2014-06-10

Review: Pinguy OS 14.04 LTS "Papercut"

Main Screen + GnoMenu
I have now graduated college, so I am back home for 2.5 months this summer. In that time, I have many more opportunities to do reviews that I couldn't do during the same semester. This was originally supposed to be a comparison test against Antergos, which is another distribution that ships GNOME 3/Shell and aims for new users to Linux. Unfortunately, Antergos refused to boot. Therefore, what is left is a typical review of Pinguy OS, albeit with some more critical remarks than usual about how well it really caters to newbies (left over from when this article was a comparison test). Follow the jump to see what it is like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by the usual gray boot splash. This should look reasonable to a new user. After that, I was unusually greeted by the GDM login screen. This is new, and I'm not sure why it's there. Thankfully there is a timer to log in automatically, but I would hope that a new user would be patient enough to wait for that without getting locked out by mistake. After that came the desktop.

Mozilla Firefox
The desktop is standard for Pinguy OS. There is a dock on the bottom as well as on the side; the bottom dock contains applications, while the side dock contains shortcuts to folders. Although the bottom dock works fine, I'm a little concerned that the initial wallpaper having a thick dark stripe on the bottom to intentionally make the dock look like a panel may cause new users to mistakenly try to manipulate the sides like a panel. The top panel has a GnoMenu, but is otherwise fairly standard for GNOME 3/Shell, aside from the conglomeration of the volume, network, and session indicator applets into one. The only desktop icon present is for installation; oddly, it is positioned initially to overlap with the top panel, though this issue fixes itself after a few minutes. There are a few issues that newbies might have with this. For one, although the GnoMenu is generally fine, if the user clicks on any of the tabs ("Recent", "Web", or "Favorites"), then the user has to click on the same tab to get back to the list of applications, which is neither obvious nor intuitive; in addition, there is no scroll bar for the list of categories (though there is for the list of applications in a category), so a new user might not think to scroll down in the categories for more applications. For another, sometimes hovering over the top-left corner brings up the GNOME 3/Shell Activities menu, but this behavior is not particularly consistent; moreover, I feel like this would confuse newbies by being present right next to the GnoMenu. Additionally, for the bottom dock, while most of the applications are labeled to give a clue as to their function (such as "VLC media player"), some like Clementine and XChat IRC (though the latter is labeled as an IRC client, many newbies now may not know what that is) are not. Moreover, double-clicking a window titlebar makes the window minimize rather than maximize itself, which is not particularly standard; although this can be changed, I don't know how many newbies would find how to do that (in the GNOME Tweak Tool). Finally, the GTK+ and window themes have changed slightly; I'm fine with this just as I was fine with the previous theme. Overall, the desktop works pretty well.

Mozilla Firefox is the default web browser, and as usual it comes chock-filled with extensions, as well as having most proprietary multimedia codecs installed out-of-the-box. The latter is a great boon for newbies, while the former hopefully should not interfere that much with basic browsing habits.
LibreOffice is the default productivity software, which is good for people who are used to Microsoft Office. There are a whole bunch of other programs installed, from the useful (Steam, Spotify) to the less useful (google2ubuntu (which has some text in French), Cover Thumbnailer); overall, though, the application selection does a pretty good job of covering a wide variety of users' needs.
Nemo is the default file browser, which is good because it is simple enough for newbies to use while remaining powerful enough for slightly more experienced users to not go insane. Even better, the Nemo Preview file previewing tool (forked from GNOME Sushi) is present too.

Skype and Google Talk are installed out-of-the-box, which is really nice. Both worked quite well, though Skype took a little more work, in that I needed to make Skype not control the audio settings by itself; it seems like that last point is needed nowadays, so it would be nicer for newbies if Pinguy OS could ship Skype with that option box unchecked.
LibreOffice Writer + Nemo + Nemo Preview
I was able to install Mupen64Plus and Redshift fine from the Synaptic Package Manager, and both worked fine, though there is no GUI with Mupen64Plus, and for some reason M64Py is not present in the repositories. That said, I have said this before and I will say it again: while I really believe that the Synaptic Package Manager may be the pinnacle of powerful GUI package management, it is not suitable for newbies. Considering that Pinguy OS does ship with the Ubuntu Software Center, which would allow users to install and remove software without worrying about the nitty-gritty details of packages, I'm still not sure why that isn't the promoted software management tool in the bottom dock as opposed to the Synaptic Package Manager.

Pinguy OS used about 575 MB of RAM at idle. This is a little on the heavy side for GNOME, but thankfully it does not pretend to be a lightweight system (though it does claim to not be more resource-intensive than Ubuntu). In the first several minutes of using this distribution, things were a little jumpy with some lag, but after that, things smoothened out.

That is where my time with Pinguy OS 14.04 LTS "Papercut" ended. There are a few desktop design choices that I would change, along with a few default setting choices as well. Overall, I think it does a fairly decent job at being accessible and easy to use for a newbie. Of course, I still can't see myself using it regularly because I still can't get used to GNOME 3/Shell. However, it does do basically everything else I want with ease. Hence, I can give it close to my highest recommendation once again.
You can get it here.

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