Peppermint Linux 3 has introduced the concept of the “Site Specific Browser” (SSB). This enables you to run web applications as if they are normal desktop applications. To turn a web application into a desktop application simply run the ICE program and enter the web address and the name of the web application and choose a suitable icon and application menu to hang the application from.
This article looks at whether it is possible to run your whole computing life from “The Cloud”. I have taken steps to find suitable web applications to replace the desktop applications that the average computer user might use on a daily basis.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on each of the applications because in a lot of cases I have just had a cursory look and there may be other web applications that are better than the applications I have selected. The point of the article is just to see whether there is a suitable web application to replace a desktop application.
You might think that this article has very little to do with Linux as the SSB is just a web browser running a web application and you may well be right but read on anyway because if nothing else you might find a great web site you didn’t know existed.
Most people reading this article will already be aware of Google Mail, Google Docs and Google Calendar and therefore I would recommend skipping to Section 4.
Section 1 – Email
Peppermint 3 already comes with a site specific browser version of GMAIL which is of course Google’s own free to use email service.
Now there are literally hundreds of free email providers out there so finding a replacement for Outlook and Thunderbird was easy.
The main issue with the online email providers is that you can’t easily see when new messages are sent through. Google provide the GMAIL notifier but this is breaking the rules slightly because you have to download it.
Section 2 – Office Software
As with email, Peppermint 3 already comes with a site specific browser version of GWOffice which is the Google Office suite.
GWOffice gives you the ability to create presentations, documents and spreadsheets all with a fairly decent level of complexity.
Section 3 – Calendar
Peppermint 3 has a site specific browser version of Google Calendar which enables you to create appointments using contacts from GMail and with the ability to set reminders and to repeat as often as you require.
So if you want to set up a regular coffee morning meeting with your friends then this works just fine.
Section 4 – Games
If there is one thing the web isn’t short of it is games. Whilst the games will rarely excite the more hardened gamer there are plenties of good games for the casual gamer and for people wishing to waste a bit of time.
I have picked three of my favourite online games to demonstrate Peppermint 3’s implementation of them within site specific browsers.
This site gives the best online pool action anywhere with variations of 9 ball pool, 8 ball pool and killer pool.
You can play in competitions or play ranked games against other online players to try and become the ultimate funky pool player.
There are very active chatrooms available.
The game play is very good and each table type plays differently with the pockets smaller on the 8 ball tables.
The site specific browser works perfectly fine within Peppermint 3.
The site is ad supported which means it is free to use otherwise. The adverts are fairly unobtrusive.
Now cricket isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but this is a really fun game. There are various formats that you can play with different competitions.
You play the batsman and you have to make the target set by the opposition in the number of balls specified. There are just 4 strokes possible using the arrow keys on the keyboard. Fairly basic but surprisingly addictive.
The site is ad supported and apart from the initial start up screen which takes a while to disappear the adverts are fairly unobtrusive.
Hot on the heels of stick cricket is stick football. This is a bit like a cross between Dino’s goal and Sensible Soccer.
You can choose to play in loads of different tournament types from the English Premier League to Major League Soccer.
Use the arrow keys to move your players and press the shift to pass and ctrl to shoot. Pressing the left and right button after shooting swerves the ball.
As with Stick Cricket the site is ad supported with a fairly annoying advert which you have to wait for a minute to play before you can play the game but it is actually worth it.
Section 5 – Music
Peppermint 3 already comes pre-installed with Guayadeque which is a desktop application.
If you want a cloud based music option then there are a number of choices available but my favourite is Grooveshark.
Grooveshark is an online service which enables you to listen to music online.
There are paid options but you can also listen for free as long as you are willing to put up with the adverts.
There is a huge catalogue of songs to choose from.
If you sign up for an account you can create playlists which can be saved and played at any point in the future.
If you cannot find the song you like then you can upload it yourself if you have it on a CD. This would of course rely on a CD Ripper program and possibly an MP3 converter.
Section 6 – CD Ripper
Somebody is going to have to help me out with this category. There is nothing easy to find online that will enable you to take the music from your CD and upload it straight to the web.
This is fairly unsurprising and I would be wary of the credentials of any site that let you do this as the owner of such an application could find themselves in a Kim Dotcom predicament.
Section 7 – MP3 Converter
Whilst finding an online CD Ripping tool was unproductive, finding an MP3 converter was actually quite easy.
The online-convert site enables you to convert music to various different formats.
Simply upload the music file to convert or provide a URL to the file to convert.
Then choose a file type to convert to and a bit rate and the file will be converted and made available for download.
This site provides other converters including video converters, eBook converters, image converters, archive converters and document converters.
The site is mainly ad supported but you can also subscribe to a premium service.
I’ve not really used this site in any anger but the few files I tried to convert all worked correctly. If you use Grooveshark you probably won’t need to upload any files because every song title I searched for already existed in the archive.
Section 8 – TV/Radio
I am from the UK so this section is largely geared towards the British readers but I am sure there are online TV players and Radio stations that can be found for people from other countries.
Now if you are in the UK you have to pay about £13 a month to watch TV and that money is used to pay for the BBC.
Some people are complaining about this fee as they think it is extortionate.
For the £13 you get 4 tv stations that are completely advert free (BBC1, 2, 3 and 4). You also get the children’s channels (CBeebies and CBBC).
