Sunday, June 27, 2010

Distro Hoppin`: Peppermint OS 2010.06.17

Bah, I've been using peppermint for years... as my favorite chewing gum flavor. HAHA, got you there, didn't I? Of course I did.

Wow, gotta tell you, I have the best excuse for not spending more time with you, my awesome audience. The weirdest thing happened: as I was hoppin` around the Linuxland, I stumbled onto a springboard which threw me waaaaay up into the air, right in the middle of the cloudy cloudosphere (what? it sounds like a word... right?). As we all know, there is still a pretty poor visibility up there, but thankfully, all sorts of awesome software projects guide us through the haziness. One of which is Peppermint OS, receiving a LOT of attention from tech writers everywhere. What I tried to find out was if this OS is really providing a bridge between users and the cloud or it simply clinged to the concept just to enjoy some undeserved publicity.



It's really hard nowadays for distro creators to not use Ubuntu as their building blocks, so, yes, Peppermint OS is indeed based on the distro a lot of people love to hate. With that gory detail out of the way, let's move on. 444 is a really nice number and besides symbolizing "the first divine woman" and the "number of Lillith, female demon of Assyrian legend", it also is the number of MBs in which Peppermint was carefully packed. Though my Internet connection was not feeling too well, it still managed to fetch the ISO in a reasonable amount of time. Enjoy these days people, as I sense that in the near future the major distros will finally realize that they can't suck their bellies forever and will decide to get a larger pair of jeans.

The Live environment loaded up pretty quickly and the screen resolution was set to the optimum value for my monitor. Sadly, while running from the CD, I wasn't able to mount my Windows partitions nor my thumb drive, which kinda sucked. Thus, the "Install Peppermint" icon on the desktop was more appealing than ever. 



Should I bore you again with the details of the installation which looks and behaves exactly like Ubuntu's? Oh, but of course I will. Ok, maybe not. One important detail, though: it's, obviously, much faster. 6 or 7 minutes was all it needed to reach the finish line. Once it's on the HDD, Peppermint fully boots from GRUB to a working desktop in about 17 seconds. You can watch the process in the Oscar-deserving motion picture below.


Peppermint OS greeted me with my favorite color combo: black & red. Sure, there's a bit of white also, but I don't mind. Some abstract wavy red shapes on top of a black background and the DELICIOUS logo on the right make up this OS' visual identity. There's only one panel (yay extra screen space!) and it's on the bottom, containing the usual suspects: main menu, two shortcuts: Firefox and File Manager, 4-workspace switcher, application switcher, volume, network, update notifier, a 24-hour clock and the shutdown button, which now that I look at it in this particular context, also looks like a peppermint! I'll be damned...

Performing a successful right-click on the desktop awards you a nice context menu for creating new folders or documents, sorting files and modifying Desktop Preferences. Oh, I think I forgot to mention a crucial detail: Peppermint uses the superfast LXDE desktop environment so expect everything to be as responsive and snappy as they can get. 



But let's fast forward to the things that set peppermint apart from the gazillions of other distros: the software that powers your trip to the cloud. The "Accesories" category doesn't generate any surprises: a calculator, an image viewer, the Leafpad text editor, archiver and print manager. The "Graphics" section is where it gets interesting: instead of The GIMP or mtPaint or other offline (this is starting to sound like an insult nowadays: bah, it's an offline program! DIE!) app, the awesome pixlr online image editor takes their place. I have to be honest, I really had no idea that pixlr existed, so thanks Peppermint for opening my eyes! Oh, you will certainly notice that pixlr does not open a regular Firefox window, as you would expect from a website, but looks very much like a "regular" application. All the thanks are headed to the Mozilla Prism team for making this possible. 




The "Internet" category comes loaded with goodies as well: Dropbox (how dark and gloomy were the days before Dropbox...) for keeping your important files up in the air, far away from the dangers (e.g.: cats) that lurk in the surroundings of your computer; Facebook, another "Prismed" website, that I (un)fortunately am not a member of; Seesmic Web, a tool that leashes your Twitter account and tames it; Firefox for... oh come on, you all know what Firefox is for. Gosh; Transmission for putting a torrenting bullet through your bandwidth's head and XChat for old-school socializing. Of course, the Prism app is there too and will allow you to create your very own online-that-looks-like-a-desktop-one application. I used it to create a Prism for Yahoo Messenger, because Peppermint forgot about IM users apparently. :D At least a shortcut to Meebo would've been great. Of course, I installed Pidgin but it was an older version that couldn't connect to the ever-changing protocols of Yahoo! and so I tried to install the Ubuntu repositories for Pidgin which made a mess of the apt-get system, popping up errors about the pidgin-ppa package everytime I tried installing ANY app. After deleting the files for pidgin-ppa in /var/lib/dpkg/info, everything went back to normal. Whew, what a ride. Finally, I did the sensible thing and installed Pidgin from source, which was quite franky, a walk in the park. Sure, I had to add a few extra options to make it behave, but all that was politely stated in the error output. Oh, and if we're still in the Internet section, let me add that Peppermint comes with Flash installed, but no Java, which means no NES gaming on virtualnes.com :(. But do not worry, as the Software Manager allows you to install Java in a blink of an eye. 






