Review: Pinguy OS 11.10 Beta

A new version of Pinguy OS has come out, and as can easily be predicted, it's based on Ubuntu 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot". And because I've taken a liking to past versions of it, I'm reviewing this new one now.

Main Screen
For those who don't know, Pinguy OS is basically Ubuntu plus everything and the kitchen sink. Also, the interface is made to look much more like Apple's Mac OS X, with a top panel featuring a global menu, along with docks and similar themes. However, there have been some changes out of necessity because as of version 11.10 "Oneiric Ocelot", Ubuntu no longer officially supports GNOME 2, so Pinguy OS has also had to upgrade to GNOME 3. As a result, the whole "Apple Mac OS X" look has had to be adapted to the new interface and restrictions (and there are many such restrictions) of GNOME 3. I'd like to see if it still remains as usable and friendly as before.

I tested the live session on a live USB made with MultiSystem. I did not test the installation, because (1) this is an Ubuntu derivative, so there isn't much point in going through the whole Ubiquity song-and-dance one more time, and (2) the lead developer has said that this release is still beta-quality in terms of stability. Regarding the second point, the developer has also said that the stability of GNOME 3.X is not likely to improve anytime soon, so there will be no official final release of Pinguy OS 11.10; this is also why I'm calling this a review rather than a preview like I usually do with pre-release distributions, because this is as official as it will ever get. Follow the jump to see if it's the same Pinguy OS I came to know and love.

After getting past the boot menu, I saw the familiar Pinguy OS boot splash screen. The boot process itself was about average in terms of speed (though note that this is not rigorous — this is more like a "seat of the pants" feeling). After that came the login screen: although the system automatically logged me in, it took a few seconds to do so, so I got to see the login screen. The login screen, contrary to that of past releases of Pinguy OS, fully lacks customizations and is basically stock GDM 3. I don't know if GNOME 3 has actually deleted the code to customize GDM 3 (in GNOME 2.30 when GDM 3 was introduced I had to jump through a few hoops to customize my login screen on Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora"), but I would have liked to see a bit more customization. After that came the desktop.

The desktop looks...surprisingly like that of Pinguy OS from its GNOME 2.X days, which is great. The top panel has been fully customized: from left to right, present are a Cardapio Menu, a global menu, a system tray, a workspace switcher, various other indicator applets, a clock, and a user indicator applet. There are two docks as before. There are icons on the desktop, and right-clicking on the desktop is possible. Conky is present and slightly updated from before.
The Cardapio Menu has been ported to GNOME 3, so it is being used in lieu of the Linux Mint Menu (which is still in the process of being ported). It works very much like the Linux Mint Menu that I have come to know and love, though my only complaints are that to access different categories, the Linux Mint Menu only requires that the cursor hover over the category, while the Cardapio Menu requires a click, that the Cardapio Menu doesn't have a "Favorites" section populated (though I guess that is what the dock is for), and that it has an "Other" section populated by too many miscellaneous system tools that could be more logically grouped into a category like "System Tools" or "Administration" (the former exists, but the latter does not by default).
YouTube on Mozilla Firefox
The global menu doesn't stretch out horizontally across the panel because that isn't allowed in GNOME 3; instead, it hides behind the window title button that sits in the panel by default in GNOME 3, and it only appears as a GNOME 3 panel applet when clicked. The only issues are that it is not compatible with Mozilla Firefox and LibreOffice, though each of those applications have their own menus that are easy to find, and that accessing categories of the application menu require clicks (rather than the submenus appearing to the right accordion-style).
The clock has been moved to the right instead of taking up the center; the only problem is that because it is now squeezed between so many other applets, I can only see the date and not the time, and clicking on the calendar only shows me the date and not the time. The only way for me to see the time now is to minimize the open window and look at Conky, which is definitely less convenient than simply glancing at the time in the panel, because the window I would usually have open is Mozilla Firefox, and I almost always keep it maximized.
The user indicator panel applet is slightly customized, in that it has an option to shut down, which is missing from stock GNOME 3.
The icon theme is Elementary as before, but now the Mutter window border theme is also Elementary, because unlike the eHomoSapien Metacity window border theme, Elementary has been ported to GNOME 3. Furthermore, the GTK+ theme is Zukitwo-Resonance, while the GNOME 3 Shell theme is Zukitwo. (GNOME 3 Shell is accessible in Pinguy OS by pressing down the SUPER (i.e. "Windows") key, but the "Activities" button and hot top-left corner have been disabled.) Although I don't really like the fact that the maximize button in the Elementary Mutter window border theme is a copycat of the full-screen button in the window borders in Apple's Mac OS X v10.7 "Lion", the rest of the theme looks really classy, and I especially like the contrast of the dark gray icon toolbars with the light gray shades of the rest of the window. Overall, despite a few flaws, the Pinguy OS developers have really made the transition to GNOME 3 really, really well.

