Open Source

Linux Mint 12: A much-needed, much-improved Linux desktop

With the best of both GNOME worlds, Linux Mint has managed to create the perfect combination of new and familiar features. Jack Wallen examines the latest release, "Lisa".

I've spent a lot of time reviewing releases of Ubuntu, Fedora, Bodhi, Mandriva, openSUSE, and other more obscure distributions. In the process of seeking out the perfect Linux desktop (among the hail-storm of changes that has hit the Linux community of late) there is one distribution that has been, mostly, overlooked by me.

Linux Mint.

That comes to an end now. Why? Because the developers of Linux Mint have done something no one else has done -- they've made GNOME 3 flexible. That's right, with the help of a new technology they call Mint GNOME Shell Extensions (MGSE), they have made it possible to add or remove extensions to the GNOME 3 desktop that layer on different features and functionalities. With these extensions, it's actually possible to make GNOME 3 look and behave like Classic GNOME. The main extensions for MGSE are:

  • The bottom panel
  • The application menu
  • The window list
  • A task-centric desktop (i.e. you switch between windows, not applications)
  • Visible system tray icons

That short list pretty much returns the primary functionality from GNOME 2.x removed in 3. But that's not all. MGSE offers other enhancements to GNOME 3, such as a media player indicator and much more.

But why is this important? Simple: The Linux Mint 12 take on GNOME 3 allows users to enjoy the modern enhancements GNOME 3 brings to the table, while giving them the familiarity that is GNOME 2.x. In fact, by taking advantage of all of the MGSE extensions, you could have a full blown GNOME 2.x desktop!

Now, here's the real question: In theory this sounds like a great idea. But does it play out in real-time? I installed it on one of my main desktops to find out.

Installation

As with any Ubuntu-based desktop, avoid trying to install this with an on-board Nvidia chipset. After attempting an installation with three different approaches, I realized I was just going to have to slap in a PCI-e video card (a low-end Radeon 4350 worked fine) and have at it. After that was complete, the installation went off without a hitch and I had Linux Mint goodness ready to rock.

Usage

The whole GNOME 3/2 compatibility happens, thanks to a system called MATE. It is important to note that MATE only comes on the DVD version. If you've downloaded and installed from the CD version, you will have to install MATE from the mint-meta-mate package. How does it work?

Perfectly.

Figure A

Not only does the GNOME 3 desktop work like a charm on Mint 12, the ability to add/remove features is simple. To get to the Advanced Settings tool (See Figure A, left) move the mouse to the upper left corner of the desktop and then click on the Advanced Settings when the Dash opens.

From within this tool you can enable/disable the various extensions available for the GNOME 3 desktop. As you enable or disable a feature, it takes effect immediately. In the end, the exact combination of a GNOME 3 and GNOME 2 desktop is at your fingertips.

This, alone, is worth the price of admission.

Outside of the desktop, the distribution is fairly straight-forward, and well done. There is one other feature that should be noted. When you fire up Firefox you will notice a different default search engine. Linux Mint has partnered with the Duck Duck Go search engine (which is built entirely on open source software - although currently the source for Duck Duck Go is closed). Now this might not be a big deal to some, but it should be known that Duck Duck Go does contribute to the open source community. What is also of note is that Duck Duck Go does not track search results and does not personalize searches based on your history. So if you're looking for a more pure search engine, the new Linux Mint default might suit you.

Compared to...

Lately I have installed and used a number of desktop Linux distributions...in search of the perfect desktop. I have gone through Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, Bodhi, Mandriva, openSUSE, and Fedora. By taking the best of both worlds, Linux Mint might well have surpassed all other distributions as one of the most user-friendly, stable, and enjoyable Linux desktops. If you're looking for a Linux distribution that can either transition you to GNOME 3 or offer you the best of 2 and 3, Linux Mint is the perfect choice.

Linux Mint comes at a time when the Linux desktop is suffering from some serious chaos. No one knows where the Linux desktop is heading, but if what Linux Mint has achieved has any say in the matter, MATE and MGSE will have a lot to do with the future of Linux on the desktop.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

17 comments
jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

I converted from Ubuntu 11.10 to Mint 12 yesterday morning. From the start, I was disappointed...Mint didn't recognize my monitor setup and limited me to three resolutions, and 1280x1024 was the best/closest I could get to optimum for my widescreen monitor. It also wouldn't/couldn't refresh package information and seemed to take forever downloading and installing updates. It installs with a plain black desktop background, which made me think at first that something hadn't installed correctly until I figured out that no, that's just what the dev team thought would be the best first impression. Guess what, folks...if you want to bring new users (especially non-developer types like me) into the Linux fold, first impressions do matter. When I installed Ubuntu 11.10 a month ago, I didn't have to tweak anything other than installing Chromium and removing most of the icons from the Unity bar. Suffice it to say I've reinstalled Ubuntu 11.10.

