I never miss a new release of Linux Mint even if my primary distro is openSUSE, and I am not a distro hopper. I invest significant time in a distro and DE before ditching or choosing it. The reason I am interested in Linux Mint is that its one of the most exciting GNU/Linux projects along side Ubuntu which is targeting average PC users. These two distros really take the 'desktop' Linux seriously.
However, they both have different approach towards it. Linux Mint has become a distribution which is keeping people in center and building UI and technologies around them, whereas Ubuntu is putting technology or UI in the center and people outside it. None of the two approaches are right or wrong, chose what you like. Unlike Windows 8 or Mac at least here you have choices.
I did face some problem in creating the Live USB of Linux Mint in Ubuntu 12.10 as Ubuntu's Startup Disk Creator has a bug. I did try dd under openSUSE but the resulting USB was not bootable so I resorted to burning a DVD which I was able to use only on my main PC which has a DVD drive.
When Linux Mint rebooted after successful and hassle-free installation I was surprised. The Linux Mint that I tested last time, which was buggy, slow and unresponsive was gone. It was replaced by an amazingly fast, responsive and very well polished Linux Mint.
Looking at the tiny team that Linux Mint has compared to some other popular distros this achievement is commendable.
Under Linux Mint 14 everything works as you would expect from a consumer grade operating system. Despite patents and licencing issues it comes with all the needed codecs and applications. So unlike Ubuntu you don't have to prepare your OS for work. It just works.
Inevitable comparison with Ubuntu
I was surprised by the performance of Linux Mint more because I was using Ubuntu 12.10 on a machine for a book, so I was able to compare the two distributions from a user's point of view.
Before I dive into the pool of comparison, I must state this 'competition' is only at low level - among some users. The leaders of both distributions have great respect and admiration for each other's work. Clement Lefebvre is full of appreciation for Ubuntu and its developers, whereas Mark Shuttleworth has also expressed praise for Linux Mint. A comparison between these two projects is inevitable as they share the same root. Since I was using Ubuntu on a PC so it was obvious for me to notice the differences.
Linux Mint Puts People In Center
Linux Mint rose in popularity after Ubuntu switched to Unity those users who were not comfortable with Unity and wanted Gnome experience started looking elsewhere. Linux Mint stepped in and created its place somewhere between Gnome 3 and Ubuntu by borrowing best of the breed technologies from both projects and transforming it into something that a majority of users were looking for.
Whenever needed, to satisfy the users, Linux Mint forked or patched a project if the upstream refused to listen to what users needed (that's different from what users wanted).
They created Cinnamon to customize Gnome 3 Shell; they adopted MATE to continue the legacy of Gnome 2; they forked Nautilus, which has become very less useful in its current form, to create Nemo.
From what with all these forks, the goal of the Linux Mint team was to give users what they wanted. And they have done a great job at that. On the other hand Canonical has a totally different approach and they users to adopt and change.
One of the most notable differences between Ubuntu 12.10 and Linux Mint was speed. I won't say Ubuntu 12.10 was crawling on my system. If you use it for 30 minutes you will get use to its responsiveness. But the moment you switch to Linux Mint you will know what responsiveness means.
I should not blame Ubuntu 12.10 as everything between LTS releases is more or less work in progress (beta) for the next release. But, since Linux Mint 14 is based on Ubuntu 12.10 I was surprised by its performance and stability. I think it's Unity which is slowing Ubuntu down.
I can help but appreciate the Mint team the way they have progressed with the development of Cinnamon, Mate, Menu, Nemo and other such technologies in such a short time. At the same time it's less buggy, more useful and more polished than its competitors.
Now, let's talk about some unique components of Linux Mint.
Linux Mint team developed their own menu which retains the goodies of the traditional desktop. Windows 7 users will feel at home with Linux Mint menu. It has a favorite bar where you can add frequently used applications. You can pin apps to the bar by simply dragging and dropping there, you can move them around and drag out of the bar to remove from it. There is a search box which allows you to search and open any application. However, I did miss the ability to search files and folders from my system something that KDE, Gnome Shell and Unity's Dash offer. KDE takes it to the next level as it allows a user to select the folders that she wants to scan and index. It is further complemented by Krunner that allows you to search files without opening or closing any app - just by hitting Alt+F2 key.
Nemo replaces the stock Files (earlier Nautilus) file manager. Nemo is a fork of Files which brings back sanity to this once simple yet useful file manager (KDE's Dolphin has become my favorite file manager which is simple in the showroom, but extremely powerful and customizable in the workshop). Nemo has the familiar top bar which allows you to navigate easily where as under Ubuntu 12.10 everything that could be useful was gone.
I don't like everything in Nemo.