Let me see if you can guess what the "Office" category hosts............................................................................................. EEEEEE, time's up. If you guessed Google Docs, you WERE CORRECT!!! And not only that, but also Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Reader (love it!) and a very offline PDF viewer. From the "Other" category you can initiate an Openbox-only session for added lightweightness and you can head over to the Peppermint Bug Tracking online portal. 

 "Sound & Video" is packed too with the best online multimedia time-wasters. Hulu, which does not work in Romania, except for a totally uninteresting reality show, Last.Fm which is paid-subscription only outside US and Germany, Pandora, which is, again, US-only. BAH, if you live in the US and have an extra room, call me! Unless you're a serial killer. The Cloud Player actually works and, if you dig through the garbage, you can find quite a few good songs. YouTube ends the online selection of this category. Cheese (for making goofy faces in front of your webcam and applying silly effects), Exaile, a lightweight audio player (MP3 support is out-of-the-box), GNOME MPlayer for all sorts of video files and the GNOME ALSA Mixer to handle your audio devices. The "System Tools" menu is the loneliest one, with only the Task Manager to chit-chat about the weather. 





Of course, populating all these categories is quite simple using the great Software Manager created by the Linux Mint team: mintInstall. Why is it great? Every application has its own separate page, containing a screenshot of the program in action, a thorough description, community star ratings and user reviews. Very, very helpful, especially for first time Linux users, unfamiliar with the open source software alternatives. 




Though the "Hardware Drivers" utility is present in Peppermint, it couldn't recognize my NVIDIA GeForce card, thus no proprietary drivers could be installed, thus 3D applications or even fullscreen youtube movies ran sucky. I'm sure one would be able to install it manually in just a few steps, but I didn't feel neccesary to go through the trouble.



My Canon A550 snapshopt digital camera was recognized and I could browse its contents. I did have problems with my HP Deskjet 3940 printer for which Peppermint couldn't find the appropriate drivers, reccomening instead a driver for the 3800 series. I browsed through the list, and, weird enough, there was no 3900 series. I think this is the first time I have this kind of problem with a Linux distribution. Anyway, I went ahead with the reccomendation, received the A OK message and proceeded to print a test page. Though the software was telling me the job is printing, nothing came out of the device. Again, the Software Manager saved the day and, after installing the HPLIP package, the database grew by a considerable amount, allowing me to install the 3900 series driver which made the printer tic (or #^#$^&#$&%^#$^#$% - yes, this is how I transcribe my printer's voice) again.

Peppermint or Spearmint?

This has been a ground for dispute among chewing gum freaks for aeons, peppermint is too strong, spearmint is too sweet, on and on and on. But we're really not talking about breath enhancers here, are we? Peppermint OS left a sweet taste in my mouth and though one could argue that you would be better off using Ubuntu or Mint LXDE editions and install all the cloud apps yourself, I think that it's great to have all these out of the box, ready to go wherever you go. Oh, and I like all the blacks and reds. ;)

OK, I understand, rain is good, water = life, BUT COME ON, NATURE! I have to cross a friggin river to get to the supermarket. STOP RAINING! Eh, it will pass. And to you, readers, I wish you all the best and thank you thank you thank you thank you for stopping by. /me bows.

Download Peppermint OS here.

6 comments:

  1. Nice review. Short, to the point, and the video tops it! Cheers!

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  2. About that nVidia GeForce, use that great Software Manager you raved about, type "nvidia" in the search box, select the one item with "current" in the package name, click Install, and you are good to go with the proprietary drivers.

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  3. Having seen the "Hardware drivers" entry I totally overlooked the next obvious solution. :) Thanks!

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  4. Thanks for spreading the word about Peppermint OS. It's not only very snappy but incredibly stable. I myself discovered it only recently. It's now installed on my netbook.

    Job well done by the Peppermint OS team!

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  5. Horrible review. You're not funny: don't try to be.

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  6. This was a good review. As I was reading it, I was downloading the ISO with the latest version, but with some reservations. Your review convinced me that it wasn't a waste of time and bandwidth, and I'm looking forward to burning and trying it tonight. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete