JoliCloud, a Web-based desktop, is going in a new direction.
Starting today, the company will be offering a new product, Drive, which lets people consolidate their various cloud storage services and work with them from a single dashboard.
If you’ve ever wondered whether you could combine the 15GB of free data on Google Drive, the 2GB of free data on Dropbox, and 10GB of free data on Box for a single virtual drive with 27GB, JoliCloud’s Drive is the answer. In fact, you can assemble up to 44GB of free storage across various services with JoliCloud, accessing all of them through a single interface.
“We think it’s the missing filesystem everybody has been waiting for,” JoliCloud founder Tariq Krim told me.
JoliCloud Drive doesn’t make the underlying services completely transparent. It still segments your storage according to service, presenting each one as a different item in a left-hand pane — sort of like different drives in the OS X Finder or in the Windows Explorer. But you will be able to move files from one service to another just by dragging and dropping within JoliCloud Drive.
Drive also provides a consistent interface for viewing and editing images, playing music files, or watching videos — regardless of which platform the files are stored on. You just double-click and the file opens. If it’s on Google Drive, it will open within Google Drive for editing.
JoliCloud Drive also provides an Evernote connection, so you can drop files or images into Evernote notebooks. It connects with Flickr for image storage. Somewhat strangely, it even includes an RSS reader from Feedly, so you can catch up on your news.
Drive will be free. A Pro version will let you connect multiple accounts from the same service (your personal and work accounts on Google, for instance). In the future, the Pro version will also add support for a search tool that works across storage services, as well as a cross-service file type filter (so you can view all your music files, or all your photos).
A file system for ChromeBooks
Krim is eyeing one rapidly-growing market segment in particular: ChromeBook users. ChromeBooks took off in 2013, accounting for 21 percent of business notebook purchases by the end of the year. ChromeBooks, while they are cheap, light, and occasionally very well designed, lack one major feature: storage. Everything you want to save, with a ChromeBook, must be saved in the cloud somewhere.
In a conversation with Krim last week in Paris, Krim described JoliCloud as an “alternative interface for ChromeBooks.”
(Note: My trip to Paris was sponsored by state-owned investment bank BPIFrance, which paid my hotel and airfare costs. My coverage remains objective.)
“We’re going to take over that platform and make it cool again and make it open again,” Krim said.
“Don’t get me wrong — I love Google. But why should it be a Google-only world?”
Naturally, Google would like you to save your stuff on its own servers, locking you into the Google world and giving it that much more ability to target its advertisements at you. Meanwhile, Apple views things the same way: Buy an iPad or a MacBook, and Apple will steer you towards iCloud storage and Apple’s cloud services.
Krim sees a future where people’s cloud services aren’t so tied to the devices they purchase. JoliCloud Drive is an attempt to break that technology stack apart a little bit, letting you choose whatever device you want independent of the cloud services you’re using. As long as you have a web interface, you can access JoliCloud Drive and have access to the files you’ve stored on any service.
Well, almost any: JoliCloud’s Drive doesn’t yet support Apple’s iCloud, due to complexities with the Apple API. Krim said they’re working on it.
A dangerous place?
And that brings me to JoliCloud’s biggest weakness. Ultimately, its success will depend on the cooperation of Google and Apple. If they decide they don’t like JoliCloud’s aggregation of their storage services, it’s easy enough for them to block JoliCloud, either overtly (via policies) or covertly (by subtly changing their APIs to keep JoliCloud’s services from working).
For his part, Krim is used to being shadowed by Google. JoliCloud’s previous product, JoliOS, is a web-based desktop with apps you can install for various functions.
Sound familiar? Yep, that’s basically the same thing as Google’s ChromeOS, which runs on ChromeBooks. Krim says that Google employees have acknowledged to him that ChromeOS took a lot of inspiration from JoliOS, which has been in development since 2008. (ChromeOS didn’t get started until 2009.)
Krim says that 5 million people have downloaded JoliOS to date, and 1.5 million have registered. But with the ascendance of ChromeBooks, there’s less and less need for JoliOS. That’s why the company is shifting from providing a cloud desktop to providing a cloud storage. JoliCloud announced on May 12 that it would be discontinuing JoliOS.
JoliCloud is based in Paris. Its backers include Atomico Ventures (Skype founder Niklas Zennström’s VC firm) and Mangrove Capital Partners. It has raised $4.2 million to date.
Krim’s previous company was NetVibes, an early RSS reader that used widgets to provide its customers with a customizable dashboard — much like iGoogle would do later. Krim founded NetVibes in 2005 but left in 2008.
“NetVibes was about giving people focus in a world of craziness. JoliCloud is about giving people choice in a world with two competing platforms,” Krim said.
Choice is good. Now JoliCloud just has to avoid being made obsolete — or being crushed — by the giants it is trying to disrupt.
Correction 6/17: Krim left NetVibes in 2008, not in 2007 as we previously reported.