One of the biggest gripes I have with Files is its inability to show thumbnails for videos and RAW files from my Nikon camera. I shoot a lot and Files/Nemo is a pain in the neck because you can't see the thumbnails of your shots. It's impossible for a photographer to work using Nemo/Files. Don't expect me to import those 2000 images in some application or click on individual files to find the right image. It's like all the books in your library have been wrapped in while paper and you don't know what is where.
Same is the case with video files, unlike Dolphin Nemo/Files doesn't show the thumbnails for media files. You have to download some packages to enable thumbnails for media. Thumbnails must be enabled by default, if you are targeting average users.
Another restriction that bugs me is the inability to show thumbnails of files larger than 4GB. In the era of HD 4GB is like Floppy disk. I found it easy to install Dolphin than to struggle with Nemo/Files. I hope Linux Mint team will keep these things in mind and further polish Nemo to include such functionality.
No wonder I love Dolphin.
I love bottom panel. It helps in the work flow as you can see each and every file that's open there. It's a desktop and not some tiny smatphone where you want to hide everything or save 22 pixels. I have a 32-inch monitor for a reason. In addition to housing the running apps, the Linux Mint panel works as your dock where you can pin frequently used apps, get notifications and access system setting - all of this from one place.
The panel of Linux Mint integrates a 'functional' and actually useful notification bar, just like KDE. In Ubuntu those pop-up notifications are distracting as there is nothing you can do with them - you can't hide them (they will take their own time) or take any action.
Under Linux Mint you can not only see all the notifications, but also click on them to perform an action. For example if you get a message about new mail, clicking on it will open Thunderbird.
So kudos to the Linux Mint team.
Linux Mint Restores Panel Sanity
Another edge Linux Mint has over Ubuntu Unity is that almost every element is customizable; even the bottom panel. You can increase or decrease the width of the bottom panel according to your screen – you can change the size of the icons on this panel. If that's not enough you can also set the panel for auto hide.
You can access settings for Appearance, Themes, Applets, Panel, Menu and All Settings right from the panel. Basically they are using quite a lot of useful Gnome Extensions to make the overall user experience more pleasant.
Linux Mint is an excellent example of what potential Gnome holds – if implemented well.
Muktware writer Kamil Nadeem's Take On Linux Mint
The sound applet in Linux Mint 14 Cinnamon is also quite comprehensive. When you play an audio file, the sound applet icon changes to a Melody icon.
The snapshot next to it is something that happens with playing audio on Banshee(doesn't happens with Audacious), a Banshee icon jumps next to the sound applet, display how much file has played just by hovering the cursor above it and changes tracks with scrolling the middle click on mouse, if you right click on the Banshee icon, it shows the standard Play-Pause, repeat, shuffle etc dialog. It seems a bug though as the sound applet is apt for the audio player functions.
Customisation is really one of the fun aspects of Linux Mint 14 Cinnamon, one of the reason is that they provide you with a good array of Themes, Applets, and in this case MDM themes. Yes 30 MDM themes are pre-installed and one can easily change it from the "Login Window". More MDM themes can be installed from the gnome-look's GDM section.
The File Manager or Linux Mint 14, Nemo 1.1.2 certainly looks nice, also it has this nice feature that allows you to copy/move the files from a folder to any particular folder on your system and not just Home/Desktop like the standard Nautilus 3.4 (haven't used 3.6). The extra pane(F3) also makes sense, don't remember if it is in Nautilus or not, I have always used the tabs feature.
Also the Elementary Luna Mod theme for Cinnamon is beautiful (among the great selection of themes provided by default).
What I Don't Like
I don't like the default icon theme. Projects and applications are identified with their icons and Logos – Thunderbird, Firefox, Chrome or GIMP. The default icon set makes it hard to identify an app. Linux Mint is a mature and quite serious distro and I think they should consider better icon set – Android is great example of what app icons should look like – retaining the unique look and feel of each app.
It needs a bit of polishing. When you open the Software Center the password window doesn't look elegant it also makes the bottom panel invisible.
Another bug that I noticed was when you snap a window to left or right and then click the 'maximize' button it will maximize. Now if you click again on the maximize button nothing happens – it doesn't resize the window. However, if you don't snap a window then it works as expected.
It's far better and smoother than Ubuntu 12.10 where you can't snap many apps such as Gedit and it's hit and miss most of the time.
I really like the way Linux Mint comes pre-installed with all major applications and codec (if you download the codec version). You don't have to worry about anything. It just works, but it comes with 3 media players. If Mint can ship VLC I don't think there is any need for Mplayer and Totem.
Linux Mint does one thing and it does it well – it works out of the box. It's more responsive than Ubuntu Unity and you would really want to use it.
I test every new version of Linux Mint but go back to my trusted openSUSE. This time I have been sticking around for a bit longer than expected. This is the first release of Linux Mint which may tempt me to keep it as my primary distro.