On top of that you get 7 radio stations and a host of local radio stations also completely advert free.
Best of all though you get the BBC website with the BBC iPlayer which lets you watch live television as well as a selection of other programs that have been on during the week.
The BBC has been responsible for some of the best television programs there has ever been. £13 well spent.
ITV is completely ad supported. You get 4 ITV stations as well as a +1 station which plays the same programs just one hour later.
There are very few programs on ITV that are worth watching and for you poor souls in America it is the station responsible for the X Factor.
There are very few programs on ITV that I would watch, Harry Hill and Benidorm would be about it.
They do seem to show at least one of the Die Hard films at least once a week.
Channel 4 is another ad supported set of TV stations and unlike ITV they produce some real gems. The Inbetweeners, IT Crowd, Father Ted and Misfits to name just a few.
Channel 5 is a poor man’s version of Channel 4. If you see a breaking news flash on Channel 5 you immediately switch to the BBC or Sky News to make sure it is real (and to get better coverage). There is one real nugget though and that is the brilliant Gadget Show. Channel 5 is completely ad supported.
Finally there is Sky TV. Provided by satellite this is both subscription based and ad supported. Sky TV has it’s flagship Sky 1 channel which has a mixed bag. There are a few decent programs and a few naff ones. They tend to get the best US programs and pay top whack for them. 24 was screened on Sky as was Lost (stolen from Channel 4). Sky also has the rights to the live football, formula 1 and best sporting action as well as a monopoly on films. The internet is beginning to break their stranglehold of sport and movies but the Sky Player is a great tool for any Sky subscriber allowing you to watch sky from anywhere. (Why do people bother paying for Sky multiroom anymore?).
All the BBC radio stations are available through the iPlayer.
Generally I like to listen to sport radio as well and so the talksport online radio player is perfect.
The radio station is completely ad supported as is the player which of course you can minimise and still listen to.
If you want to search for a decent online radio station then an honourable shout out has to go to http://www.live365.com
. Using this site you can search for the radio station of your choice from multiple countries and multiple music styles and talk radio.
Section 9 – Social Media / Chat
All the social media sites were born for the web anyway so if you enjoy using Facebook and Twitter then you can simply visit their homepages.
The Site Specific Browser in Peppermint 3 handles them all perfectly well so it gives the impression that you are running a desktop application.
If you use Windows Messenger then you can use a live version of the site within a site specific browser to make it look like the installed version.
Section 10 – Image Editing
Peppermint 3 comes with Pixlr already set up as a site specific browser.
Whilst no replacement for Photoshop or GIMP, Pixlr enables you to create and enhance images.
Pixlr provides a decent set of filters and all the things you would expect from an image editor such as the ability to crop, change brightness and contrast and resize images.
Pixlr also provides layers in a similar way to GIMP.
I am not very artistic and so many of the features of GIMP pass me by.
For an easy to use image editor Pixlr really works very well.
As an alternate to Pixlr there is Fotoflexer.
Fotoflexer has a simpler looking interface. Choose your photo and a number of tabs appear at the top of the screen.
The controls available are very similar to the ones available in Pixlr.
As with Pixlr there is the ability to add layers to make it easier to edit the image.
My favourite function was the morph which can make some very amusing photos.
I have to admit to thinking that the IDE provided with Visual Studio is the best one there is.
I have tried Eclipse and Net Beans and Mono but nothing has the features that Visual Studio provides.
I was expecting not to like the online IDEs but I have to admit to being impressed with what I found.
Cloud 9 provides a way to create web projects online and edit the code direct within your browser window.
You can share the project so that there are multiple collaborators. You are able to step through and debug the code and preview the output of the project.
With Cloud 9 I found it to be a bit clunky and it took quite a while to get going to a point where I was comfortable with it.
It is still no replacement for Visual Studio but does provide an option if you decided to live your computing life totally in the cloud.
If you just want to try code out visit http://www.ideone.com. I have found this useful when answering the odd programming question on Yahoo answers where I haven’t been on a machine with a compiler available.
My favourite online IDE is the Coderun IDE.
It is by far the easiest and most intuitive to use and it provides a wide array of project types including ASP.NET, C#, VB and PHP.
There is a very good debugger.
Section 13 – Creating Music
Now I am not much of a musician but I had great fun with this site.
You basically choose instruments and then lay out the music in a tab style.
Then you can play back your creations.
You need to create an account to save your tunes though.
The term “The cloud” is just marketing speak. It simply stands for anything that has any sort of interactive nature online.
If you store files on the web, use an online email account, manage your banking online or edit photos online you are already utilising “The cloud”.
I don’t think that we are at the point yet where we need to give up on the desktop and desktop applications.
I do think that web applications are getting better and better and sooner or later we will not need to download applications as we will be able to use them straight from the authors sites either on an ad supported or subscription basis.
Now obviously this sort of future provides issues. If Megaupload has taught us anything then it is the dangers of storing files within “The Cloud”. If the company you store files with turns out to be a criminal enterprise or goes bust then you stand to lose all your data.
I like Peppermint Linux 3 and I like the fact I can turn any web site into a mini desktop application even though if you remove the smoke and mirrors it is the clever use of flags within the Chromium browser.
Thanks for reading.