A Week with Pinguy – The Slick Ubuntu Remix

These days, Linux distros are a dime a dozen, especially in the field of the Ubuntu remix. Just about anyone thinks they can create a usable spinoff (they’re probably right) and that it’ll be wildly successful (they’re probably wrong). For this reason, we don’t often give a full writeup to an Ubuntu remix on MTE unless it offers something really unique or interesting. Pinguy isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it is among a rare breed: an Ubuntu spinoff that might actually have some real improvements over the original.

Note: As a review, the opinions expressed are completely subjective and belong to the author of the post. If you disagree, please sound off in the comments.

The Pinguy Desktop

This is where I have some mixed feelings. The theme is lovely, the titlebars and menus look clean, simple, and beautiful, but the desktop layout leaves a bit to be desired.

pinguy-desktop

Notice the three docks/panels on the top, left, and bottom. Each panel has its purpose, but in this author’s opinion it seems a silly waste of space to use up three portions of screen space, especially when each is left mostly empty. Much of the screen space for maximised applications ends up useless. Since Docky in this instance is doing little, if anything, that can’t be done by Gnome Panel, why use all all that extra space?

The standard Ubuntu menu has been replaced with MintMenu, a change likely to be welcomed by many users.

pinguy-mintmenu

While the usage is pretty straightforward, this author had some trouble getting the menu to work properly. For instance, when entering a search term, the menu would display the correct result, but seemingly does not launch the application when you hit enter, even when there is only a single result in the search box.

Finally, much like the heated titlebar buttons on left or right debate, we’ve got the issue of where to place the application menu, ie File, Edit, Help, etc. Most Windows and Linux users are used to each application window having its own menu. Mac users, however, may welcome Pinguy’s decision to integrate the application menu into the system panel, as shown here.

pinguy-titlebars

Unfortunately, whether you like or dislike this approach, it doesn’t always work. Some applications appear to be compatible, while others leave the menus inside the application window. Until this can be consistent, it seems unwise to run that as the default configuration.

Applications

Like just about any Ubuntu remix, it’s got the same core set of utilities you’ll find on most Ubuntu (and by extension Debian) based systems, but the user-facing applications have nearly all been replaced or reconfigured. The following includes a few of the most prominent additions and replacements:

  • Adobe Flash
  • Pinta image drawing/editing
  • Conky system monitor
  • Granola resource management tool
  • PlayOnLinux Windows game manager
  • Rapid Photo Downloader, Shotwell, and Simple Scan for image management
  • Deluge, Dropbox, Frostwire and Giver for file transfers
  • TED: Torrent Episode Downloader
  • OpenOffice
  • Thunderbird and Empathy for email and chat
  • DeVeDe and Handbrake for DVD processing
  • VLC, OpenShot, GTKPod, Rhythmbox and MPlayer for multimedia

And a WHOLE lot more. In fact, it’s somewhat astonishing to count the additional applications installed on Pinguy. The ISO is twice the size of a standard Desktop Edition Ubuntu CD, and even Firefox has been loaded full of extensions.

pinguy-ffextensions

Usability

In addition to including some useful software, Pinguy’s developers have made a few system tweaks. This goes for minor things like setting Brasero as the default application for ISO files to somewhat major hiccups (like Flash’s full-screen troubles). This, in the author’s opinion, is the least visible yet most valuable aspect of Pinguy. I have personally seen Flash problems cause new Ubuntu users to give up and go back to Windows on multiple occasions, and remembering to make these background tweaks can sometimes be difficult when you’re setting up a new user. Even Samba, nearly always a pain to configure, is ready virtually out-of-the-box in Pinguy.

