Pinguy OS - Jack of all trades, master of none


Updated: May 23, 2011

I was asked to review Pinguy by its developer, a guy named Vernon, or at least, so I hope, otherwise I might have been trolled. Nevertheless, the mail was my first introduction with Pinguy. So it's a distro, Ubuntu based. Knowing fully well that I was not that sympathetic to most Ubuntu remastering projects lately, this was a brave thing to do on behalf of Vernon.

What is Pinguy? It's a heavily tweaked minimal Ubuntu, designed to be usable out of the box by non-geeks. Now, by default, Ubuntu is friendly and balances aesthetics with functionality fairly well. Any deviation from this formula could be a spell of genius or a stroke of disaster; yes, in that order. Some managed to fork Ubuntu into great works of art; others floundered mightily. It can get tiresome, especially if you go through distro testing like a DU sabot penetrating a T-55 armor. But without pride or prejudice, I took Pinguy for a ride.

Live CD - Overwhelming

Now that I've built enough suspense to make you intrigued, let's enjoy this test. The boot menu is the simple Remastersys menu with a bald guy image. Then, Pinguy boots into what can only be called an overwhelming desktop. The distro is pleasant looking overall with a cool wallpaper, but it's just too detailed.

Live desktop

You have a total of four work areas of focus on the desktop. First, there's the top panel like your normal Ubuntu, except that it is sprinkled with some extras. You have the contextual menu, similar to Macbuntu. The system tray is loaded with power-saving Granola, Gnome Do, mintUpdate, system monitor, and several other items.

Systray

Then, you have Conky, which is the applet to the right, showing vital system info in all its vivid glory. Personally, I think this is a very tricky choice for a desktop. It consumes a sizable portion of desktop equity, it is positioned above active windows, which can be annoying, and it has moving elements, which draw the eye. What more, because it displays system info, it makes the top panel system monitor applet redundant.

Conky, system tray

Conky also reads Ubuntu 10.10, so why bother branding your distro as a complete new operating system? Now, I'm fully aware that Pinguy is a remaster work, but still.

On the left side, you have a Docky bar, with shortcuts to user folders, but it sits uncomfortably close to the three icons on the desktop, which are totally out of place in the chosen layout. Why have them there, if you place all vital parts into the four corners of the desktop space?

Docky on the left

Finally, at the bottom you have another dock, which could have easily included the left dock and saved some space and clutter. All combined, there's a chaotic, claustrophobic feeling to the desktop, despite the airy background.

Clutter abides

It does not end there, unfortunately. You also have the full and complete mint Menu available. While this serves the purpose in the single-panel Julia and family, it's an overkill in Pinguy. Moreover, if you hit the menu shortcut Alt + F1, this will open the regular Ubuntu menu. This adds even more confusion to the story, and we haven't even begun yet.

Menu

Mess resides

Things only got more complicated for me. First, after about two minutes of using the machine, the docks vanished. Auto-hide, forever. I could not get them back. When I logged out of the session and logged back in, Conky disappeared.

Conky vanished

After a short while on idle, the screensaver kicked in. When I came back to work, Conky was back and the desktop wallpaper has changed.

Conky returned

Later on, Conky vanished once again, leaving behind a small black rectangle near the notification area, which smells of a memory leak. Notice the black rectangle under the mail envelope icon.

Rectangle

Rectangle, more

It took me a while to figure how to remove the left dock, which I finally did. Then, I also deleted the three desktop icons, including the Ubiquity installer shortcut, which turned out to be a mistake, but more about that later. Desktop wallpapers continued to change.

Visual appeal

Overall, Pinguy is a good-looking beast, if you ignore the desktop clutter. The colors and fonts are decent enough, including a very slick Nautilus. The theme is smooth and calm, including nice buttons.

Theme

Window decorations

And with just a few seconds of hard work, you can improve it by an order of magnitude. Just vanish the extra stuff from the desktop and you get a very polished and relaxed system.

Desktop, fixed

Wireless, Bluetooth, Samba

Worked fine. In fact, you even get an extra for configuring your Samba shares, although average users would never manage this.

Samba

Multimedia

If there's one facet of the distro that really works superbly, it's the multimedia playback. Everything worked - Flash, MP3 playback, Microsoft Media Server (MMS) streaming, even QuickTime, not that you would want to use that on a regular basis, but still.

Flash

Apple trailer

Music

MMS

Desktop effects

Compiz is also enabled, including some slick effects, like a long-view desktop cube and the Aladdin lamp window minimize effect. Worked jolly well on the aging T60p and its ATI card.

Desktop effects 1

Desktop effects 2

The live session is truly overwhelming. It has too much. I was confused, so I can only imagine what the average user would do when faced with so many different possibilities. From the usage perspective, it worked well. The big problem was Conky, which kept dying and coming alive again, like a persistent little vampire. Overall, a fair deal, but less is more, and this is an important lesson that many forget.

Installation

Pinguy installation is essentially Ubuntu, but it has a handful of problems that do not exist in the original. First of all, the installation window is fairly narrow. Second, it has the checkbox for installing media plugins, which is redundant, as we already have them. Several other Ubuntu remaster projects suffered from the same issue. The slideshow is also gone and you're left with a simple, unexciting copying progress bar.

