In this series of Interviews, I'm going to publish interviews with CEOs of some of the very interesting, popular and fine Linux distributions. The first one is Mark Greaves, the CEO of PeppermintOS, a really nice and useful distribution but often misunderstood as the cloud-centric distribution (even I used to think the same).
Thanks for giving me this opportunity to explain a little about PeppermintOS, where we came from, and what we stand for.
Q1. What made you start this project? (When there are hundreds of Linux distributions, then what made you start another Linux distribution.)
A1. Ah, I fear you may have let yourself in for a long story and some editing here because that’s a bit of complex story.
I personally didn’t start the Peppermint project, that would be Shane Remington and Kendall Weaver who sadly have now left the project because of other commitments. So I’m only going to be able to give you a brief background to their reasoning based on what I’ve gathered from them.
Kendall Weaver was the guy who some years ago put together the Linux Mint LXDE community edition, I gather this was eventually dropped (I’m not sure why), so when Kendall and Shane got talking one day in a local pub, the Black Rose in Hendersonville North Carolina and realised they were both Linux enthusiasts the conversation got round to what would make a great distribution. Again I must stress I’m only able to repeat what I’ve gathered about this meeting, I wasn’t there, but it was decided that the current trend towards online cloud applications was going unmet so a lightweight, quick, cloud-oriented distro was eventually envisioned that leveraged online applications wherever possible but was still a fully functional distribution out of the box.
Can I take this opportunity to clear something up? The tech press often incorrectly state that PeppermintOS was “a Linux answer to ChromeOS on the Chromebook”, but it should be noted that PeppermintOS One was released in May 2010 with the first Chromebooks being shipped a year later in June 2011.
In any case, Shane and Kendall saw the rise of online OS agnostic ‘apps’ and decided to build a distro that took advantage of them to keep the ISO small yet to be fully functional at the same time without sacrificing the ability to install local applications should the user wish.
Whilst the original release (built around Firefox and the Mozilla Prism technology) was well received in both the tech press and by the Linux community as a whole, I gather there was some call on the forum for a Chromium-based version, and as Mozilla had announced they were dropping development of the ‘Prism’ technology PeppermintOS One relied on, Kendall wrote the ICE application (originally only supporting Chromium but now also supporting Firefox, Chrome, and Vivaldi as well) to take over from Prism as the tech for providing the SSB functionality .. and Peppermint ICE was born, the second PeppermintOS incarnation.
The following April – May saw the release of Peppermint Two, also built around the ICE application and Chromium Browser.
This is where I enter the story, so can probably be a bit more insightful.
At the time I was fairly new to Linux having switched from Windows to Linux about two years earlier (Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala if I remember correctly) and was giving a great deal of my time on the Linux.co.uk forum trying to help others through the same problems and pitfalls I had encountered in switching, and trying to give something back because of the huge amount of help and encouragement I’d been given from the owner of that forum (Gareth Bult) without whom I’d have been back using Windows pretty quickly. Anyway at the time I had a small Acer Aspire One netbook, Ubuntu 11.04 had just made the switch to Unity which didn’t suit my netbook so I went looking for a replacement for the Ubuntu 10.10 it was currently running and I came across PeppermintOS Two which being small and fast was an ideal fit for my Acer Aspire One netbook given its limited 4GB SSD. I’d published an installation tutorial on the Linux.co.uk forum which drew a fair bit of cross-talk between that forum and the PeppermintOS forum, so I eventually found myself helping out regularly over there too. I’m going to try shortening this a bit here by simply saying that I was smitten with PeppermintOS so much that over the next couple of years found myself drawn more and more into its community to the extent that Shane and Kendall gave me the honor of administering their forums and things grew from there. I had some input into the design decisions for Peppermint Four and Five though most of the work was still carried out by Shane and Kendall. Sadly Kendall announced he was going to have to leave shortly after Peppermint Five (other business commitments) and there was some discussion between us whether to let PeppermintOS disappear, I really didn’t want that to happen so with Shane’s help and still receiving some limited but extremely necessary input from Kendall (when he was able) I took over the project. The first release with me in the driving seat was PeppermintOS Six which built on the LXDE/Xfce hybrid approach introduced in Four and refined in Five .. the rest, as they say, is history.
Sorry, that was so long and winding, but I could see no way of providing a short answer to the question that didn’t require some explanation. So I figured ‘what the heck’ and threw the whole story at you.
Q2. Do you think Peppermint has achieved the original purpose or still has a long way to go?
A2. I think the Peppermint project (before I arrived) had tapped into something that was missing at the time showing great foresight by Shane and Kendall. The problem is Googles ChromeOS and the rise of the Chromebook stole a lot of its thunder. I personally never viewed PeppermintOS as a “Cloud Hybrid” distro, I saw it more as a “Minimal Install” distro that just happened to use web apps to keep the install footprint small without losing functionality out of the box.
