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Distro reviews

Peppermint 4 – An OS for everyone? & The Probem of Linux Advocacy

Its been a while since I wrote a distro review on Openbytes and its also been a while since I visited Peppermint developments.  To this day I still have a Netbook (Acer) which many years ago I installed Peppermint on and whilst in the days of tablets and just about every device in your house having a CPU and net access, I’ve not been back to see how the project has progressed as far as the rigs I’m using today.  I have written this review rather differently and taken into account readers and users who may have little interest in the “bones” of computing and merely want a decent computing experience, for those people the sections are marked as “new user” although if “experts” want to have a look, I’m sure a few of them will feel slightly perturbed by some of my observations of them.  This review serves two purposes for me, one to highlight Peppermint which I recently looked back into and another to highlight where Linux (as far as advocacy of others) has gone a little wrong over the years with it’s “do as I say” or “you can’t do that” attitude.

Its interesting for me to look back at my original review (found here: http://openbytes.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/review-peppermint-cloudlightweight-distro-considering-the-cloud/ ) as it was a time when cloud computing was still gaining traction.  There were fears about storing your data on the cloud, fears about using web based apps (or machines that required a permanent net connection to be fully functional) and people still harboured strong feelings to owning “physical” things – the idea’s of app purchases or indeed pay for streaming, were still seen by many as things of the future. – One look at the volume of app purchases on mobile devices today suggests to me that the majority of users are boldly moving into “non-physical” purchases at warp 10.  Back in May 2010 when I first looked at Peppermint, I had reservations, but unlike some of the more vocal “do it our way or not at all” GNU/Linux/FOSS advocates, I kept more of a “lets see” attitude.  Whilst the rights or wrongs of cloud computing and non-physical purchases still have the jury out, it was obvious to me at the time which way the wind was blowing with the mainstream consumer.

I digress, back to the Peppermint 4 review which offers itself in both 32 and 64bit flavours for the user.

Running the LXDE desktop environment, Peppermint 4 begins the race at a fast pace.  After selecting it at boottime via the GRUB menu (please see below), its about 20 seconds from being Net ready.  Peppermint has always focused more towards the cloud computing ethos, so the installed apps (as in locally stored) are few in number and mostly relate to system admin/config utilities you will require when refining your desktop.

You’ll find a media player, bittorrent client and IRC client amongst the locally installed applications, however most of your other needs will be served via web based applications through what is called ICE (again see below)

Installation

Peppermint offers a very simple and straight forward approach to installing, infact its doubtful if you will really want to start changing things (especially if you are a new user) and one of the things it offers you is to dual boot (that is to install Peppermint along side whatever operating system is already on your machine)

Since I don’t wear a tin foil hat, I facilitate the Chromium ability to store all my passwords, links, history.  For me as soon as the installation was complete (about 30mins on a very slow net connection) I was able to log into Chromium and have my browser exactly the same as it was in my other OS, complete with all my links and saved passwords.

Packages

As was touched on above, the majority of local applications (those installed on your harddrive) relate to modifying your system and customizing it for your needs.  Tranmission the BT client is one of the exceptions, as to are the media players.

You’ve got Google integration (for your drive etc) here already, although to be fair, any distro can be set up in the same way in a matter of seconds, but the nice thing here is that Peppermint is, (as far as installation of local applications goes) a bare-bones system which offers complete functionality at first boot.  Dropbox is also present, but most users (both expert and not) spend most of their time in the browser (I’d guess)

Here we have the Twiter website, running through browser/app ICE, as you can see it almost looks like a local app on the desktop.

Here we have the Twiter website, running through browser/app ICE, as you can see it almost looks like a local app on the desktop.

Conclusions

As I said many years ago Peppermint OS is a great system.  Whilst it has a strong leaning to the cloud, it does not force you down that route and is a powerful Linux distribution that will run very quickly on your hardware.  Peppermint is not bogged down with “fluff” and packages that you won’t use, since most of the software is browser based, removing it is merely removing a link.