Conclusion

It’s the usability changes that make Pinguy worth using. Panels can be moved and settings changed, but when a new user has to spend days with Google and the command line just to watch Flash videos in full screen, they’re a lot more likely to give up and go back to Windows. Pinguy’s developers have taken the time to fix a few of the “tiny papercuts” that have plagued many other promising distributions, and that alone makes it worth recommending. Next time you’re about to hand out a new Ubuntu CD, try Pinguy instead. If it can play ColbertNation without any freezes or hiccups, it’s already better off than a lot of others.

21 comments

  1. Nothing against the Pinguy folks,but Another Ubuntu derivate c’mon.
    Anyone can customize Ubuntu to work&behave that way.
    All that manpower that is now used for creating Ubuntu derivates should be used to fix the existing bugs in Ubuntu,it would be more beneficial.

    1. I, for one, appreciate the Ubuntu derivatives. The default Ubuntu install leaves much to be desired. One needs a lot of time and bandwidth to set default Ubuntu to a usable state.
      I like Pinguy OS. Nice job on the review btw.
      I’m also impressed with Oz Unity and Arios. Would love to see these reviewed.
      Arios seems to be an unknown which I stumbled upon recently. It has the best default setup of any of the buntus I’ve tried – even an offline graphics driver installer!
      I’m amazed at the attention to detail in Arios Linux.

  2. I think a better question, is why doesn’t Ubuntu fix the existing bugs, making it less needed to have a better remix. This is the best remix I have seen so far.

  3. Just a few notes:

    1. The Pinguy guys, is incorrect, this is a ONE man project.
    2. The Docky bars, can be set to IntelliHide, freeing the full desktop area.
    3. There’s a lot more then meets the eye in PinguyOS, such as pre installed codecs, and many many other small but important configs. None of those special in any way, probably, and none of them out of the reach of every experienced user.

    What really makes PinguyOS different is the focus on giving a NEW linux user a fully working OS, configured, customized, just like an experienced user can get after a few hours of terminal work.

    I’ve installed PinguyOS on users that work with their pc’s for months now without EVER using the terminal. They simply don’t need it. It is there, ready to do all that it can do, but, they just don’t NEED to use it in the first few days.

    This is to say that if you don’t need a fixed and configured OS, because you know how to do it, then you don’t need PinguyOS. Bu, if you want/need a linux OS that has a lot of hard work already done for you, or, intend to give it to a new linux user, PinguyOS offers a strong chance.

    I had Ubuntu, changed to PinguyOS, and I do see a considerable difference in performance and usability. Don’t bash it until you tried it.

    Thanks.

    1. Thanks for clarifying about development. What I’ve read all indicated it was a one-man project but I did not wish to disrespect any others who may have made contributions.

      Intellihide would certainly help reduce the screen clutter, but in my opinion it would make sense to combine both Docky bars into a single side-mounted bar, as screen width is often “cheaper” than height.

      Of course I’m very picky about desktop layout, as demonstrated by a few prior articles
      http://maketecheasier.com/create-a-great-window-maker-desktop/2009/02/14
      http://maketecheasier.com/extreme-desktop-makeover-josh-edition/2010/04/22

      1. Most PC users have notebooks & netbooks, with M$ Windows installed, with lots of crazy bloatware. I remove the M$ rubbish, then install Pinguy. Myself – I usually link to little computers to my 24 inch portrait LED-LCD screen. Yep – I’m a greenie who believes in global warming.

        The Docky bars has icons/ widgets that are transferable from one to the other, & add-on/ remove any that you wish. No probs – just use your mouse.

        Retired (medical) IT Consultant, Australian Capital Territory

  4. Canonical should really take a look at Pinguy, and Zorin OS 4. Both of these derivatives, have made it very easy for new Linux users. I agree Pinguy is the best remix I have ever used, and Zorin is the fastest. If we could get a hybrid of the 2, it would be the ultimate O.S.

  5. If you think just typing in the Mint Search and not getting it to launch is a real problem, then you have issues. Pinguy works much better than the default Ubuntu, and pinguy has taken the time to fix most of them and bundle it all together with extras.

