Pinguy OS 10.10.1

I have had mixed feelings about Pinguy OS since I first heard of it. I am really not interested in trying out "Yet Another Ubuntu Derivative" every time one comes along, so my tolerance level for ignoring what I consider "background noise" is set fairly high.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I have had mixed feelings about Pinguy OS since I first heard of it. I am really not interested in trying out "Yet Another Ubuntu Derivative" every time one comes along, so my tolerance level for ignoring what I consider "background noise" is set fairly high. Also, the stated purpose of Pinguy OS is to make a "more user friendly Ubuntu", and I feel like I already have one of those in Linux Mint - besides, there are a lot of very smart people working on that already. But despite all of that, Pinguy has seemed intriguing, the approach has been different from what others have done, and they have now survived at least a few months, and a couple of releases. With Ubuntu themselves wandering off in some rather strange directions, and some free time over the holidays, I decided to take a look at Pinguy.

The download is simple enough, from the Pinguy OS page on Sourceforge. With all of the extras that they have added to Ubuntu, this is strictly a LiveDVD distribution, they haven't attempted to shoehorn it into a CD image. But, how to turn that LiveDVD image into a LiveUSB stick? Perhaps I didn't look hard enough, but I didn't see any instructions, and I assumed because it is an Ubuntu derivative that the "Startup Disk Creator" on a running Ubuntu system would do the trick. Wrong, unfortunately, and in a rather confusing way. The ISO image is still close enough to Ubuntu that the utility recognises it and will in fact copy it to a bootable USB image. That USB stick will even boot, but it doesn't run properly, it produces lots of error messages while booting, and is of no use whatsoever. The correct way to create a bootable USB stick is to use unetbootin, which can also be downloaded from Sourceforge for Windows or Linux, or if you have a running Linux system most distributions will include it in their Repos, so you can get it through whatever Add/Remove software package utility they have. That creates a USB stick with a Live image that boots and runs very nicely on all of my desktop/laptop/netbook systems.

Installation is quite easy, and is essentially the same as the Ubuntu 10.10 installer. When the installation finishes and you boot the installed system, you get a desktop that looks like this:

Pinguy OS 10.10.1

Wow. That really IS different from the standard Ubuntu desktop! Well, a close looks shows that the top panel is still the same, although it has quite a few more icons and controls included. The left and bottom panels are from Docky, which is a relatively new shortcut/launcher/taskbar package. I have to take my hat off to Pinguy at this point, I seriously underestimated them. Making a few small tweaks to the Ubuntu distribution and packaging it as a derivative is one thing, but changing the desktop and user interface at this level is really something else altogether.

I could write an entire blog post just about Docky... several of them, actually, and I probably will sometime soon. But for now I will just say that Docky provides multiple bars which can be placed at the top, bottom or either side of the screen, they can be fixed in place or they have multiple interesting hiding modes, including "intelligent hiding" which happens only when they would obscure part of an active window, and are amazingly configurable. They have a sort of pseudo-Mac feel. If you are interested in new desktop/UI alternatives, this could really be worth trying. Here is a quick shot of the Docky configuration window:

Pinguy Docky

Getting back to Pinguy, one of the things you will quickly notice is that the traditional Gnome menus are missing from the top panel. Pinguy is already using Gnome-Do, which is another fairly brave leap. If you aren't familiar with Gnome-Do, it will take some getting used to, but this type of launcher is likely to be the way of the future, so you might as well get used to it. To start an application, click the icon in the top panel and you will get this search window:

Pinguy Gnome Do

Type any sort of text about what you want to run - the name, a description, a function, or something like that. Gnome-Do will bring up what it finds that matches that text, and in many cases that will be the right thing. If it is not, or if you typed a very general term such as "office" (when I want an OpenOffice program), then you can press the down arrow key and it will show you the text you typed, and the list of matching applications, like this:

Pinguy Do List

Choose the correct application from that list, or revise your search text to find what you want. There is a lot more to Gnome-Do than this simple kind of use, but my purpose here isn't to investigate that any more than it is Docky, so I'll just hope that is enough to get someone started on it.

I have installed Pinguy OS 10.10.1 on all of my laptops and netbooks, and it seems to work well on all of them. I'm going to have to do some experimenting and adjusting on the netbooks, to reduce or optimise the screen use, but on the larger screens it looks very good. It will be interesting to see how well this distribution catches on. As I said, with Ubuntu wandering off in some very different directions, this might turn out to be the right thing at the right time.

jw 29/12/2010

Editorial standards