Peppermint OS – A New Take on the Web-Centric Desktop

There are a LOT of Linux distros out there, so when it comes to distro reviews, we here at MakeTechEasier usually only go in for the ones offering something unique. Nearly all operating systems these days seem to be transitioning toward a faster and more web-centric experience. Some have embraced it more than others, and Google took it to the extreme by putting all Chrome OS applications into the browser. Peppermint OS takes a different approach than Chrome and tries to blur the line between desktop and Internet by creating a fast, minimal Linux system that treats web apps just like local apps, using Mozilla Prism. The result is a surprisingly small and speedy OS for the heavy web user.

A Little About Prism

As the underlying technology behind Peppermint’s web features, Prism deserves a section of its own. The main concept behind it is called the Site Specific Browser (SSB). The idea is that each web app is given its own independent browser session. This means that an unstable or malicious web app in one SSB will have far less chance of interfering with others than if they were in the same browser. Web apps can be included in a dock or panel just like a local application, including the ability to add badges for indicators (currently Windows and Mac only). This means you can have a Prism web app icon for your favorite webmail client which shows an unread message indicator, just like a desktop app.

peppermint-indicator

You don’t need Peppermint to enjoy Prism, it can be installed as a standalone application or Firefox plugin.

Getting Peppermint

ISO files and torrents can be downloaded here. The examples here are using Peppermint-One-05222010.

The Peppermint OS Desktop

Peppermint uses LXDE for a desktop environment. As a result, it’s quite responsive even on low end hardware. In short, LXDE is a fast, lightweight desktop environment that uses Openbox for window management. It comes with its own set of small, lightweight tools like LXTerminal, LXPanel, and the PCMan file manager.

peppermint-desktop

The main menu is already populated with Prism web apps, such as Gmail, Facebook, and Seesmic. Each of these will open a isolated browser session to that location.

peppermint-menu

New items, including Prism web apps, can be added to the panel for quick access. To do so, right-click the panel and choose Add/Remove Panel Items > Application Launch Bar -> Edit. You’ll be given a selection screen to easily choose any items you wish.

peppermint-addlauncher

As noted above, “badge” indicators are not yet supported in the Linux version of Prism, Peppermint included.

Included Software

On the desktop side of things, Peppermint comes with a reasonable assortment of small, high-speed applications. Some of the more noteworthy include:

  • LXDE Software Suite
  • Firefox Web Browser
  • Leafpad Text Editor
  • Transmission Bittorrent Client
  • Exaile Music Player
  • Mplayer Video Player
  • Asunder CD Ripper
  • PyNeighborhood Network Browser
  • Synaptic Package Manager
  • Kernel 2.6.32
  • Xorg 7.5

Conclusion

As a Linux, Peppermint is not particularly notable except for its suitability for machines with low hardware specs, or users who do not want system resources wasted on bells and whistles like 3D cubes and wobbly windows. Peppermint should run quickly on just about any PC. Regarding the Prism aspect, it’s harder to draw a conclusion. Mozilla is still developing Prism so its full capabilities have not yet been reached, but the current state does not seem to be especially remarkable. Much of the functionality can be replicated (though perhaps not as well) with simple browser shortcuts. When Prism has more polish it may be a central part of how we interact with our computers, but for now Peppermint is mainly a small, fast and simple OS, albeit with dreams of something bigger.