    1. I certainly agree that Pinguy makes some changes the stock Ubuntu could benefit from, which I had hoped to make clear in the conclusion. But yes, a broken or semi-broken launcher is something I believe readers would like to know when discussing the pros and cons of a distribution.

  6. I’m a busy person. I don’t have the time to “customize Ubuntu to work and behave that way”. Pinguy is heaven sent for me.

  7. I agree with Georgi

  8. yeah pinguy is great i have used it on one machine now and not changin it. i do need a little help if anyone knows looks everywhere. i am helpin a friend out by setting up a linux os on usb persistent but i can not find any linux os’s that have out of box support for wifi for the hp pavillion dv2 1030us. just putting a few games on the usb for them. have only one usb stick to do this so a little harder. just need to know best out of box for wifi thanks

  9. @Georgi, with all due respect, if you are not actively coding to fix existing bugs or actively supporting someone who is (so they can pay the rent and eat) then you are a just another beggar who would be king.

  10. The Mint Menu works similarly in Mint. When you type in a search, you need to then use the up/down arrows to select your item, then hit enter. If there is only one item, up or down will get you there, but if there is a list, you can get to your item faster using either up or down depending on where it is in the list. Otherwise, typing in a search and simply hitting enter/return searches the computer for the item.

  11. Assuming a finite amount of configuration options in all FOSS software available on a Ubuntu base I calculate that by the year 2200 we should have no less than 4.25 to the power 10000002 distinct derivatives of ubuntu available as individual iso downloads.

    The only greatest challenge will be naming them all.

    (sigh)

  12. pinguy is a decent os, though it could take a page from the mint it borrows from and do a better job of integration so that programs have a similar look and feel. it’s nice and I like the direction, but it has a bit of a rough edge feel to it.

    as for the Pinguy forum staff, the main developer is a gem. he is apporachable and reasonable. the mods he has working for him, however are pompous asses. I went there asking about the possibility of starting an XFCE respin and posted my ideas. rather than even discuss it, the mod posts questioning my motives and accuses me of wanting to have them write me an OS. WTF? Sorry, software with potential but the shitty staff behind it say stick with mint and the dock of your choice and the global menu package, and you’ll pretty much have pinguy, but far bette integrated and with a much friendlier and apporachable community.

  13. My problem with pinguy is it makes too many hard and fast choices for me. I tried it for a few days a couple of weeks ago and found it to be a bloated, slow system with little of the practical benefits of Linux from moment one. Sure I didn’t have to spend hours adding anything. I DID have to spend hours deleting repetitive, useless programs or programs with broken dependencies. Worse, there were some tweaks I found I couldn’t easily change. In an OS enviromnent where freedom of choice is the single most sacred point, that is unacceptable to me.
    If you want a better “just works” Ubuntu, stick with Mint. For anything else, I recommend finding another flavor depending on your needs.

  14. fair… firefox don,t work corectly..!!

  15. Pinguy good, mint too, but take a look at iGolaware Linux 2.0 they seem to have the stability of Ubuntu but with all the extras you could possibly need.

  16. After borking my last install of Ubuntu (my fault – too much fun in the Command Line) I was happy to have this to fall back on. It was back up and running and doing everything I needed – within one hour of starting the installation process.

    Most of the choices are good – a few are admittedly annoying and redundant – but the beauty of it is that the handful of things that I hate are easily fixed and removed (I’m looking at you Webilder). This pruning is relatively painless when compared to the hours of work that it took for me to get stock Ubuntu working with multimedia codecs and Samba. As a long-time Mac user at my day-job (Graphic/Web Designer) the similarities to OS X are welcome.

    That said, it’s not for everyone – I wouldn’t recommend it to people who hate OS X, people who enjoy tweaking their OS themselves or people who have older equipment (it’s a bit of a bloated resource-hog – routinely using between 500-700MB of RAM just
    doing everyday tasks).

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