Linux Mint

Linux Mint is a Linux distribution based on Ubuntu (which is based on Debian). I only learned of it recently when a faculty member here at the college brought it up. I went and downloaded a live cd of the latest version (5 beta 032) and gave it a go.

The interface, while seemingly not that different from a stock Ubuntu install, is miles ahead of any other distro I can think of in terms of quality interface. For starters their boot loader is not only styled nicely (not just simple text), but includes a nice help section explaining some of the more popular boot option to include. Ubuntu certainly has help sections to offer in their boot loader, but the way Linux Mint presents theirs just makes it feel miles ahead.

The login screen feels more polished too. It’s not really different from Ubuntu in terms of functionality (again, it’s really just their own skin applied to GDM, which Ubuntu uses), but it FEELS more polished.

The desktop has the system menu at the bottom of the screen much like Windows. The “start menu” is fairly similar to what you would find in Vista. Except, again, it just feels more polished. I think part of that is that they haven’t over-stylized this menu system. It’s something that has to be simple and functional. This is something Windows had until Microsoft went style crazy with XP. I also really like how the “start menu” navigation works. I like how, instead of a giant, screen-high list of programs, you get a short list that is scrollable with your mouse wheel. You can get something like this in Vista, sure, but the responsiveness is so much faster with Linux Mint.

It just feels better.

What you have in Linux Mint is the user-friendly package management system of Debian with the user-friendly interface of Ubuntu polished to a level that makes the system absolutely ready to be installed on the desktops of the general public.

Maybe it’s not all rosy minty, though.

It’s just the interface. That’s the only thing about Linux Mint that makes it stand out. All the underlying bits are still the same old Linux complete with all the hoops any Linux desktop user has to jump through.

For example my wireless card isn’t natively supported so I had to setup ndiswrapper. There’s an app in Linux Mint to handle this, but getting the drivers was a pain in the ass (it’s a NetGear, meaning you have to download the Windows install then copy the relevant files over to Linux).

Even once it was working it wouldn’t connect to my AP. I’m not sure if this is a driver or Linux Mint issue. It’ll connect to non-encrypted networks just fine, but WPA2 seems to create problems. (Not for my Ubuntu install, which connects just fine.)

The stock video driver had some corruption issues on my system. If I tried to drag a window more than a couple inches the screen started to become corrupt and would eventually freeze up entirely. I had to use EnvyNG from the terminal to get the nVidia drivers installed before I had a stable desktop.

And they’ve gone and mucked with their FireFox 3 package. Instead of the search box using Google directly it goes through their own kind of proxy to give you a Linux Mint kind of Google interface. I don’t like that at all and can’t find an easy way to remove that “feature” (other than using a different search engine entirely).

Still. This is a distribution worth taking a peek at. If you’ve got some hardware laying around that you can drop this on and try out I highly recommend giving it a go. Even if it’s just downloading the live CD and running off that for a couple hours. It’s worth the time.

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One thought on “Linux Mint

  1. Thanks for your review.

    I had a serious try with Linux about 3 years ago, before Ubuntu emerged.

    I struggled with Mandrake Linux for a year, before switching to a Mac.

    Problem solved :)

    Linux really need somebody sensible to take charge of it. It’s just a free-for-all-mess.

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