In the past, I’ve crossed paths with some of the Peppermint team (in a good way) and they are a dedicated, friendly team who have remained true to their vision of a Linux distribution all these years.  Peppermint is a reflection of this dedication which doesn’t force you to adopt their vision, merely presents you with a very fast operating system which you can customize to your own needs very simply and regardless of how much of a toe you dip into the cloud world, Peppermint will serve your needs very well.

Whilst my Acer Aspire One with its old version of Peppermint gets little use now (its tablets, Playstations and desktop’s in our house) I can certainly see Peppermint remaining on my main rig now for a considerable time.  Maybe that’s an indicator that my usage of computers has changed? Or maybe it’s simply that like it or not, the cloud is inevitable and the best way to stay on-top of this without having to put all your eggs in one basket, is with Peppermint.

The GNU/LINUX experts (for new Linux users)

“Experts” come in all shapes and sizes with probably some of the most intimidating (in a tech sense for a new user to Linux) in the GNU/Linux world.  You’ll read all manner of rants about software freedoms, proprietary software and its “evils”.  For most people who use their machine as they would any other device around the house, they leave the experience baffled.  New to Linux? Then get ready to be baffled by “experts” who will tell you about DE’s, proprietary, opensource, GRUB and many more terms.

Linux “experts” and the type who are most likely to baffle you with software “ethics” et al can be quite easy to spot.  Amongst the most obnoxious can be the ones who show screenshots of their Linux system running in the command line.  To them, the less aesthetically pleasing it looks, the more advanced they must be (or thats my theory anyway).

Let me hopefully make this simple for you: Select what is right for you, learn (if you wish) at your own time, then if you find yourself with opinions on certain software/configurations you can make changes then. – If you listen to many of the sites that will rant on about KDE or BASH and how to use script files to solve all of life’s issues, you will end up confused and nowhere fast, migrating back to Windows or that delicious fruit branded operating system.  This is, I think the problem desktop Linux has had over the years and I think deep down many of these “experts” with Linux and FOSS don’t actually want the mainstream using them as they can then feel special or important that their machine runs on software very few people use – or know how to use.

Whats GRUB? – Its the menu system you get when you switch your machine on that allows you to chose between say Linux and Window (if you have what is called dual boot).  What’s ICE? its basically your Chromium browser stripped down of all the fluff and menus and allows a web page to be run (for example Twitter) like a application. – See? two terms which at first seemed complex, explained in a few lines and shown to be rather simple.

Myths dispelled (for new users)

Here are some of the comments you will hear from people online in respect of Linux.  It’s unclear if these people are just sincerely ignorant or if they have a vested interest in keeping you away from software which is free and will complete the tasks you are currently doing on software you’ve had to pay for.

1. You have to compile your own Kernel. – Rubbish.  I won’t explain what the Kernel is at this time (its not required) but suffice to say, in 2008 I started reviewing Linux distro’s (having used Linux for a long time) and not once have I had the need (or desire to compile the Kernel).  If someone makes this remark, you can ignore it completely.

2. You have to compile your applications, its difficult to install software. – Again rubbish.  For many years most Linux distro’s have the equivilant of the app store that you see on your mobile phone.  Software is categorised with reviews and screenshots within the software center (or similar) and installing is merely a click away.  There’s no zip files, no compiling, no editing script files.  If you can install an application on your mobile phone, then you’ll have no difficulty on Peppermint.

3. Linux doesn’t work with your hardware – Rubbish again, of course there can be issues (just like when some people tried to install Windows Vista for example) so when it comes to installing any new operating system on the plethora of hardware options out there, it’s impossible to say before hand if there are going to be any issues.  I’ve installed Linux on over 100 machines and not had issues – is this an indicator of a “perfect” Linux anymore than a naysayers claiming Linux won’t work? No of course not.  This is why anyone considering Linux should follow the suggestion I make below, if you are wanting to swap your current operating system experience and find out for yourself.

4. You can’t play Windows games on Linux – This is half true.  Just as you wouldn’t expect to play Xbox One games on a PS4, you can, for the moment take it that if you buy the latest Windows game, it won’t work on Linux.  Whilst you are new to the Linux environment its best you stick with that, there are ways to get Windows games running on Linux (using a package called WINE) however, this is something that should be looked at later when you’ve become used to how Linux works.  For now, if you want to play the latest Windows games, stick with Windows, moving to Linux for the sole purpose of playing games made for Windows is not worth it.

