There’s been quite a lot of talk about “the cloud” lately so what better time to do a review of one of the best cloud-oriented desktop Linux distributions? Peppermint OS One came out a while ago and its successor has just been released. Peppermint OS Two is based on Lubuntu 11.04 and, for the first time, comes in a 64-bit edition. Lubuntu is a good choice as a base for Peppermint OS Two since it runs well on older or slower hardware.
Peppermint OS Two uses web-based applications for much of its default software. These applications are integrated into the desktop by the Ice SSB framework and essentially make these applications as much a part of the desktop as applications that run locally. They run in a window on your desktop even when you aren’t using your browser.
SSB stands for “site specific browser” and it’s how Peppermint OS Two runs web applications on your desktop. Here’s a bit of background on SSBs from the Peppermint OS site:
Ice is, by definition, a Site Specific Browser [SSB] that Peppermint creator Kendall Weaver wrote himself as a means to launch Web Applications and/or Cloud Applications [SaaS – Software As A Service] from the new Peppermint Ice OS. When you launch a web based application using Ice it will call up a custom SSB using the default Chromium Browser. So, essentially, the Ice SSB acts as software that is installed locally but is actually delivered via the Web.
The difference in using an SSB as opposed to using a tabbed browser is that only one function is assigned to the Ice SSB. In a tabbed browsing system, with several open for example, if one service or site in any given tab crashes you run the risk of losing data by crashing the other tabs and potentially the browser itself. since an SSB is isolated and dedicated to only operating the web application of your choice, if it crashes or hangs, it does not effect the rest of the system. And, because the Ice SSB’s are so sleek, they are perfect for running apps that display better using the most screen area as possible.
Some of you might wonder why this is desirable since you can always just fire up a browser and then go to GMail or whatever the web application is that you want to run. Well it’s quite a bit more convenient to have web applications integrated into your desktop when your first boot into it.
It’s also quite easy to add additional web applications or remove the default ones (more on that in the software section of the review). Once you get used to using web applications in an SSB you start to wonder why you had to do it the old way in the first place. It really makes the web a part of your desktop environment rather than something that exists outside of it.
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release:
Chromium is the default browser now instead of Firefox
The Ice SSB now comes with the ability to remove SSBs
Additional SSBs added from pixlr
Look and feel has been changed
Dropbox integration improved
Guayadeque is the default music player
Gedit replaces Leafpad as the default text editor
LXKeyMap is now included
The developers felt that Chromium was a better fit for Peppermint OS Two instead of Firefox because the Ice SSB was created for Chromium and apparently Mozilla’s Prism (which was used in the last release for Firefox) project is having problems or whatever. I have no problem with this decision though others may disagree. I’ve always rather liked Chromium a bit better than Firefox anyway, so I’m fine with the change. I’ll be interested in seeing in the comments though how others feel about this.
The ability to remove SSBs is a no-brainer and I’m glad to see it. The default selection of SSBs is fine by me, but your mileage may vary. So it’s a good idea to be able to remove them if you don’t like them.
The additional SSBs are geared toward image editing. I personally don’t care too much about this since my image editing needs are modest, but I suspect others may enjoy these web services. So check them out in the application menus when you boot into your Peppermint OS Two desktop.
I don’t use Dropbox so the better integration doesn’t hold much appeal to me. But regular Dropbox users will appreciate it. When you go to start it you’ll see a popup that asks you to download a proprietary daemon. Click the okay box and it’ll download for you automatically.
The look and feel of windows and icons has been changed. You can compare the new look to the old one by browsing the review of Peppermint OS One that I wrote a while back. Here’s a screenshot of Peppermint OS One, you can contrast it to the screenshot of the Peppermint OS Two desktop above. The wallpaper is a bit different though I think I still like the old version better.
The choice of the Guayadeque music player is an interesting one and might surprise a few people. The developers picked it for various reasons including “…ease of use, speed, install footprint, and scalability.” I can’t really quibble with their choice, it seems like a good player to me. I don’t listen to a whole lot of music these days though so perhaps my take on it is different than yours. But it’s there if you want to use it and if you don’t like it you can always use something else.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
Here’s what you’ll need to run this distro:
The absolute minimum required specs are as follows:
- 192 MB of RAM
- Processor based on Intel x86 architecture
- At least 2 GB of available disk space
Again, do note that these are the absolute minimum required specs. We strongly recommend having something a little stronger to install on. Our minimum recommended specs are as follows:
- 512 MB of RAM
- Processor based on Intel x86 architecture
- At least 4 GB of available disk space
Taking it a step further, the preferred minimum specs on a candidate for installation are as follows:
- 1 GB of RAM
- x86_64 or amd64 compatible processor
- At least 4 GB of disk space
Peppermint OS Two uses the Ubuntu installer so it’s quite easy. The installer has been customized a bit to show you a slideshow that provides helpful information about Peppermint OS Two. Those of you who are completely new to this distro should find it very useful.
Remember that Peppermint OS Two is a Live CD distro so you can simply put it on a CD and boot into it to check it out without having to do an install.
