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Mint is fun, client-focused Linux distro

Lack of Unity interface sets Mint apart from Ubuntu

By Tom Henderson, Network World
January 06, 2012 04:31 PM ET

Network World - When Ubuntu decided last year to abruptly replace the familiar Gnome UI with its own Unity interface, many users were upset. And according to the latest numbers from DistroWatch, Linux Mint has been the major beneficiary, so we decided to test Linux Mint 12.

See what 5 things we love and hate about Linux Mint

But first, a bit of Linux OS genealogy. Ubuntu is based on Debian. Mint is based on Ubuntu. Debian has a solid reputation as an open, stable and easy to maneuver, yet conservative and occasionally stodgy, version of Linux. LinuxMint would be its crazy, fun, chameleon progeny.

The fun part of Mint is the fact that it has great appeal for client device support, especially for multimedia apps and components. It's constantly updated, which is seen by some as a fulfilled vision of Linux as an online-community supported OS. That same seemingly constant updating is also the potential source for destabilizing, we feel. This is a distro for buffs, experimenters and hackers — much like openSUSE.

What You Get

Linux Mint 12 is Ubuntu with a choice of several user interfaces. Not one of the UIs, importantly, is Ubuntu's Unity UI, a fact that pleases many Linux "traditionalists.'' There are a truckload of extras, and it's based on the Linux 3.0+ kernel. We also found that we could use Ubuntu One resources, if we'd prefer.

Linux Mint comes in several flavors, favoring Gnome. To us, Gnome is getting long in the tooth, but is also stable, and a stalwart of eventual adaptability for differing hardware platforms.

More interesting, and capitalizing on Mint's reputation as a Gnome-favored distribution is the inclusion of MATE. MATE is a fork of the Gnome 2 UI that's compatible with Mint's included Gnome 3.2. Mint acknowledges that MATE isn't complete, and it isn't stable. The horde of Gnome fans will cheer, but civilians, we feel, will not only be confused, but will blow it up with spectacular results.

We were able to get MATE to blow up to a kernel trap, the equivalent of a Windows Blue Screen or Mac OS Panic simply by opening multiple concurrent video instances. It took several minutes for the file system to recover upon reboot.

To the ends of additional UI flexibility, Mint comes in Gnome, KDE, Xfce, LXDE, and Fluxbox desktop versions. This is perhaps one of the keys to flexibility in Mint, as you can migrate to it from about any angle of Linux desktop experience.

Linux Mint tries to keep up with all of the desktops and their changes. If you have a fleet of Linux Mint installed, there are almost daily updates. There are many packages, and if they're all installed, there's plenty of updating to do.

The roster of software is a long list, each with dependencies, and the Mint distributions go a long way towards ensuring dependencies are matched correctly, a partial discipline imposed by the Debian underpinnings.

There's a Software Manager. Mint uses the "apt-get" method of obtaining applications, but we found we could use Ubuntu resources with a tiny amount of work, too.

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