We’re now making an effort to market PeppermintOS differently without actually making that much of a design change. Besides the use of web apps one of the things I most liked about PeppermintOS was that it didn’t come with a ton of pre-installed software, this may be a bit contentious but we’ve always viewed application choice as something the user should decide upon, I personally have always found removing unwanted software a chore and consider this one area that Windows do things correctly, “here’s the core OS and necessary utils, now go make it what YOU want". This is now the core PeppermintOS philosophy .. we just provide what you need to build the distro into whatever you want, be that web-centric via SSB’s, all local apps, or any mixture of the two that suits YOUR requirements.
To answer your question, yes PeppermintOS achieved its original goals but those goals have moved slightly, not so much in design but in the philosophy behind the design. There’s still some work to do getting that message across though, as we try to escape the “cloud only” perception that seems to follow us, even though it was never really the case.
Q3. How many people use PeppermintOS?
A3. I honestly couldn’t answer that question, we in no way track usage data beyond that provided by Google Analytics/Adsense for advert clicks. Hey, we have to pay the bills somehow right :)
We don’t even count downloads.
Q4. What type of users find PeppermintOS interesting?
A4. I can only go on those that I’ve met via the forum and social media channels, but I’d say people with a common interest in a lightweight distro that makes user choice and customization the centre point. And those that enjoy the sense of community surrounding Peppermint, something we’re more proud of than the distro itself.
Q5. According to you who can benefit the most from PeppermintOS?
A5. Tough question, anyone really…
It’s often suggested that PeppermintOS is ideal for older hardware, and I must admit that’s what I was looking for when I found it, but it would be quite wrong to think only older or limited hardware benefits. Nobody likes wasting system resources unnecessarily right, as long as the ‘lightness’ doesn’t come at the expense of functionality.
Q6. Like most other Linux distributions, Peppermint is also based on Ubuntu/Lubuntu? Why not others?
A6. Who was it that once mentioned “standing on the shoulders of giants”? Peppermint benefits greatly from Debian package management and utilities, and the extra polish Ubuntu brings to the table. We also benefit from Launchpad for hosting the Peppermint specific packages, and users benefit from the vast amounts of easy to find and freely available online help/documentation/tutorials/articles for Ubuntu, most of which are directly or easily transferable to PeppermintOS. Such as those on LinuxAndUbuntu.com ;)
Q7. Why does PeppermintOS have the release cycle of 12 months? Don't you think 6 months release cycle (like Ubuntu does) will grow the community faster?
A7. In a way we don’t, we have always released a ‘respin’ mid cycle. This ‘respin’ has historically been more than just an ISO with all updates included, it also usually contains some user inspired tweaks. But in truth we simply consider annually ‘often enough’, the upstream components seem to have matured nicely around the 6 months in mark, so it seems a bit odd to ask people to swap out an OS that’s now at its best. Annually also gives us time to gauge user feedback and gather ideas for the next release.
Q8. Can you share some milestones that this nice project has achieved?
A8. I’m sorry but can’t talk about any milestones the original team had, and since I’ve taken over we don’t really have any. We’re not trying to rule the world, we’re simply a small ‘community’ where our only goal is to keep that community happy by listening and interacting .. after all, PeppermintOS ‘is’ it’s community.
Q9. Where are you going next? What will be the base of the next version and the next big feature in PeppermintOS?
A9. At the moment we’re experimenting with more Xfce components possibly using Xubuntu as a starting point instead of Lubuntu because of their planned move to LXQt. This is not a reflection on LXQt it’s simply a design decision that fits with the direction PeppermintOS has been heading for some time. But please don’t expect Peppermint to become just another Xfce distro with a red/white skin, PeppermintOS will continue our quest to cherry pick best of breed components from other distros and desktop environments and attempt to bring them together into a cohesive whole but without attempting to reinventing the wheel. After all, isn’t that what the Linux and FOSS spirit is all about :)
Q10. How many members you've got in your team?
A10. Including our “Trusted Users” who we consider an integral part of the team because we couldn’t do this without them, at the current time there’s 21 of us. Not all are active at any given time but all contribute wherever and whenever they can. Peppermint has been VERY lucky in attracting a super enthusiastic team that it’s a pleasure to work with, and an honor to know.
Q11. Anything else that you want to share with us such as financial support or contribution by other communities?
A11. I’d like to thank VPS.net for their great support over the years, honestly, PeppermintOS wouldn’t exist without them. I’d also like to give a massive ‘THANK YOU’ to every one of the people that have donated to the project, be that financially, by contribution, or by the enthusiasm shown that makes it all not only worthwhile but great fun too.
I’d also like to give massive shout out to Laurens Swarte for making us as proud as punch by choosing PeppermintOS as the OS of choice in a refugee centre he helps look after:
When I found Peppermint for the first time, even I understood it as a cloud-centric or a ChromeOS alternative. Thanks for clearing that it's not a cloud-centric or ChromeOS alternative and explaining what it really is. And one of the most important things we get out of this interview is that your team is experimenting with Xfce for the next release. I wish you best of luck for the next release and hope there will more Laurens Swarte like people who will implement what you're making.
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