Thursday, February 17, 2011

PinguyOS Review

Currently one of the most popular forks available, PinguyOS is an interesting tweak over what Ubuntu users know and love. This armed-to-the-teeth distro is more than just Ubuntu on asteroids, but does all that customization and application feast truly cut it? Let's see.

RECENT RELEASES & INSTALLATION

Pinguy OS recently released version 10.10 (obviously based off Maverick Meerkat), but even more interesting is that they are also keeping up with LTS updates, giving users that decided to stick to the Lucid impersonation something else to cheer about. I have tried both releases and will review accordingly, but if there are comments that are specific to either one of them, I will try to clarify.

Installation is somewhat customized, enough to notice differences with the corresponding Ubuntu alter egos, but not as much as to make the Ubuntu footprint hard to recognize. For the most part, customizations seem to be aiming at simplifying the installation process, making it a bit more informal and less branding intensive while keeping all the great features that make Ubuntu installations as good as they are. I personally like the Ubuntu installations better, but the difference is not significant.

DID I HEAR CUSTOM?

Once installed, as soon as we get to the desktop, we start to get a feel of the level of customization that is so much a part of PinguyOS. In all honesty, the desktop is so full of icons, menus, widgets and docks that it feels a bit suffocating!


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In fact, this over-the-top vibe is there pretty much everywhere in PinguyOS. The application catalog is anything but standard. It does include some of the usual suspects in Linux distros, such as Firefox (sporting a deeply customized theme), Thunderbird, LibreOffice, Shotwell, Nautilus Elementary, etc. It also includes tons of stuff that are not commonly found elsewhere, like Ailurus, Deluge or Calibre, to name a few. Then there are some downright strange picks (I mean, Torrent Episode Downloader... really?) and a fair share of software that doesn't even natively run on Linux, such as Frostwire or Teamviewer.


Click on image to enlarge

Customization goes beyond the application catalog, impacting pretty much about anything you can think of. Look&Feel is definitely one of the most obvious areas, with custom controls, window borders and a load of icon themes, all working outside the box (Both Faenza and Faenza Dark are perfectly setup, as can be seen in the screenshot below). As a matter of fact, with the elements included, one can mix and match and come with some very interesting alternatives... No need to download anything extra. Wallpapers include items from the Ubuntu default wallpapers, as well as others from the PinguyOS developers/community.



If you think about it, customization of the kind I just mentioned is not that uncommon, but PinguyOS goes a step farther, including a fully working and heavily optimized Compiz setup, gorgeous Conky themes, the awesome Docky and custom gestures and behaviors all over the place. Talking about Compiz, this is by far the best default configuration I have seen to date, even enhancing performance on PCs which struggled with effects before.

The default installation configuration also brings an original take on menus in a GNOME environment. Instead of the usual, three-column menu, we get the latest version of the Mint menu, which expands when one clicks on the PinguyOS icon. The menu to its right is very similar to the MacOS context menu, which sits on the panel, as opposed to sitting on the application window.


Click on image to enlarge

To make it easier for users to access popular places like the Home, Desktop, Downloads, Music, etc., PinguyOS developers decided to use Docky's great features and added a second panel on the left of the screen. The whole concept takes a while to get used to, but once one is familiar with it, it works great.

WHAT IS TOO MUCH?

PinguyOS is certainly an interesting distro, so heavily customized that it's even difficult to explain what the user experience is with words, one has to experiment it to truly understand it. In fact, there are so many layers of tweaks that it makes you wonder if you are sitting in front of someone else's computer.

Aside from the fact that some of the customizations in PinguyOS are hard to justify as something that may appeal to standard users, one has to wonder: Is it a good idea to customize so much? Not really, if you ask me.

I have already mentioned how the cloud is empowering online computing, providing hosts of applications and allowing web browsers to do things that were unthinkable not that long ago. One could argue that local applications still have an edge in terms of functionality and performance, but while that is something that continuously evolves and improves on the Cloud, local apps will never be able to offer anything even close to what their Cloud sisters offer in terms of resiliency, lack of redundancy and compatibility across platforms and devices. People quickly realized how Cloud apps can help them keep their data safe, accessible any time, from any device and without the need to learn anything other than the browser. As a result, it is not uncommon to see more and more Cloud applications used by hundreds of millions of users.

Looking at it from that perspective, is it necessary or even a good idea to add so much stuff to a PC installation? I personally like it simpler, need a lot less out of the box, but even if I liked to have a heavy client, PinguyOS takes it way too far. How many users will actually take the time to learn what so many apps they never heard about do? How many will be happy to have to undergo daily updates due to the size of the software sources list? How many will enjoy having their known-and-true keyboard shortcuts changed (Ctrl+Alt+Del brings the system monitor up)?


Click on image to enlarge

In my experience, it took a while to tame PinguyOS. I uninstalled lots of applications, removing many entries from the software sources list and simplifying the desktop and overall customizations. The screenshot above shows my current desktop, which eliminates redundant information as much as possible.

WORTH THE EFFORT?

PinguyOS is certainly anything but standard. It incorporates many original concepts, tons of applications and customizations that make it an interesting distro. The customization is so extreme, though, that I feel PinguyOS will probably generate love/hate reactions, but not a lot in between. Personally, I enjoy some of the things that PinguyOS brings forward, so I decided to keep it, even if I had to do quite a lot of changes to make it fit my needs/preferences.

