now if they could only get Internet access…