Mozilla Firefox is present at version 8.0, which is the latest. Most codecs seemed to be included, as YouTube and Hulu both worked fine. As expected for an Ubuntu derivative, my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked fine. Also, I was given the option when starting Mozilla Firefox to disable whatever extensions I didn't want; considering that I do like some of the extensions typically included in Pinguy OS but not others, this was really nice.

Pinguy OS 11.04 had a Mini edition which was pretty bare-bones in terms of the number of programs included, but no such thing exists (yet) for version 11.10, so this includes everything and the kitchen sink, which explains the 1.6 GB ISO file size (which I think is even a bit bigger than usual). LibreOffice is included, and it actually integrates really nicely with the rest of the desktop; while there is certainly room for improvement, this is the best improvement I've seen yet.
LibreOffice Writer + Nautilus + Gloobus Preview
Other installed applications include Mozilla Thunderbird, Empathy for instant messaging, Clementine for listening to music, VLC, Gloobus Preview & CoverGloobus, Shutter for taking screenshots, Xpad for jotting down notes, PlayOnLinux, DiscWrapper for making disk cover art, LRF Viewer for viewing Sony eBooks, Pinta, Skype (yes, I didn't even have to install it), Dropbox, TeamViewer, and much more.

Nautilus is of course the default browser, and it comes with all the improvements of GNOME 3. One quirk I found was that enabling the split view would make the two panes crowd out the sidebar; while this makes sense in that the contents of the panes should be more important than the sidebar, it's quite hard to access the sidebar when needed because it's a bit tricky to get the cursor in the correct position to resize the sidebar and make it bigger.

Ubuntu Software Center and Synaptic Package Manager are both present. Both of them worked as I have seen many, many times. Curiously, in the Cardapio Menu, the featured package manager is the Ubuntu Software Center, but in the bottom dock the featured one is Synaptic Package Manager. I'm not sure why that should ever be pushed to newbies, and considering they'll be interacting with the dock quite a bit, I feel like the Ubuntu Software Center's shortcut should replace that of Synaptic Package Manager by default. Personally, I prefer Synaptic Package Manager, but I'm not sure it's such a good idea for what I understand to be the target audience.

Thankfully, Pinguy OS 11.10 has the GNOME-Tweak-Tool, which restores some of the customization options present in GNOME 2 but not in GNOME 3 by default. Unfortunately, unless these changes require logging back out and logging back in, I wasn't actually able to make any changes. For example, changing the GTK+ and Mutter themes had no effect. Even if I do need to log out and log back in to make the changes effective, that's bad because that wasn't necessary in GNOME 2.

Desktop effects are present only to the extent that GNOME 3 allows them: the only effects are the translucency of panel applets, shadows around windows, and the desktop wall switching effect. I'm still a little bummed out about Compiz not working in GNOME 3, but that is definitely not the fault of Pinguy OS.
Pinguy OS used 450 MB of RAM with Shutter being the only process I consciously generated running in the background. That's quite a lot, and it once again shows that KDE may be even lighter weight now than GNOME.

Overall, I think the Pinguy OS developers were perhaps overly cautious in terming this a beta release, because I did not experience any of the stability issues mentioned in the press release. It was fast, it was stable, and it worked in a manner consistent with 90% of Pinguy OS 11.04. There are some things that do need work, and I really could see those getting on my nerves regularly, but most of those things are pretty minor and could probably be fixed relatively easily. It may take me a while to warm up to it (and this is also why I'm anticipating the release of Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" featuring a customized GNOME 3 session with more trepidation than usual), but I could probably see myself using this on a regular basis, and that's a lot more than I can say about stock GNOME 3. But I will say that if the Pinguy OS developers wanted to really maintain a consistent experience with the global menu, the Linux Mint Menu, and all the customization ability, they should have considered Xfce. Both the Linux Mint Menu and the GNOME 2 Global Menu have been ported to Xfce, and Xfce 4.8 is on par with GNOME 2 in terms of speed, customization, stability, features, and ease of use. I kind of want to see that at some point in the future. Maybe Pinguy OS 12.04 LTS could be based on Xubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin". That would actually be pretty awesome to see, now that I think about it....
You can get it here.