Saturday, June 15, 2013

Peppermint 4: A word from the developer and a few of the testers

On Friday 14 June 2013 Peppermint 4 was released to the public. It is available in 32 and 64 bit versions, from their website. It has a traditional desktop interface, with an emphasis on the cloud, as it uses the ICE application to create “site specific browsers” (SSB's) to run web applications (in a web browser window) for many of the programs. For example: an office suite and image manipulation program are not installed as desktop apps. You can use the webapps provided, or use ICE (in the Internet section of the menu) to create your own SSB's.

Cloud computing has never been more popular than today; think how many companies are betting on the cloud: Microsoft with Skydrive and Office 365, Google with Google Drive, and Dropbox to name but a few. One of the benefits of running cloud apps are that there is less software for you to update. When the webapp is updated, you immediately have the latest version.

You can also install desktop versions of apps if you choose, and herein lies the beauty: choice. I love having the choice to do things or avoid them. While running your entire OS from the cloud could be problematic, running webapps is generally a lot more stable (depending on your Internet connection).

During the last year or so, Peppermint has been receiving a lot of good press from technology bloggers. It's built for speed, stable and a distro that you should try at least once during  your time with Linux.

The developer and creator: Kendall Weaver

Tienie: Hi Kendall, would you mind answering a few questions?

Kendall: Hi. I'd be glad to answer some of your questions.

Kendall Weaver

Tienie: Thank you for taking time out from your busy schedule. I would like to know why you started Peppermint, instead of being part of an already existing distro?

Kendall: I previously worked with Linux Mint as a distribution maintainer and though I love the project, there were some things I saw with their direction that I thought could be addressed differently. I wanted to offer a distro that was leaner than what Mint offered but with some of the same features and applications. I also was a big fan of using web apps for most tasks and most existing distros were not experimenting with them at all at the time. Mint has always seemed to come by default with a locally installed application for just about everything. I thought this could be done much differently so I started thinking about offering a distro with web apps rather than locally installed ones and this ended up being the biggest push for me to start working on Peppermint.
The roots of Peppermint

Regarding having a lean distro on the Ubuntu code base, some people pointed to Lubuntu, which was really starting to gain traction at the time, but I didn't always agree with their direction either. For instance I recall some messages from their mailing list regarding potentially changing from leafpad to gedit as the default text editor. They made the decision to stick with leafpad, a default LXDE component, which I didn't agree with from an ease of use standpoint. Little things like this also heavily impacted my decision to make another distro.

Tienie: With Linux having more than 5 desktop interfaces, why do you prefer the LXDE desktop interface?

Kendall: Three reasons really stick out: ease of use, how modular it is, and how lightweight it is. LXDE is incredibly simple to use, especially for new Linux users and this was one of the most major factors in the decision to use it. It does have some downsides in that some of the LXDE components aren't the most user friendly. The modular nature of LXDE really helps here as it's rather painless to simply use other things. The only two components of LXDE that really seem 100% necessary are pcmanfm and lxsession, everything else can be replaced and Peppermint takes advantage of this more than any other LXDE based distro that I'm presently aware of though I'm certain I haven't used them all. The fact that LXDE is also very lightweight certainly helps justify my decision to use it.

Tienie: What are your future plans for Peppermint?

Kendall: I can't give up too many details but I will say that we're looking into offering some of our own services designed to better integrate Peppermint with the cloud and assist people that use multiple computers.

I hope this has been helpful. Cheers.

Tienie: Thanks Kendall, that's great.

The testers:

Most of the testers didn't want to be interviewed, fortunately we have input from two of the testers.

Tester No 1

Tienie: Hi, can I call you by your forum nick, or can I use your real name?

Daniel: My name is Daniel Burke. I use a few different nicknames online, but I generally prefer people to know who I am. I am especially proud of my part in Peppermint 4, so feel free to use my real name.

Tienie: Please share with us your opinion on Peppermint 4 and the testing process.

As the art director for Peppermint, I was set up and testing long before a beta for '4 came out. Initially, I was using Peppermint 3 as a base to work and test. Eventually, enough came together, and a preliminary Alpha release was shared.

While others were working on different parts of the project, we all were multitasking in the same fashion; working on Peppermint 4 and scouring each release and update for anything we could fix or improve. In the early Alpha, there were a few things that sometimes gave a couple hiccups. We worked through them, and kept at it, until the Beta was put together.

Beta was a a little bit different in that we were trying to have it polished up enough for our private group of testers.

Even though I had been working on it, and had already seen pretty much all the different parts that were included, I was still kinda blown away by how nice it looked, and fit together. Beta was the point where it finally sunk in for me, that this was going to be something awesome.

After a couple updates to Beta, there really wasn't much "testing" for me to do. I'm not really much of a developer, or know much about coding, so forcing bugs out, and figuring out how/what causes them, isn't something I'm really good at. On top of that, there simply weren't that many bugs, and almost none of them affected my use.

In the later days of Beta, I was using the OS as my primary desktop. I did all my work in it, and personal use as well. Sometimes, I would almost forget that this wasn't a finished product. It worked, so I used it. Eventually, as work on '4 wound down, I was simply counting down the days until I could show it off to people.

I already knew that we were holding some things back from the beta testers, so that everyone could experience at least a little bit of "wow factor" when the final version came out, but some parts were still a surprise to me. I had heard talk of a new web site design, but didn't get a single glimpse at it until today (release day). I love it, and am really pleased with all of our work. When it's all said and done, I thank the rest of the team, our testers, and all the users out there. I'm just happy to be a part of it all.

If you have other questions or anything, please feel free to contact me. Thanks for the interview, and for all the other help along the way.

Tester No 2

Tienie: By some lucky coincidence, I also managed to be a tester for Peppermint 4. I saw that they were looking for testers on the Peppermint Facebook page and signed up. I don't think that I was chosen because of my technical skills, but rather because of my passion for Peppermint and spreading the word about it.

I've been using Linux on and off for years, I found it difficult to get into as I didn't have ADSL when I started with Mandrake 7 and later with Ubuntu Warty Warthog. 3G was very expensive at the time as well, which meant that I could not ask anyone for help. I was introduced to Peppermint by a friend, Quintin van Rooyen, who sent me a flash drive with a few Linux ISO's on it. He is very much into Linux and I found that inspiring. I cottoned on to Peppermint ICE, started a blog to keep track of what I had learnt (and something to look back at when I broke stuff or had to reinstall). Today my little blog has more than 6000 page views, around 16 a day and I try in my own little way to spread awareness of Peppermint.

I found the “test version” of Peppermint 4 to be very stable. Not many bugs were found and most of them were not serious. I was very impressed with the build quality of the test version.

After installing I tried to test everything I could, to see if it worked or was broken. I was the first tester to find out that GWoffice had a problem creating documents, it was a registered bug and Kendall decided to use Google Drive SSB instead. I was very happy to have found something small that did not work, it meant that I had done my job.

Final words

I hope that you have enjoyed this behind the scenes look into the world of Peppermint 4, the lightweight and stable, LXDE desktop Linux. Please feel free to leave a comment or two below.