5. You can’t run Microsoft Office – For now agree that you can’t, but why do you need to? Do you have a specific need for the Office suite of Microsoft or are you one of the millions of users who merely need a Word Processor et al and it just so happens you’ve always used Office? There’s plenty of options.  My first book which is awaiting publication was 80,000+ words and went nowhere near anything of Microsoft.  GoogleDocs? (as stated above Peppermint already has the integration there for you) Libreoffice? – A great Office Suite that will cost you the princely sum of £0.00.

How to explore Linux

When I’m introducing someone to Linux, I don’t believe the “all or nothing” approach works, so if you are new to Linux and would like to see the benefits it can offer you, download and burn onto disk the latest version of Peppermint and follow these steps.

1. Run it from the DVD/CD – Now that you’ve burned your copy of Peppermint, you can run it from the disk without having to install anything at all.  So put your disk in reboot the computer and look out for a message similar to “press f12 for boot options” select to boot from your DVD and in a short while (please note if you do install Peppermint it will load far faster) Peppermint will boot to the desktop, where you can access the net and have a play around with Linux.

I normally tell people to boot from a CD for about a week, get on with the tasks that they need to do and see fully if they enjoy the Linux experience.  If, after a week they are happy, I suggest the next step.

2. Install Linux alongside your existing operating system.  Peppermint (and many other distro’s) offer you the facility to install alongside what currently installed on your PC.  Doing this will mean that every time you reboot, you will be presented with a menu giving you the option of which operating system you wish to run.

After step 2 has been completed, I usually leave the user for a few weeks to see how they get on.  If they are still happy, then they can make the decision to either remove the old operating system or leave it in there. And finally:

3. Once they’ve had Linux running on their system for a few months and are happy with the experience, I tell them to let other people know.  Probably the biggest myth that needs to be dispelled about Linux is that it is the remit of “experts”.  Ironically since 2008 and this sites creation, the most complex issues I’ve had to fix on friends PC’s have been on Windows machines.  Could I merely be saying that in order to promote Linux? Well I could, but just like a recommendation of anything from anyone, the only way you find out is if you give it go yourself and come to your own conclusion.

You can check out this punchy, simple to use desktop on their homepage: http://peppermintos.com

Tim

bytes4free@googlemail.com

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About Tim Sparrow

Online tech writer, novelist/author of sci-fi literature and co-host of the TechBytes Show! I believe in multi-culturism & diversity. Luton Town FC supporter.

Discussion

5 thoughts on “Peppermint 4 – An OS for everyone? & The Probem of Linux Advocacy

  1. FYI, my wife has a Chromebook, and it doesn’t need an Internet connection to work. Everything works off-line just fine, and syncs when she goes back online.

    Wayne

    Posted by Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter | March 14, 2014, 10:32 pm
    • I’m very sorry for the delay in this post getting published, it was lost in the ether there. I would agree, however where Peppermint offers that little bit more scope than a Chromebook would be all the cloud features you expect of the Chromebook with access to the repo’s peppermint uses. For example, Eternal Lands is not going to go onto a Chromebook. I think Peppermint for me as I say in the article “dips the toe” and allows the user how much or how little to go into it.

      Posted by openbytes | March 17, 2014, 5:19 pm
      • Wasn’t trying to claim Chrome is better than Peppermint. Since I’ve never run Peppermint I don’t know.

        My point was that “Cloud” based operating systems are practical now, where ten to fifteen years ago they weren’t.

        As to whether they are safe from the NSA….

        Wayne

        Posted by Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter | March 17, 2014, 5:22 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Ubuntu Derivatives News: Trisquel, elementary OS, Ubuntu Studio, Linux Mint, Peppermint, Bodhi, and Lubuntu | Techrights - April 8, 2014

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about.me

Tim Wilson

Tim Wilson

Writer/Novelist of many facets both in the world of technology and fantasy/sci-fi. Co-host of the TechBytes audiocast and writer for both OpenBytes and Goblin's Domain. Supporter of free and open source software.

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