Linux Mint review

Started in 2006, Linux Mint has seen a swift and dramatic rise in fortune. The secret of its success is that, although based on Ubuntu (which means that it can use the same software repositories and supports the same wide range of hardware) its default desktop is a much more traditional affair than Ubuntu’s controversial Unity interface.

By sticking with a continuation of the older, popular Gnome 2 desktop, Mint hash converted a whole section of the Ubuntu faithful. Its developers claim it’s now the fourth most widely used desktop OS behind Windows, OS X and Canonical’s OS.

In fact, Linux Mint offers users a choice of two Gnome-based environments, dubbed Mate and Cinnamon. As with other distributions, there are other options such as KDE and the lightweight Xfce. Mate is designed to be a faithful continuation of the outdated Gnome 2 desktop. It’s reasonably attractive, and we like the big, square brushed-metal effect mintMenu that pops up from the bottom-left corner, complete with links to places, favourite apps and a search box. Elsewhere, however, it’s pretty basic.

Linux Mint

Cinnamon, on the other hand, is a more modern affair – and our Mint desktop manager of choice. The menu resides in the same place in the bottom-left corner, but it’s more straightforward to use, with a panel of application shortcuts lined up on the left, a categorised, dynamic menu system to the right, and a search box at the top that generates search results as you type. It’s very neat, and gives access to all the system’s settings and applications in one place.

The star of the show is Cinnamon’s “hot corner” feature, which can be used to trigger an Exposé-style view. Move the cursor to the top-left corner of the desktop, and the view smoothly zooms out to show all your active, virtual desktops. That isn’t all, though. In this view, you can drag applications from one desktop to another, and even add and remove desktops as well as clicking to browse to those desktops. It’s beautifully implemented.

The key to Mint’s appeal, though, isn’t the desktop, attractive although it is – it’s the rounded nature of the package. It starts with the installation, which is as trouble-free as it gets. Load up the live disc, which gives you the opportunity to try out the distro, and you’re given the chance to install it to the hard disk from a shortcut on the desktop.

We particularly like the partitioning tool included in the installer, which detects other operating systems, explains your options in plain English, and lets you resize partitions on the fly.

The key to Mint’s appeal isn’t the desktop, attractive although it is – it’s the rounded nature of the package

Once it’s fully installed, you’ll find it has other nice touches, too. On the Cinnamon desktop, the Windows keys work straight off the bat, for example, and on our test laptop, the multitouch drivers for the touchpad worked as well. The system is also preloaded with a full complement of audio and video codecs, so no extra downloads for DVD and MP3 playback are required.

If there’s one negative point, it’s the upgrade mechanism. Unlike Ubuntu, in which you can upgrade to a new version without reinstalling from scratch, with Mint, the preferred way of performing an upgrade is to back up your settings and perform a complete reinstall. For people who are accustomed to the simplicity of upgrading Ubuntu, this is a backwards step.

Linux Mint

There’s a version for those who don’t want to deal with this sort of upgrade cycle and want a more bleeding-edge system – a rolling release version of Mint based on Debian, which receives constant updates. However, this isn’t as stable or usable as the Ubuntu-based version and requires more technical knowledge and experience to run.

The versioned distribution isn’t without the odd rough edge either. The first time we installed it, the Software Manager refused to install any applications, which meant that we had to resort to using the less user-friendly Synaptic Package Manager. That’s a shame, as the Software Manager is one of the best in this Labs, providing a searchable and browsable list of packages, complete with descriptions in plain English and star ratings to help you choose which ones you want to install.

Overall, though, we’re huge fans of Linux Mint. It’s polished, rounded and simple to install, and we love the easy-to-use Cinnamon desktop interface and preloaded multimedia support. If you don’t get on with the modern Ubuntu, it’s a very usable alternative.

Main wiki contributors: Bluriteboy02, Pjb304.


Software subcategory Operating system

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