Jooce is a new Flash-based WebOS product from France, currently in private beta (we have invites at the bottom of this post). The primary use case for Jooce is for people who use cyber-cafes a lot, instead of or in addition to their own PCs or laptops. Jooce enables users to store, share and access their media and applications (such as email and IM) online. The company says that the 'cybercafe generation' is about 500 million people a day, so that is their target audience. Jooce has already received seed funding from Mangrove, initial investors in Skype.
Jooce launched last week, to generally positive reviews from the likes of Techcrunch and Webware. There was however some negative coverage about the use of the term WebOS, especially from Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny who wrote a post entitled There is no Web Operating System (or WebOS). Jeremy's post essentially argued that open, simple and Web standards compliant systems are better than closed systems - by which he meant not only WebOS products, but perhaps moreso Facebook. In other words, why use a proprietary system like Jooce, when you can choose from thousands of apps on the Web. The unspoken point to Jeremy's post, I think, is that something like MyYahoo is better than a 'closed' system like Facebook -- or Jooce. At least that was the inference I took from his post. It sounds great in theory, but in reality services like Jooce do provide a useful way to access your files and apps when you're not at your normal computer - or don't have one.
There's no question the Jooce UI is very slick and easy to use; and it makes great use of Flash for interactivity. As far as the apps go, the integrated Media Player is neat - but there aren't a lot of other apps as yet, certainly nowhere near what facebook offers. The company noted that initially Jooce will provide users with applications, but over time it will make its API freely available - and they will try to tap into the Flash community.
Another feature worth noting is that you can have a private desktop and a public one (a "joocetop"), that your contacts can easily view. Jooce released some screencasts this week to explain their features. This is a good introduction:
Conclusion: WebOS it is; and there is a gap in the market
The company touts one of its main features as integrating existing online services into a one-stop shop - a la Facebook. When discussing the product with a Jooce rep, I was told that rather than comparing Jooce to other WebOS products (EyeOS, YouOS, Goowy, et al), a better comparison is to Facebook. So Jooce fancies itself as a platform for widgets and other mini web apps.
But Jooce has a long, long way to go to compete with Facebook. To be frank, right now it has more in common with WebOS products like EyeOS and Goowy - who also provide apps for their users, along with the online desktop vision.
I do think there is a place for WebOS products, whether or not you believe in the concept of a desktop layer in a browser. Facebook and other social networks aren't focusing so much on file sharing. And while services like Nokia's recent purchase Twango and the newly launched iYomu enable file and media sharing, they don't focus on communication apps like IM and email. So there is a gap in the market for WebOS products like Jooce. It remains to be seen how many of the estimated 500 million cybercafe users sign up for Jooce, but it is a big enough market that it's worth pursuing.
What do you think of Jooce's chances?
To request an invite - we have about 30 of them - leave a comment here with your email (not published). Update: invites all gone now