Begin installation

Installing

Pinguy settled on the disk shared with Windows 7 in a dual-boot configuration without any problems. On first boot, GRUB2 menu read Ubuntu, so there are still leftovers from the remastering process that have not been taken care of. Better rebranding is needed.

Using Pinguy

Now that it's on me disk, let's use it. Pinguy is Ubuntu, with a handful of makeup, so the experience will be familiar, especially if you've dabbled in Ubuntu before. If you're a new convert, you might be dazzled by color and variety.

Applications

Pinguy suffers from the gypsy market apocalypse syndrome. This is no more apparent than with the installed collection of programs. Trying to please everyone is impossible, which is exactly what the developer(s( tried to do. The arsenal includes a wide and somewhat disjointed range of programs from all across the spectrum, including many odd choices, similar to Fuduntu, but more like the overkill we have seen in mFatOS and UberStudent.

Now, don't get me wrong, you get lots of useful programs, but this is simply confusing for the average user. Most people do not want extra choice. They need only one of everything to get by. Rather than bundling three or four of each, it's much simpler to provide just one solid candidate and avoid less known and popular stuff, even if it may be functionally superior.

You get a huge collection of stuff. Multimedia section is bursting with stuff, including gtkPod, Brasero, Handbrake, DeVeDe, openShot, and many others. Strangely, gaming wise, nothing, only PlayOnLinux. And there's no GIMP, either.

Apps, menu 1

Apps, menu 2

Apps, menu 3

The more classic choices include Firefox, Thunderbird, VLC, Rhythmbox, Totem, Skype, VirtualBox, Sun Java, and a handful of others. There's bias for multimedia and P2P sharing and helper applications.

Less obvious choices

Like I was saying, Pinguy bundles lots of good - yet unnecessary - stuff. One of these is Granola. A noble idea, but it means nothing to the vast majority of users out there. Speaking of the environment, we will have a global warming physics article soon.

Granola

Another, extremely problematic choice is Firefox. At version 3.6.12 in the distro bundle at the time of this review, it comes with a non-default theme that makes it look like Opera, with tabs on top and the file menu included inside the tab context.

Firefox looks

But the biggest problem is the fact it comes with a total of 25 extensions, some of which look plain weird. And the theme does not allow for a proper alignment and display of the addons window.

Addons

And there's this thing. SkipScreen, SmartLinks, what the hell is this? Why do I want this in my browser? Notice the gray Decline button, which is deceptive, since it can actually be clicked. Alongside other controversial choices of Firefox extensions, this is simply annoying.

Smartlink

You also get a boring speeddial. One of the buttons is already populated by some weather report, so this must be a remastering glitch. Why do I care what the weather is in Bath? Oh, did I mention the distro comes with UK spelling - Centre rather than Center and whatnot? Just saying.

Speed dial

You also have something called Notify OSD Configuration. This sounds like one of those Russian Ministry of Interior special forces and it probably takes a Rambo to figure out. Why would this be included, beats me. Must be for those little notifications about Wireless and such. Gauge Size is 6px, but I prefer Gauge 12 for my Mauser shotgun.

Notify OSD configurations

In the multimedia section, you also get the Digital TV Control Center (Centre), but this did not quite work for me. Moreover, specifically, you have this Sony PlayStation thingie.

Apps 1

You have no less than two music and media cover utilities, so this is a niche-need overkill.

Apps 2

Eventually, so much colorful stuff leads to problems, like bad top panel integration. Some apps have huge rectangles that creep out of the boundaries of the panels, others look sunken and 1995 in quality, others yet have non-transparent backgrounds. Ugly.

Bad panel integration

Some errors

Naturally, when so many programs are bundled, problems creep in. For example, trying to launch Wine, I got this weird problem - unknown error, go figure:

Wine error

System resources

Pinguy is relatively hungry, at 370MB for the 32-bit installation. But the biggest difference compared to stock Ubuntu is the very long boot time, at over one minute compared to just about fifteen seconds on Maverick. I have no idea why this is.

System usage

Suspend & resume worked without any problems.

And that would be all.

Conclusion

Pinguy is a decent if confusing Ubuntu fork. It has a solid set of programs, although a third could be pruned away without blinking. Multimedia and desktop effects work really well. There were not many configuration errors or bugs, which is a nice thing considering the complexity of the interacting elements bundled with the distro.

Conky was the weakest link, combined with the ever-changing wallpapers, which can be annoying, plus the overwhelming, cluttered layout. There were some rebranding issues, too, which could be solved by a more meticulous quality assurance.

Pinguy has a lot to offer, but the question is, why bother? Is there anything it can do that Ubuntu can't? The answer is, frankly no. It is a little more convenient, but then you get problems that did not exist in the first place. Small things, tiny things, but oh so annoying, like that black rectangle and the top panel integration. And I did not like the Firefox mutation, either.

Pinguy's greatest sin is trying to please everyone, which is virtually impossible. I would have to say that I can't find the right audience for the distro, be they newbs or power users. It has a bit for each and every type, but not enough to reach the critical mass of goodness to make you switch. As such, Pinguy sins the sin of the medieval gentleman; it's Jack of all trades, master of none.

Cheers.

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