Pros: A lightweight distribution, Peppermint Two is perfect for those who rely on web-based applications day to day.
Cons: If you lose your Internet connection, the distribution becomes little more than a tweaked copy of Lubuntu.
Back in Issue 91 of Linux User & Developer, we took a look at a new Ubuntu spin-off project called Peppermint Ice, which took aim at the same target market as distributions such as Jolicloud: Internet-connected users who want a lightweight, fast operating system without sacrificing features.
Originally available in two flavours – Peppermint One, built around Mozilla’s Prism and the Firefox web browser, and Peppermint Ice, built around Google’s Chromium browser – the project showed promise, but a lack of features above and beyond a standard Ubuntu install left us disappointed.
Since then, the Peppermint team has been back to the drawing board and produced Peppermint Two, an altogether more polished distribution based on Lubuntu 11.04. We dived into this latest release to see if it could win us over after the project’s somewhat inauspicious inaugural release.
Installation of the OS is straightforward, with the distribution being supplied as a bootable live CD. Anyone used to installing an Ubuntu derivative will find the menus and slideshow remarkably familiar, if a little graphically uninspiring.
With this release, the team has also made a 64-bit build available for the first time, although the 32-bit version remains the default download option. While two architectures are now supported, there’s only one root operating system: the days of choosing between Firefox and Chromium are gone, with Chromium winning out as the default browser.
The primary reason for this is Ice, a site-specific browser based on Chromium and created by Kendall Weaver for the Peppermint project. Designed to make web apps feel more like a desktop install, it replaces the now-defunct Prism project and makes the Firefox spin redundant.
In Peppermint Two, Ice has had a few tweaks: the most obvious being the ability to delete, as well as create, site-specific browser shortcuts, a major omission from its initial release in Peppermint Ice. The OS also benefits from a few new default Ice-based SSBs, including impressive image editing tools from pixlr.
As you would expect from a platform that prides itself on its use of cloud-based technologies, Peppermint Two is somewhat lacking when your Internet connection goes down. Thankfully, that’s when the Lubuntu base shines through: an attractive Software Manager gives users the ability to install software from the Ubuntu repositories for offline use, augmenting – or replacing outright – the web-based apps available by default.
The distribution’s main focus, however, is on web-based applications accessed via Ice along with other apps designed for Internet-connected systems. Popular cloud-based file storage service Dropbox is included as standard, with many of the bugs from Peppermint One and Peppermint Ice corrected, while Google Docs makes a reappearance as the default office suite.
Despite its billing as a ‘hybrid’ OS offering the best of both worlds, however, Peppermint Two is a difficult beast to recommend to those with a transitory Internet connection. While it’s true that you can install software from the Ubuntu repositories for offline use, you can do that with a straightforward Lubuntu installation as well. Ice is an impressive enough system for creating shortcuts to web apps, but can be replaced by the more technical user with a command-line switch in a Chromium shortcut.
That’s not to belittle what the Peppermint team has achieved, however. This latest release features an impressively smooth look and feel, and performs well on older hardware. While it inherits some bugs from its upstream parent – including issues with selected models of Nvidia graphics chips, and a crash when the desktop background is set to a solid colour with no image file selected – it’s by and large a stable distribution for production use.
The team’s decision to standardise on a single Chromium-based distribution has really helped make Peppermint Two more polished than its predecessors. Sadly, the same issue we raised with Peppermint Ice still apply: the OS is, at its heart, yet another lightly-tweaked Ubuntu spin-off, and Ice – while handy – isn’t enough of a draw to recommend a switch.