Well, I wasn’t going to do another review before Ubuntu 12.04 was released, but my planned project this week got delayed. Looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, I decided to check out Peppermint OS. I have to say, I’m quite impressed with it.
This is a review of Peppermint OS Two, 32-bit edition.
Peppermint OS is available in both 32 and 64 bit editions, each fitting easily on a CD. It’s a well made customized variant of Lubuntu, which is good because installing it from a USB stick works perfectly (via UNetbootin, my go-to app for this). Normally I would wonder about having one more Ubuntu derivative – but in this case, it makes sense. The fact that you can install this system from a USB stick is extremely important because in my opinion, this is a near-perfect system for netbooks.
The process took under 10 minutes, and if you already have some version of Ubuntu on your hard drive, it will detect it and give you extra options at the start (because it uses the Ubuntu installer, Ubiquity). The repositories you have access to are the 11.04 ones, a little old to be honest, but not too awful. If you are willing to risk it, the Ubuntu upgrade process found in the update manager seemed to work all right for me – after I killed the “xscreensaver” process.
(I take no responsibility for anyone upgrading from 11.04 to 11.10 this way – it may screw up your system, so be very sure you know what you are doing before using Ubuntu’s distribution upgrade path)
Hopefully the next edition of Peppermint will use the 12.04 repositories.
Peppermint comes with a nice set of default software. The list is actually on their website, so I won’t list it all here, but it is cloud-centered. Your default word processor is Google docs, you have a last.fm link for music, there’s a dedicated Gmail link, and even the image editor is an online one I’d not heard of before. Chromium is the browser, not Firefox.
That page also describes the key feature of Peppermint that makes it so suited to netbooks – their Ice technology. Using the Chromium browser, they offer Site Specific Browser creation – essentially, you can store browser bookmarks as dedicated apps on your main menu. For sites requiring log-ins, you can create a menu item either with or without being signed in (if you want to save time, and don’t mind the extra security risk).
Of course since it’s based on Lubuntu, there are the standard system tools and accessories installed as well: a calculator, the PCmanFM file manager, the Gedit text editor, a printing wizard that detected our HP wireless printer with no problem, and a bunch of others.
If you expect to spend a lot of your time listening to or watching streaming music/video, or you plan to play many online casual games, the usefulness of this is obvious. Use Chromium just for reading, and open a “Facebook” or “Grooveshark” SSB app instead of another tab on the browser. Over the last several years, my music listening has almost entirely been via streaming from various websites - so I quickly appreciated this feature.
But at the same time, this isn’t a cloud-only system. Because it’s Lubuntu based, you can install as much (or as little) software as you want onto your hard drive. If you are without internet access, you aren’t at a loss; you can run a locally-installed editor, game, or word processor. It’s hard to believe, but Peppermint really seems to have given us the best of both worlds – cloud-centered apps, yet the ability to function well offline also.
(I’m aware that there are a couple of other operating systems that do this, such as Jolicloud. I have no experience with using them.)
In the few days I have been using this operating system, the Ice-based apps had no problems whatsoever. Nothing crashed, things ran smoothly, and I had a very enjoyable experience.
Needless to say, you can install all the games I’ve discussed in previous posts that are in Ubuntu, it can use the getdeb additional repository, and of course you can add SSBs for any online game you want that runs in your browser.
Things I Like
Peppermint OS uses Lubuntu as a base, which for me is great. Ubuntu is a popular, solid operating system and Peppermint gets all the benefits of using it. LXDE is a good choice for a desktop. It’s a very low-resource-using desktop, yet looks great. Peppermint also added in the Mint Software Manager, and gives you a graphical Task Manager in the System Tools section of the menu, to easily see your memory usage or shut down processes.
The SSBs are totally independent from the regular browser – you can open, close or remove any of them without affecting Chromium. Also, erasing all flash cookies in the main browser has no effect on SSBs that are set up with signed-in users.
Some people may have heard of the Hulu Desktop program. I not only have “Hulu”, I can get “Grooveshark Desktop” as well! (along with such other sites as Radio Paradise, the Thirst of Night browser game, World Golf Tour, Kongregate…)
Things I didn’t Like
The installed Adobe Flash plugin for Chromium was outdated, in both the 32 and 64 bit versions of Peppermint OS. In order to stop getting a constant nag on many webpages about the issue, you should install the “flashplugin-installer” file using Synaptic (it won’t be in the Software Manager). It will pull in 3 files, and remove the older version of Flash.
The Ice installer is not a one-step affair; people might find that annoying (but it’s no worse than opening up the software manager, finding a program, and installing it). If you add an app to a section of the menu that isn’t there yet, that category won’t be added onto the menu. Only installing programs onto the hard drive does that.
Also, although a minor irritation, the virtual desktop switcher was not on the panel by default, even though you start with 4 desktops. I’m not sure why it keeps getting left off of panels, but some KDE-based versions of Linux also make this mistake. New users have to poke around a little to find out how to add this extremely useful panel item.
There are only 2 wallpapers included by default. The size of the iso is so small (under 500MB), that I wish there were a few more choices.
I don’t have experience installing Ubuntu on an SSD netbook, but I’m sure it works fine. I had avoided looking at 16GB netbooks because I thought they would not have enough hard drive space; Because PeppermintOS encourages you to use browser-based apps, I probably have more netbook options than I thought I did.
I hope more reviewers check out Peppermint OS. More specifically, I hope more reviewers use Peppermint OS on a netbook for a few days. This seems like a very interesting OS, but my laptop is a behemoth and isn’t the best place for Peppermint to shine. I assure readers that when I do get a netbook, I’ll install Peppermint before any other version of Linux.