Is PinguyOS for you? If you are an experienced user, chances are you will probably like something more basic and balanced, but if you are new to Linux, PinguyOS will welcome you with everything there is and then some.

My opinion? I recommend trying it, regardless of your profile. Even if you decide to ditch it eventually, PinguyOS certainly is worth the try.

22 comments:

  1. Very good review Chema.
    This distro is somehow overloaded for me but I think for beginners it could be worth the try but even for them, they would never learn some basic stuff, how to play with the sources list etc. if everything is already done for them in this distro. Customize the desktop is one of the fun things in Linux.
    But I know many people will also like the fact of this distro.

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  2. Of the dozen distro's I have tried. There is not another one I would hand a new Linux user whose computer specs could handle it. It's good even for the average user as well.

    Kantoquad

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  3. Pinguy OS 10.10.1 is a derivative of Linux Mint, not of Ubuntu directly, as they claim on their website, but of Mint.

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  4. Anonymous - you are wrong. PinguyOS is ubuntu, the only thing it takes from mint is the mintmenu and updater. The updater is probably going to go in 11.04.

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  5. I like the look and feel of this distribution.

    However, my wish is a distribution based on KDE but heavily customized such as this one. (Sorry, PCLinuxOS does not count because its still vanilla KDE desktop, more or less. Besides it uses too many GTK-based config tools for my comfort)

    I am an exclusively-KDE user but I do envy the amount of customization GNOME/GTK-based distributions can squeeze out. I also wonder if KDE lacks easy customization.

    Bottomline is that although my non-IT family can use KDE, something like this is much suited to them, which is a pity because KDE offers much more flexibility and has tons of apps which (I feel) are better (no, I try not to mix KDE/GTK applications because they confuse the user -- either in their button order or File Open/Save dialogs or something else.)

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  6. Pinguy's bloat is no where near as bad as Ultimate (and Ultimate is plain ugly). I can't use Pinguys as is because it is over customised for me. but equally I can't use Ubuntu out of the box either for the opposite reason.It is a toss up as to which I will run after April.

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  7. 1. Regarding Team Viewer, what do you mean by "doesn't even run natively on Linux"?

    2. Checked the first photo of the desktop and saw the Ram toll being 819 MB. Was the photo taken after landing on the desktop?

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  8. Frostwire does run natively on linux. Don't know about the Team Viewer. Nice review and nice os even tho way too busy for my taste.

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  9. Thanks all for your comments!

    Teamviewer is a Windows app that runs on top of a Wine layer. Even without Wine installed, the .DEB file that can be downloaded from the application site does install the minimum necessary so that it can run on Linux. One only needs to run the application and see the Look&Feel and it's easy to tell: It stinks Windows! ;-)

    As for Frostwire, well, it is a Java application, not what I would consider native.

    @Anonymous: I am afraid you are right, the first screenshot was taken short after the desktop started. Having said so, the RAM toll goes back to normal after a short while.

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  10. Understood. Thanks for the response.

    Eddie Wilson

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  11. Nice review. I ran across this distro and was/am considering it as an alternative to Ubuntu or Mint on my wife's laptop. I am currently running Ubuntu 10.10 and tried out Mint also. As a new Linux user, I thought I liked the idea of a lot of pre-installed packages, but your review makes me think that might not be the best. Also part of the fun of Linux to me has been the customization that I have been able to do on my own, instead of someone else deciding it for me. Again thanks for a great review.

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  12. @JayW: Thank you for your comments.

    I recommend checking out Moon OS, another Ubuntu fork with more of a balanced customization, tasty, but not as extreme.

    Moon OS is a perfect choice for Linux newbies. It is fully ready to use, sports awesome hardware support and has all the necessary codecs installed and correctly configured, but it still leaves tons of room for the user to do whatever they want. PinguyOS does too, but chances are users will be spending their time undoing rather than doing, if you see what I mean.

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  13. Howdy There - Been poking around on your blog and I like a good deal of the write ups you've done. I was wondering if you might like to take a look at a project I am working on with a small team - http://bodhilinux.com/

    I am leaving this in comment form because I could not find an email address listed.

    Cheers,
    ~Jeff Hoogland

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  14. @Jeff91: Thanks, glad you like my blog!

    Of course, I had been trying to give Bodhilinux a go for a while, just hadn't found the time. Expect a review shortly.

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    Replies
    1. hi good review i had downloaded and test pinguy and is a great distro. But Chema can you make a review of Solus OS? is a new interesting distro. Base on debian stable. Really impressive altough in rc2 phase. Thansk. [excuse gramatical error spanish people ok?]

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  15. The amount of possible tweaking in a Linux OS is mind boggling. Pinguy OS looks cool,but again, how much is too much? As a Windows user, Linux Mint and Zorin 4 seem just right.

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  16. Out of curiousity, what is that Arabic program (Jini?) in the dock in your last picture?

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  17. Gracias por la Review de Pinguy OS :)

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  18. I missed that question about Geany, sorry. It is a powerful text editor with great programming capabilities... Late response, but I guess better late than never! ;-)

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  19. Keep up the good work 'cause this is a great blog!

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  20. I really love this distro. It made me come back to linux as my desktop os.

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