Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pinguy OS: Linux For Dummies

It’s an old trope, one that has almost entirely lost its meaning over time, but there’s another Linux distro that is designed for the average (or slightly below average) computer user.

This one, however, is about as close as any have come to creating an idiot-proof Linux distro. Pinguy OS ( is based on Ubuntu and is mighty fun to play with.

A Little Background
Pinguy OS was built by a fellow named Antoni Norman who wanted a Linux OS that he could give to friends and family—without having to constantly provide tech support. He’d been recommending Ubuntu but grew frustrated with how stark it was. Even though it’s relatively easy to add software, codecs, and the like with Ubuntu’s repositories, he found that many novice users were still having trouble finding everything they needed to make their system work as they wanted it to.

He looked at what his family and friends wanted to do with their computers, determined which applications would satisfy those needs in the most userfriendly way possible, and then decided to install those applications along with anything needed to make them run properly.

Along the way, Norman hit on an interesting problem with Linux repositories: It’s great that virtually any and every application you could possibly want is right there for the taking, but most users don’t know which applications they really want or need.

For example, everyone wants a wordprocessing application, a photo editor, a music player, and so on, but which one should you choose? The options can be overwhelming. Pinguy OS is kind of like having a personal shopper; you still have 50 choices for spaghetti sauce, but Pinguy OS more or less removes the decision-making process for you.

Pinguy OS is a simple and smart, if slightly counterintuitive, approach to a Linux distro. Instead of giving the user his or her own tabula rasa operating system as the user-friendly Ubuntu does, Pinguy OS packs in all the programs, patches, browser plug-ins, and other tweaks that (he’s pretty sure) the average user will want, and it’s all designed to be optimized from the get-go. He also used a variety of programs to tweak the interface so it’s as attractive as possible, such as using MintMenu for the main menu. The result is an operating system that should “just work” and looks pretty, to boot.

A Tour
It was somewhat jarring to boot a Linux OS and be greeted by a relatively busy desktop. On the left side of the screen is a vertical dock with folders for documents, music, pictures, and so on, and another dock on the bottom of the screen displays applications. Docky (which, as it happens, created both on-screen docks), Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, the Deluge BitTorrent client, Rhythmbox, VLC media player, Terminal, and a trash can are pinned to the dock (again, created by Docky) by default, but it also displays any open applications.

The top of the screen has a straightforward file menu (not created by Docky), which contains Places, System, Applications, and Search; Desktop, with a Spotlight-like search bar; and the predictable File, Edit, View, Places, and Help.

One item that seems to clash a bit with Pinguy’s raison d’être is the large, transparent widget that displays information about CPU usage and other under-the-hood information about your system. Although this is a nice tool for knowledgeable computer users, Pinguy OS’s target audience probably won’t even know what it’s for, and it takes up a lot of screen space. It seems rather unnecessary.

Test Drive
For the most part, Pinguy OS is as advertised. Everything is intuitive, smooth, and responsive, and I was able to watch streaming video from a number of sites without having to install anything. (Netflix streaming was a nogo, however.) Little things make the overall experience enjoyable, such as the use of Elementary-Nautilus to pull album art meta data into Rhythmbox.

Although Norman set up Pinguy OS to open a given file in the “right” program, it didn’t always work that way. For example, video opens in VLP Player and images open in Image Viewer by default, which is great, but my test MP3 files opened in Movie Player for some reason. (A similar oddity occurs when you connect an iOS device—the system didn’t recognize an iPod as a music player, although it worked fine after forcing the system to open it in Rhythmbox.) It’s not difficult to change those settings, but the whole point of Pinguy OS is that you shouldn’t have to.

Some of the chosen applications make a lot of sense. For example, the office application (OpenOffice), Web browser (Firefox), and email application (Thunderbird) are great options. However, there seem to be a few applications with overlapping functions that add to the already large number of programs. Do we really need the Deluge and TED BitTorrent clients; Dropbox and Ubuntu One for online storage; Brasero and DeVeDe to burn discs; and GNOME MPlayer, VLC, and Rhythmbox to play media, to name a few?

At the same time, Pinguy OS is smart about efficiency in other areas. For example, under Gaming, instead of littering the section with a dozen casual games, Pinguy OS has just one entry: PlayOnLinux, which lets you play a lot of PC gaming titles on your Linux machine.

In Sum
What’s somewhat amusing about Pinguy OS is that it has a certain Mac feel to it. It’s pretty, it makes heavy use of docks, and everything is all set up for you ahead of time. Further, for the most part, it removes the need for people to choose which programs to use.

This is a terribly un-Linux-like approach and no doubt drives some purists crazy, but that’s OK because, of course, Pinguy isn’t for the purists. It’s designed to reach out a bit further than even Ubuntu does, to the less-experienced user looking for a bona fide OS option beyond Mac or Windows machines. In fact, Pinguy OS is a rather logical evolution for many people looking to get on the open-source bandwagon (or people trying to convince others to do so).

Hopefully, Norman will continue to work on Pinguy OS and the open-source community will continue to support it. It’s well worth the effort.

Source of Information :  Computer Power User (CPU) January 2011
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