Linux Mint: Taking Ubuntu to the Next Level
Linux Mint has sprouted from Ubuntu with the intention to provide an excellent desktop operating system including everything necessary (or at least readily available) by default. This includes not only multimedia codecs but Flash Player and Java as well. The following quote sums up Linux Mint’s philosophy on proprietary software:
“We believe in freedom… We also prefer to use open source software rather than their proprietary equivalents. However, we don’t believe in banning or boycotting proprietary software. If a proprietary component has no suitable open source alternative and is needed to produce an elegant desktop we do include it. For this reason, we include things like the Flash plugin for instance.”
With that in mind, Linux Mint also makes it clear that it has completely separate goals than those of the Ubuntu project. You can read more about their philosophy and goals on their About Page.
It is always nice when a distribution has several downloading methods. Linux Mint includes the standard HTTP/FTP, as well as a torrent. There is even an option to download a prebuilt VMWare machine.
As of the time of this writing, the latest release is Linux Mint 2.2 “Bianca” which is available on an Ubuntu-like live CD/installer. The ISO is roughly 685MB and fits nicely on a blank CD-R.
The last time I tried using Linux Mint was at release 2.0. At that time, the live CD still included graphics and logos from Ubuntu. I am pleased to say that “Bianca” includes a nice set of custom graphics and color schemes. Everything from the splash to the login screen looks quite “minty.”
One of the advantages of using Ubuntu as a foundation is the great hardware support that comes with it. I had no significant issues with hardware. The only thing I can even mention is the fact that it did not pick up my resolution at 1440×900. Instead, it used 1280×1024. However, this is easily fixable by editing xorg.conf once the system is installed. It is also worth mentioning that I received a Gnome error when the desktop loaded. This happened on both machines, but it did not impact performance or the success of the installation.
Installing Linux Mint is a breeze. It uses a similar installer to Ubuntu, but I found that it was much faster. I installed it twice and both times it beat Ubuntu by 5-10 minutes.
Out of the Box
Linux Mint boots into a very slick Gnome desktop. It becomes clear very quickly that this is not just Ubuntu with codecs. The menu bar is located at the bottom of the screen, and there are desktop icons by default. The main menu is a fantastic innovation and perhaps my favorite thing about Linux Mint. There is one button which opens an SLAB-like menu. It is broken up into the three main categories – Applications, Places, and System. Each category is set up logically with the most common applications listed on the very first menu. I have never been a fan of the menus in any operating system in which you much go through several layers to find what you need. Everything is laid out where it should be. Another great feature is the ability to search for applications.
Another nice touch is adding specific folders in your Home Folder. These include Pictures, Videos, Music, Documents, etc. Aside from the visual aspects and other nice features is the obvious improvement of multimedia codecs and plugins. There is not much left out – at least none that I could find. Flash Player, Java, and MP3 playback all worked out of the box. This is excellent, and it makes it feel like a complete system.
The final improvement is a pack of custom-written applications all starting with “mint-.” These include mintConfig, mintDesktop, mintMenu, mintDisk, and mintWifi. These are great applications that do small tasks to make life easier. For example, mounting Windows partitions, enabling desktop, icons, and connecting to a wireless network. The one worth mentioning in detail in mintConfig. This is an excellent control panel application for Gnome. Similar to the mintMenu in the sense that everything is logically placed and easy to find.
Linux Mint includes quite a bundle of software and codecs by default. As per Ubuntu, there is Open Office, Firefox, Gaim, and Amarok. Also available is Automatix or EasyUbuntu as well as any application in the Ubuntu repositories. Envy is also included which easily installs the latest ATI or NVidia graphics drivers.
Linux Mint is on par with Ubuntu as far as speed and loading times. It is a bit slower to load because it includes extras like Tomboy and Beagle. To be fair, the site does recommend 512MB of ram.
At first glance, it is hard to say that Linux Mint is anything but Ubuntu with codecs. However, when you look closer, you will see that the goals and styles are completely different. The Linux community needs diversity; it also needs Ubuntu as well as Linux Mint.
No respectable review is complete without a few complaints and suggestions. Fortunately, I have found no show stoppers, and many are just a matter of opinion.
My biggest suggestion would be an alternate install disc. This would have helped greatly in solving the crashing laptop problem. 256MB of ram should be sufficient to run Linux Mint. However, it is not enough to run the installation successfully.
The other issues are minor. First of all, Envy did not work for me, and I have seen some issues with it on the forums as well. I used Automatix to install my drivers, and all was well.
I would suggest that The Gimp was installed out of the box. It seems that would be a good addition to a ‘complete desktop.’
Overall Linux Mint is a fine distribution, and I can proudly say I will be using it as my desktop OS. It is good to see that the team has different goals than Ubuntu and I forsee a greater amount of unique additions to Linux Mint in the future.