Updated: February 2, 2011
Peppermint OS is a Ubuntu, or rather, Lubuntu derivate, focused on cloud computing. The distribution is supposed to be very lightweight, running the simple yet should-be elegant Openbox desktop, which you've encountered in my Crunchbang review, while providing users with the wonders and marvels of the cloud.
Sounds good and definitely merits a review. I do have to admit I was a little leery of testing yet another Ubuntu fork. Most smaller distributions just don't have the necessary resources to pull off the right amount of QA to guarantee a solid, stable and bug-free release for their audience. And then, there's the matter of uniqueness. After you've tested half a dozen Ubuntu forks, you kind of wonder if there's any reason for yet another.
This review will give you a pretty good indication if this is the case. When it comes to head-on Ubuntu usage, then the closest rival to Peppermint would be Jolicloud. There's also Meego, but it is not cloud-oriented. Enough talking, let's examine this beast. As usual, I'm going to molest the distro fairly thoroughly. Tested: Respin 08042010.
Live session - Modern yet archaic
The first thing that comes to mind is that Peppermint looks a little old. The red theme is somewhat similar to what you've seen in OzOS long long ago. Window borders are simple blocky items better left in 2005. I'm not against old and simple, but Openbox can look much better than it was configured here.
Just a brief deviation, here's a Crunchbang screenshot:
Openbox is supposed to be lightweight, but it should not look like Xfce. In fact, I was not entirely sure I was running Openbox until I burrowed into the menus.
Then, you get big and non-uniform icons and the extremely bland menu. This may allow Peppermint to run on all kinds of older machines, but it does not promise greatness to a typical modern user. What more, with its cloud-centric approach, Peppermint is oriented toward the younger crowds.
Wireless, Samba sharing and whatnot
They all worked well, but there were a few snags. While you can bookmark Samba shares in the file manager, they won't appear in applications menus, forcing you to interact with files locally. So if you want to pull something off a network share, it's a two-step process, again defeating the cloud-centric mantra.
Speaking of peripherals, Peppermint also recognized a Bluetooth wireless mouse, even in the live session, which is a nice thing.
Peppermint comes with a rather unique repertoire of programs. The arsenal has no big cannons. In fact, most of the programs are Prism-wrapped web applications, which replace the classic assortment.
Firefox 4 is included, although it is still beta. You also have a bunch of links to popular social crap stuff, online sharing and media, and a small selection of utilitarian Linux tools that normally adorn lightweight desktops.
You get Hulu, Pandora, Google Docs, last.fm, Facebook, and several other sites packaged as individual applications, in case you're incapable of browsing there on your own. You also get Pixlr.com for editing your pictures, The Cloud Player, and several other programs, all of which require a network connection to work.
If you're not from USA, GTFO
Unfortunately, the creators of the distribution decided to include several programs that only happen to work in USA. Pandora and Hulu will not stream to anyone with a would-be foreign IP address. This is a little like Internet-only Jolicloud policy. It makes you feel special in a bad kind of way.
If Peppermint is meant to serve an international crowd of users, then why go for US-only programs? Why not go for China-only or Albania-only programs? How would that make you feel?
Back to applications ...
One program that really pissed me off was the screenshot utility. A frugal and inept alternative to great programs like Ksnapshot and Gnome Screenshot, it would really never remember the file format or the folder location for my images, forcing me to reselect .png every time and choose where to dump the review evidence. Furthermore, there was no way to take screenshots of active windows only, which is even more annoying. What's the point of shipping such a program, anyway? At least give me Alt + Print Scrn and I'll manage on my own.
Overall, the collection is controversial, insulting, not really interesting, with potential privacy issues, as well as functionality problems. For anyone freshly switching to Linux, the cloud apps might be familiar, but the local content is just plain weird.
Worked as expected, the codecs are all there. Flash played smoothly and MP3 songs chirped merrily. However, Exaile would not let me get any lyrics for my files, which is a bit disappointing.
Ubuntu style, all the way. However, it looks like what used to be the Ubuntu installer until Karmic. Must be the fact the distribution was issued almost a year ago, approximately around the time Lucid was released.
There were no problems setting up the system, except that a session login with a password is mandatory. You cannot automatically login into you session, which is annoying. I don't care about the security, I want my desktop now.
After the installation
Peppermint completed the installation very quickly, within just a few minutes. Restart, a reasonably fast but not admirable boot, into the desktop after authenticating with my user and password.
As expected, Peppermint is very light. The system monitor is called Task Manager, something you would expect Windows users to relate to. Anyhow, the system memory usage was only about 140MB, which is quite decent, but not legendary, considering the fact that Gnome can also manage around 200MB without much fuss. Take Fedora or Debian, for example.
Openbox does have its merits, but it did not yield any revolutionary improvement in usability compared to most typical modern distribution. This advantage is most likely felt on older hardware, which I don't have. Suspend & resume worked just fine, there were no application crashes.
Now, a surprise. While Peppermint is based on Ubuntu, it leases a few programs from Linux Mint. For instance, the software manager is taken from the later. And there's also a bunch of utilities hiding here and there with the distinctive name prefix of lowercase mint.
With the reliable and fast apt-get backbone, the Software Manager can be used to replenish the missing programs, including the more traditional set, like OpenOffice, GIMP, VLC, and others.
Other small problems
There were a few other annoying issues with Peppermint. For instance, if you copy a file with spaces in the name from another volume, disk, machine, whatever to your Peppermint box, the spaces will be replaced with HTML-like tags, making normal, human-readable file names into a cryptic nonsense. Example:
If I wanted to live in the world of meta, I'd have become a code monkey. Thank you.
Furthermore, some of the Fn keys on my laptops did not really work. Closing programs never minimized them into the tray area, including multimedia stuff, which means you must keep your desktop cluttered with windows in order to enjoy sounds of music.
Overall, there's nothing wrong with Peppermint. It's a decent distro, within the self-set limitations. That said, it does not escape the lethal trap of boredom. Peppermint is not exciting. It does not make you gasp or growl with pleasure.
Then, you will be annoyed by its repertoire of programs. Not only does it not suit everyone, it contains several programs broken by geographical design. There's also the tricky question of whether you want your stuff in the cloud. The programs are not really useful for daily use, unless you're only into music and streaming video and chatting to your imaginary friends. Throw in an archaic theme, and you get a bland, uninspiring desktop.
If you're looking for cloud stuff, try gOS or maybe Jolicloud. If you're looking for lightweight alternatives, you may want to check Crunchbang or Vector Linux. As it is, Peppermint needs a serious overhaul to become fresh and useful, especially considering its mission statement. That would be all for today.