Slayer_
Slayer_

This seems like a step backwards. We now have this space wasting bar at the top, and all the right click configuration menus for configuring things no longer work (Such as that menu, or the task bar items, etc.). The top bar just appears to do what the start menu does, but just with bigger icons and you have to wait for a tooltip for a description on what the program is. Here is a news flash devs, tooltips do not work on touch displays, tooltips are bad! Stupid unknown icons are bad, text is good. I am not able to install to HDD (Testing on a laptop with a dead HDD), but I am running the live DVD, I notice almost all configuration changes are missing, you can't even test compiz because although it is installed, the configuration manager is not (WTF) and Mint has no way to edit it. You can't make the "Menu" more meaningful, it now uses ugly icons and is way to small, you can't make it larger like previous versions, where is the favorites? The search doesn't seem to find anything anymore, doesn't seem to even offer the ability to install the package that you searched for. What is with these missing features, if it its a live DVD failure, this is a terrible demo of their new product. If it looked like this on my first impression, I probably would be fine, but as an upgrade, this feels like a downgrade. And My god is firefox ugly, but that's not Mint's fault. WHY IS THE LOGOFF WHERE THE CLOSE WINDOW BUTTON IS!?? I have accidentally clicked this thing 100's of times already when aiming for the close or minimize buttons. I remember installing my older version of Mint, it was easy, I had the system set up how I wanted, packages queued to be installed, configurations set, drivers installed, all ready to go from the Live DVD, now I can't do any of that?

tony
tony

Fed up with trying to get just one screen with Ubuntu 11.4 and 11.10 always fine during install but reverts to four screens when booted. Mint 12 looked like a lifeboat from the write ups. Guess what ?....Just the same after reboot ! Works fine during install..one screen. Laptop is a Dell Inspiron 1100 and the VGA chip is an Intel 845G which is recognized by the Mint 12. A 2.4Ghz Celeron with 1mb Ram should easily run this without problem. I was recently running XP Pro on the machine with no problems. Any thoughts please ?

tstephenson
tstephenson

I did install Mint 12 over the weekend on my weak HP laptop. The WiFi is flakey and Win7 won't connect properly. But the Mint install went perfectly (even with the Nvidia drivers). Discovered my WiFi and properly connected. Was easy to establish security settings (unlike many other linix distros). Did install Chrome and that went perfectly as well. Did some customization just to play with the user interface. Went back to default look as it is quite nice. :-)

Gisabun
Gisabun

Will anyone other than LInux techies care? LInux is too fractured with too many distros. Everyone knows that. It's still can't muster 1.5% of the OS market either.

blossto
blossto

I have been using Linux Mint 9 on my work laptop and have been very pleased with it. It is easy, usable and stable.

francisco.augusto
francisco.augusto

Hello, I have a Latitude 131L AMD Turion mk36 1GB RAM 60GB disk and old XP SP3 was already getting heavy with all updates. I saw the Ubuntu release in TechRepublic's how I had the flu at the weekend I decided to download and "test" and surprisingly I liked the screen of Ubuntu 11.10 and ease many difficulties for certain things, I'm not familiar with. Finally some good to spend hours in the configuration I have a fast machine with the system. Now following more closely the linux world will make a "test" with LISA Mint to see if I can change the bar to launch applications from place ... qu course and for this I have to change the operating system again. laughs. Overall I see a certain need for command line for certain things but I think the boys could work to make this as a last case. I'm anxious to test the Lisa.

troubledmind
troubledmind

Tried the beta a couple of days ago on my amd setup (nvidia video card) and it looked all very nice and was very fast (libreoffice cold starts in a blink of an eye) but.... couldn't get compiz working at all. Linux to me had always been about choice. The choices in Gnome are being eroded day by day... eventually we will have a desktop that's either on or off. I want my desktop to be unlike anyone else's. Changing the wallpaper is just not enough...

seanferd
seanferd

What the heck, I haven't played with Gnome for a while.

fLaKeYjAkE
fLaKeYjAkE

Looks like I am going to have to give it a try now.

ricegf
ricegf

I don't follow what you mean by "one screen" and "four screens". Do you have 3 external monitors attached? Or you have 4 workspaces but want 1 workspace? Or your display is somehow malformed or illegible? Just a terminology issue - can you rephrase using generic, descriptive words and lots of examples? Thanks!

nedvis
nedvis

No, Gisabun! You are wrong: Linux is not fractured. You can use only one Linux distro at time. You do not use 200 different Linux distribution nor anyone can do that unless being pure masochist . You stick with one , eventually two favorite distribution and that's it. I'd rather say WIndows is fractured, since I have to deal with Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 2003 and Windows 2008 systems every day and seven different MS Office versions that simply don't want to die. Microsoft has fractured ( and captured) more cyber space than any software maker(s). Linux as a platform is more homogenous than you may think! Different Linux distributions are just one more proof how vital open source movement is.

alidekker
alidekker

As described in the article Linux has some problems with the high end NVIDIA cards. Better to say NVIDIA has some problems with Linux. The NVIDIA drivers simply are not well maintained and are not open source. After I bought a high end Lenovo 520 with NVIDIA quadro 2000 I had to revert to Windows 7, waiting for NVIDIA to finally provide the right drivers or make things open source. I maintain quite some computers, all under Linux Mint. All users, from schoolgirls to their parents and teachers are happy to finally have computers that simply work, do everything they need and everything they want. I am sure that Mint 12 will be again be a leap forward to make it even better than the previous versions.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

I don't gno if I can resist the temptation! By the way, did ya know that Galadriel used to be a gnome? :D

tony
tony

Thanks. Only one screen on my laptop.Only one screen shown when doing the installation.After reboot following installation, the screen is split into 4 unequal screens/workplaces. The top left screen is operational but the cursor is unable to access the other screens or the bottom taskbar area of the active screen.I have had the 11.10 working very slowly on an old 400Mhz Pentium II with 256mb and a 32mb VGA. with a Monitor fine..but achingly slow of course :) Seems to be the Unity bit that is affecting the laptop.Need to get to a terminal "xterm" ? to disable Unity for now. Ideas please. Had Mint 12 loading in the same fashion

troubledmind
troubledmind

i haven't had problems with nvidia til they built this latest version of (ubuntu)linux mint on Mutter, which Compiz doesn't work with.... :-/

seanferd
seanferd

Who the heck is Galadriel?

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