While Linux Mint is on its thirteenth version, it only really got popular in the last couple of years. The distribution takes the latest version of Ubuntu, and strips out all the desktop environments and themes and branding, replacing it with its own. It’s because of this that it originally became popular – when Ubuntu made the switch to the controversial Unity, Mint stuck with GNOME 2, and then later created the Mint GNOME Shell Extensions when GNOME 3 was released.
For the first time ever, Mint is not shipping with the official GNOME branch. Instead, they’re distributing two main versions, one based on GNOME 2 fork MATE, and their own in-house Cinnamon environment. Both are great desktops that have their own strengths for different users.
MATE is the logical evolution of GNOME 2, bringing it with it the stability and usability that made GNOME originally so popular. It integrates seamlessly with Mint, with all the Mint Menu and Compiz style additions working flawlessly. It’s great for those who have not been able to get used to other Desktops Environments, with all the familiar menus and work flow.
Cinnamon is the real star of the show though. It’s built upon GNOME 3, but very little of the new GNOME shell is recognisable in Cinnamon. The main difference is the KDE or Windows style Start Menu, split up into the classic GNOME categories, and with application and shutdown shortcuts on the side. That’s far from all though, as the interface has been tweaked to make the work flow much more like classic GNOME, with an improved Alt-Tab function, and the ability to better manage virtual desktops. It has a nice layer of polish that makes it a joy to use, with a lot better support for mousing around the screen than the new GNOME.
Along with this change up in desktop environments, Mint has received a new display manager, MDM. Built upon GDM, the Mint developers claim is that most features and customisation of any display manager. It definitely has a lot, with a great graphical tool that allows setting up event scripting, themes, welcome messages, and different behaviours for logging in. For some reason it forgoes the more modern method of having a list of user names to click on, instead requiring you to type in your username. Not a big deal for some people, and you can set timed auto log in, but otherwise there is really no reason to remove this.
Obviously it’s not just about the desktop environments and display managers though. Being built upon Ubuntu 12.04, it gets access to the entire suite of Precise Pangolin software, and more importantly the updates. As 12.04 was an LTS release this means that Mint 13 will get the same five year support as the main version. One of the things that the team at Canonical focused on during the development of 12.04 was stability of the system – this of course also transfers over to Mint as well.
It’s a case of the best of both worlds. Ubuntu is of course a well supported distribution, with a lot of readily available software that Mint has access to. With the far better usability of the Mint desktops environments, it’s never been easier to use all the tools given to the Ubuntu user base. Linux Mint has once again shown that listening to the community is far better than making compromises for vision.
Linux Mint has continued the tradition of taking all the good parts of Ubuntu, and replacing all the bad bits with fantastic, usable, alternatives. Cinnamon and MATE are both great desktops that offer plenty of choice for all users, and perfectly compliment the rest of Mints design aesthetic and philosophy