Peppermint OS: Cloud Oriented Desktop Distro
Released in July, Peppermint Two is based on Lubuntu 11.04, an Ubuntu-derived distribution using the LXDE desktop environment (see our overview). Its main distinguishing feature is that it mixes traditional applications with cloud applications that are closely integrated into the desktop.
Previous versions of this distro made use of Mozilla Prism for running web applications directly on the desktop, but Peppermint has now switched over to Chromium. This means that Chromium is the web browser and also powers the rendering of web applications thanks to the ICE SSB (single site browser), a framework developed by members of the Peppermint OS team.
The Peppermint OS desktop looks fairly standard, consisting as it does of a combined task switcher and application launcher menu. Some of the default applications are conventional in that they are installed on the hard disk and these tend toward lightweight choices. For example, the music player is Guayadeque and the file manager is PCMan, the default of the LXDE window manager.
The main feature that distinguishes this distro is the fact that it integrates cloud-based applications alongside the more typical fare. In practice, what this amounts to is integration in two forms: The SSB is basically a plain window that renders web content. This allows a properly designed web application to have a look that is consistent with software that executes locally on the computer. In addition, the cloud applications populate the application launcher in the usual way.
The first such application that I examined was Pixlr, a photo retouching and drawing application. It's surprisingly fast, both in terms of launch speed and responsiveness in use. If I didn't know, I might not have guessed that this is a cloud application that is loaded from the web and is, effectively, running in a stripped down web browser. For doing actual work, it's a fairly full-featured tool, rather than just being a proof of concept cloud app. Other cloud applications include some Google office apps such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs.
The congruence between traditional and cloud applications falls down a bit when it comes to software management. Traditional applications are installed and removed using either Synaptic or the slightly friendlier mintInstall, both standard package managers. Cloud applications are added to the system manually through the use of a dedicated dialogue. So, for example, you could add the Linux Journal website as an “application” that would appear in the “Internet” section of the application launcher. Once added, clicking on the icon (and the system can attempt to fetch the icon from the site itself) would launch the site within a dedicated window. Naturally, how well this works depends on how application-like the webpage that you add is. Of course, the web resource that you point the SSB to could be a publicly available resource or a web application that you provide.
Adding the Linux Journal website as a "cloud application". A site such as this isn't particularly well-suited, but it illustrates how the system works.
In summary, Peppermint Two is a respin of Lubuntu 11.04 with the addition of cloud application integration features. The default application set is biased towards software which is lightweight and fast.
When setting up the distribution up for personal use, its success probably depends on the preferred working style of the user. A user who makes a lot of use of web-based applications might appreciate being able to give them greater parity with traditional applications. An administrator might appreciate the ability to offer users a lightweight desktop with the addition of cloud applications in a consistent and easy to explain overall package.
UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.
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