Open Source

Linux Mint shows third GNOME way

Don't like Unity? Hate GNOME 3? Linux Mint shows that there is another way.

Linux Mint will be moving to GNOME 3, but the Linux distribution will be adding its own extensions to the new desktop shell to make it more like the traditional GNOME desktop. And if that's not enough, Mint will also come packing the new GNOME 2.0 fork, MATE.

Mint acknowledged the perceived shortcomings of the GNOME 3 desktop in a blog post over the weekend, and said that they have developed the Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MGSE) to combat them and provide users with a bottom panel, application menu, window list, task-centric desktop, and visible tray icons.

(Credit: Linux Mint)

Users will be able to take the extensions wholesale or enable only the ones they want.

Due to Fallback mode in GNOME 3 looking like GNOME 2.0 but not being able to run GNOME 2.0 panel applets, Mint has made the decision to move to MATE, a fork of GNOME 2.32.

In order to have GNOME 3 and MATE installed side by side, MATE needs to rename all of its libraries, and thus also port the themes and applications from GNOME 2 to MATE. If MATE makes it to Mint's liveDVD, it is likely to have "rough edges", and may not be ready in time for the distribution's release candidate.

The next Mint release is due on 20 November, but the development team has decided to release it "when [it is] ready".

GNOME 3 is reported to be already fully functional, and a MATE installation has been made to run alongside GNOME 3 on Ubuntu 11.10 (Mint bases itself on Ubuntu).

My take

The news from Mint is welcome; there are a great many people to whom Ubuntu's Unity and GNOME's 3 desktop are not reasonable choices. The ability to add some familiar desktop concepts via GNOME 3's extension infrastructure is the right way to go about this — as is the ability to pick and choose which extensions to install.

Personally, I'm one of those strange people who have broken through the GNOME 3 barrier to come out the other side and love it. But it was a process I went through because I was running Ubuntu pre-releases, and Unity was less than welcome on my desktop; I had no other choice than to get to know GNOME 3 or jettison over to XFCE or another desktop/window manager.

One of the first things I did was try to find a taskbar or dock-like extension that worked well in GNOME 3, but to no avail. Being able to have one would have lowered the disruption and frustration that initially accompanied the move to GNOME 3.

The fact that the developers of Mint are taking a "release when it is ready" approach it very welcome indeed.

Too often, distributions and projects release to a schedule and damn any major update or fix to functionality that may have missed the cut-off date. Conversely, some releases make you wonder why the team bothered doing a six-monthly release at all — those releases have nothing in them that couldn't be updated by the distro's updating mechanism.

Because I've made it through the other side with GNOME 3, I'll be sticking to it. But were I to make a new machine, or want to move desktops in the coming weeks, I'd be on the Mint train for sure.

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Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

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