This is a continuation of my experiment in cloud computing as it relates to photography. Read part 1 here.
Cloud computing is moving forward at an astonishing pace and one of its benefits is operating system independence. If your operating system can access the internet, then you can play in the cloud. The purpose of this experiment is to determine the viability of a “cloud only” approach to photography. That is why I am using Joli OS for this experiment. It was designed specifically for maximizing interaction with the cloud and minimizing local computing. Also, I just wanted to play around with Jolicloud for the fun of it.
Trying Jolicloud is easy. You can create an account and use it right from your browser. After setting everything up, you can download and install Joli OS right beside your current operating system. Setting up your computer with two different operating systems (i.e. Windows and Joli OS) is called dual booting. In the past, dual booting could be nightmarish, but it has become fairly simple. Just run the Joli OS installer and after a reboot, you’ll be ready to go. When you power up your computer, you’ll see a choice between Joli OS and Windows with a timer counting down from 10 seconds. Unfortunately, the Joli OS installer defaults your OS choice to Joli OS, but that can be fixed with a bit of searching.
Once booted, you create a device password and you can login with the account you created in your browser. All of the apps you installed will be there along with a few other settings like connections to Dropbox or Google Docs. In addition to the apps you set up in your browser, there are a few local apps and access to your local storage including all the files on your Windows partition. There are tons of limitations to using Jolicloud imposed by the cloud-only approach, but there are advantages as well. A big advantage is that all it takes is one click to install apps and they are ready instantly. Of course “installing” an “app” basically amounts to no more than adding a bookmark with an icon to your desktop. Below is a screenshot of how I set up my desktop. I took the background photo while on an airplane and I find it to be nice and literal.
Since all of your apps run on the web they are all automatically up to date. Any data that needs to be synced locally is taken care of when you first log in. Updates of the OS itself are done in the background. Living with a computer that you don’t have to worry about updating is a huge advantage of the Jolicloud approach.
I knew before I even tried Jolicloud that it wouldn’t work as my primary OS. That’s fine though, because it’s not intended for that purpose…yet. It’s intended for use on netbooks, laptops, or computers “up to 10 years old.” After installing Joli OS on at least one device, you are awarded with a “recycler” badge assuming that you revived an ancient computer from its dusty grave. Not so in my case, but it’s a nice thought and if I had an old computer lying around I’d certainly try using Joli OS to revive it. Of course my primary computer is a 4-year-old desktop, so maybe it’s already ancient.
So far, I think I like the idea of Jolicloud more than I actually like using it. I like how lightweight it is, but it’s hard to get past that it’s really just a desktop with a browser and some links. Responsiveness is a mixed bag. Apps come up quickly, but web apps just don’t run as smoothly as native software. Growing up with computers that run native software and maybe pull a few things off of the web makes adjusting to the cloud-only approach a little difficult. Let me elaborate.
Getting Photos from the Camera to the Cloud
On a phone, getting photos from the camera to the cloud is easy. On a computer with a full OS such as Mac, Windows, or Linux: also easy. Using Joli OS: not easy. The laptop I was using has a built-in SD reader, but when I plugged in my SD card nothing happened. After some searching online, I found out that memory cards and USB devices work “sometimes” in Joli OS. I tried removing and reinserting the card several more times with no luck. Now what? Warning: this might get a bit Linuxy.
Since Joli OS is really just a stripped-down version of Linux, it comes with access to a terminal which can be used to actually do things. There is a normal terminal available with user-level access or root terminal with device-level access. Guess which one I had to use to get the SD card to work… Yup, the root terminal. I used the following commands to do the equivalent of importing photos using Lightroom or Picasa:
mount -a (provides access to the SD card)
mkdir /home/bryan/Pictures/[folder name] (for each destination folder I wanted to copy photos into)
cp /dev/a/DCIM/[folder name]/* /pictures/[destination folder]/* (copies every file from the source folder on the SD card to the destination folder on the computer. Must be done for each folder being imported from or to)
Great. Now I’ve got the files on my laptop’s hard drive. The problem with this approach is it requires root-level access and that only works if you are using a computer that you own. What happens when you try to do this on a hotel computer or your school computer? I guess you better hope they’re not running Joli OS.
Working with RAW files (*.DNG)
Adobe’s DNG files are the closest thing to a standard for RAW files. Support for them is great… on desktop software sold by Adobe. I couldn’t find a single web app (paid or free) that provides support for processing RAW files of any format. Some supported TIFF files, but upload limits and obscene file sizes conspire to ruin that option. One of the few local apps available in the Joli OS apps directory is GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program). The GIMP is a fantastic piece of software available for free on multiple platforms, but it doesn’t natively support RAW files. Luckily there are plugins available help the GIMP process RAW files. Unfortunately, none of them were available from the Joli OS apps directory. Back to the terminal again…
The best RAW plugin I found is called UFRaw. It has a graphical user interface (GUI) for one-by-one processing, but it also has command line support for batch processing. It’s no Lightroom, but it will do. Installing it required the following command:
sudo apt-get install gimp-ufraw
Once installed, all I had to do was double-click my files and they would open in the UFRaw GUI where I could edit them in all their 16-bit glory. Unfortunately, it takes a while to load each file and what do I do with the duds? Also, UFRaw is a native app and the purpose of this experiment is to test out web apps. I decided to give up the fine-tuned control and I asked UFRaw to automatically spit out a bunch of JPEGs for me to upload and process in the cloud. Throwing away all of those extra bits is painful, but the cloud made me do it. I used this command to batch process my DNG files using the default exposure settings:
ufraw-batch –exposure=auto –out-type=jpeg /home/bryan/Pictures/[folder name]/*.DNG
It took about 15 minutes to make it through about 150 pictures, but it chugged along quietly in the background. When the conversion was done, I used the Picasa app (really just a link to picasaweb.google.com) to upload the resulting JPEGs.
It was disappointing not to be able to edit RAW files in the cloud. If anyone has a recommendation for a site where this can be done, please let me know in the comments.
I wanted to like Jolicloud, but in the end I just don’t think it’s for me. There’s still a lot to like, but not enough for me to consider using Joli OS as my primary operating system. The Jolicloud developers should be applauded for taking an open, forward-thinking approach to OS design. Jolicloud’s goal of resurrecting old computers is fantastic and I could recommend Joli OS for an old computer, a netbook, or a tablet without reservation. On a current desktop or laptop however, it just feels like a waste of computing power. The workarounds required for doing a basic operation like grabbing pictures from my camera shouldn’t be necessary.
Joli OS is a great netbook operating system and I would definitely use it over Windows 7 or XP on a netbook or tablet, but I don’t own a netbook or tablet. It was fun trying it out and it was free, but I didn’t miss it too much when I went back to using Windows 7.
Tune in next time for Cloud Photography Part 3: Image Editing.