The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end.
Booting & Login
Here’s what the booting and login screens look like:
The Peppermint OS Two desktop is rather dark. There are no icons on the desktop and the panel is dark. The bright spot is the cute, little peppermint start button on the panel that lets you access all the usual stuff. The application menus are well organized; it’s quite easy to find what you are looking for while using Peppermint OS Two. Newbies will have no problems jumping right into it.
You can change the look and feel of Peppermint OS Two easily enough.
As I noted earlier, I don’t particularly care for the new Peppermint OS Two wallpaper. It’s too dark and makes the distro’s default desktop a rather dreary affair. The dark wallpaper contrasts poorly with the brightly colored Peppermint OS candy icon. There is another version of the wallpaper included but this one is just the default one in red. I like the old one better. Aaaah well, most people will probably just change it to whatever they want anyway. But it would have been nice if the developers had included more choices.
System & Preferences Tools
You can see the system tools and preferences options in the screenshots below:
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
Available in the Software Manager
Editor & Express by pixlr
eBuddy IM Client
Peppermint Bug Tracking
The Cloud Player
Peppermint OS Two manages software in two different ways. Local applications can be installed or removed via Linux Mint’s Software Manager. Web based applications can be installed or removed via Ice.
The Linux Mint Software Manager is one of the best around. You can browse ratings and reviews from other users. You can also submit your own reviews of applications that you’ve used on your system.
Adding & Removing Software
Installing or removing applications in the Software Manager is quite easy. Just find the application you want or you want to remove and click the Install or Remove button.
If you want to add a web application, you’ll need to start Ice (it’s in the Internet applications menu) and then fill in the boxes, specify where you want the application to appear in the menus, select an icon and choose Create. The screenshots below show you how easy it is to do this in Ice. You can also see how to remove a web application.
Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
Flash is installed into Chromium by default, so there’s no fiddling necessary on your end to watch YouTube content. I had no problem running the “Orcas Attack Seal” video shown below. Alas, it appears that things did not turn out well for the seal. He seemed unable to grasp the beauty of the orcas’ strategy to roll him off the ice and devour him. The orcas proved themselves quite cunning, however.
Peppermint OS Two comes with a blend of local and web based multimedia applications including last.fm, GNOME Media Player, Guayadeque Music Player, The Cloud Player and YouTube. If you need more just fire up Software Manager and there’s a bunch of applications you can install locally to get your music or video fix. I recommend snagging VLC. It’s just one of those must-have applications.
Problems & Headaches
I mentioned my wallpaper trepidations earlier, so I won’t harp on it too much here. Suffice to say some additional choices would be appreciated in future releases. The name and the icon that represent this distro are upbeat, cheery and – dare I say it? – rather sweet (as in candy). And yet the theme and wallpaper are very dark and project a rather downbeat look and feel. Perhaps the developers could add two choices next time? One for those who like it dark and depressing, and one for those who want something a bit lighter?
Beyond that, I didn’t really find much to complain about in this section. If you ran into any overt problems please post them in the comments section so others can benefit from your experiences.
Peppermint OS Two seemed quite speedy and reliable to me. That’s not really a big surprise since it’s based on Lubuntu 11.04.
Where To Get Help
Please take a moment to register for the DLR forum; everybody is welcome. Feel free to post a message in the forum and we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction. The forum contains discussions about Linux, as well as other topics. Please stop by and say hello when you have a chance.
You might also want to check out the Peppermint User’s Guide, FAQ & Support page, and the Community page.
Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Peppermint OS Two is a solid update to Peppermint OS One. It’s a potentially great option for web junkies that find themselves using web applications at least as much as the apps they run locally. Although it might seems strange or unnecessary to have the web integrated into your desktop so tightly, it quickly becomes something you come to appreciate more and more as you use this distro.
Frankly, I’m rather shocked that other distros haven’t attempted something similar, given how much we all hear about “the cloud” in media stories day in and day out. I had expected to see more and more distros following in the footsteps of Peppermint OS One but that doesn’t seem to have happened. That’s too bad since this sort of web integration can be quite useful for some users.
I highly recommend downloading Peppermint OS Two and giving it a shot. As I noted earlier, it’s a Live CD distro so you can run it without doing an install (though I also recommend installing it in VirtualBox to give it a more thorough testing). Distrohoppers should definitely check it out because it’s a fun alternative to the usual distros that are geared almost solely to running applications locally.
Peppermint OS Two is appropriate for beginner, intermediate or advanced Linux users.
|Product:||Peppermint OS Two|
|Pros:||Integrates web-based applications into your desktop. This release uses Chromium as the default browser. Now available for 64 bit systems. SSBs can now be removed as well as added. Additional SSBs from pixlr added. Better Dropbox integration.|
|Cons:||Dark, rather dreary wallpaper combines with a darkish theme to contrast poorly with the cheery peppermint icon that symbolizes this distro. A more upbeat aesthetic would be welcome in future releases.|
|Suitable For:||Beginner, intermediate or advanced Linux users.|