This is going to be a bit of a weird column, some might say they all are, because I haven’t got anything to write about.
Most columnists get to this point sooner or later, and usually plug the gap by writing a column about how they got into that situation. It’s a noble tradition and whom am I to change it.
The thing is that I had been planning to install and review a free new operating system, Jolicloud, but when I sat down at the usual time of the week to do this column, Jolicloud stubbornly refused to start.
I had taken a look at the browser-based version of Jolicloud and was interested enough to download the 700 Mb installation file. Making very sure that I chose the version which can work in tandem with Windows on an existing machine, the file downloaded quickly enough over Cell C’s broadband service.
The installation went smoothly even though I read one of the messages that came up, as ‘scamming the hard drive’, which gave me an instant vision of a tiny confidence trickster swindling my hard drive out of its retirement fund.
Jolicloud installed itself in such a way that I could choose to boot into it or Windows, when I switched the machine on. The first time, I chose the Jolicloud option, I got a nice welcome screen to look at. That was quite promising but less promising, was the next message which came up saying that a particular folder did not exist, and that Jolicloud was ‘dropping to a shell’.
The next thing to appear was a text-only DOS prompt with a very cryptic single Help paragraph detailing commands that I could type in at that point.
It made me realise just how much easier and more reliable computing has become in the last few years. In the past, we often had to delve into our computers’ innards and tinker for hours before they’d run again.
Anyone who has had an IRQ conflict on their computer, such as when they tried to install a new device, like a modem or a printer, will know what I’m talking about.
With new hardware and operating systems that have got really smooth and refined, this sort of thing happens rarely enough to be surprising and, if you’re trying to write a column at the time, very inconvenient.
The experience also underlined the change that has come over me. In the past, as an eager wide-eyed young computer enthusiast, I would have seen a failed software installation as a challenge.
Now, my first thought was "To hell with that! Where’s the uninstall button?" Life is just too short to get involved in unnecessary battles.
The trouble with Jolicloud and other alternative operating systems, I think, is that there are so many different computer environments where they might be installed. It takes lots of money and R&D to produce and refine an OS so that it will work in the majority of situations.
I can imagine that Jolicloud would work perfectly on hardware, like Jolibook netbooks, sold by the company. As my experience shows, however, there will be machines and setups where it just won’t work.
Google’s Chrome OS is on its way and I predict that it will be a better bet in the free OS stakes, if only because the company has huge resources to put into making it more bullet-proof.