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Linux Mint 10: A Perfect 10?

Linux Mint is back and better than ever with the Linux Mint 10 release. Though it's not a massive update on Linux Mint 9, this comes with enough polish and new features that it's well worth the upgrade.

Now that Linux Mint 10 is out, it’s time to upgrade and see what the Minties had to offer. Turns out, Linux Mint 10 is one damn fine distribution. While I can’t say it’s perfect, it’s earned its place at the table of major Linux distros.

This is strictly a matter of taste, but I think that Linux Mint 10 may be the prettiest Linux I’ve seen. Now, I know that isn’t a great reason to pick a distribution — but out of the box, it helps. Especially for those of us who want to convince Windows XP refugees to switch to Linux instead of Windows 7 or Mac OS X. If you’re going to be staring at a system for a few hours — or all day, you want it to look good. Good is relative, and what looks spiffy to an expert user who spends much time at the command line is probably going to be slightly different than what looks good to novice Linux users. Suffice it to say, they’ve done good.

What Mint 10 offers

Let’s get into the new features. The first thing you’ll see if you do a fresh install is the Welcome dialog. Well, the first thing you see after installing from the CD and finishing the installation, and logging in. Largely the same thing it’s always been, but it adds an “Upgrade to the DVD edition” button which means you can download the CD to get started, and then grab all the packages you’d have on the DVD at a later time. This includes things like Java, which are limited by space constraints. If you install the OEM or US editions of Linux Mint, you should also have a “Add Multimedia Codecs” button too.

The Mint Menu has received quite a few improvements. The search feature now finds not only installed applications, but installable applications, plus a Web and dictionary search. It also gives the option to search files on the computer, so the Mint Menu is now a one-stop shop for searching packages, the Web, and your computer.

The Menu preferences have also been improved. One minor quibble: It’d be nice if the Menu preferences were listed as an application or item under settings. It’s non-obvious that you can right click on the menu button — but not on the open menu — to access the Mint Menu preferences. The Menu supports GTK themes now, so you can theme the menu differently than the rest of the desktop. Not a feature I’ve been clamoring for, but I’m sure it appeals to some users. What I do like is that you can change the icon sizes, so if you have a ton of favorites in the menu, you can make more room. Or scale everything up if you’re configuring a system for someone (like my mom…) who only has a few apps and some trouble seeing the screen. You can also change the number of columns, so it will display more apps as well.

For systems that aren’t using Desktop Effects, there’s one touch that I really love: The Desktop Settings applet provided by Mint that allows you to disable showing window content when dragging windows. The default GNOME configuration buries this, so it’s nice to have a simple way for users to set it without having to mess with the Gconf editor.

Another nifty feature? The update manager now lets you right-click on a package and tell it to ignore updates to that package. If you don’t want to upgrade, say, the Linux kernel for a good reason you don’t have to learn how to “pin” packages.

I am slightly disappointed to see that Linux Mint is shipping OpenOffice.org rather than LibreOffice, but I suppose since the project is not packaging OpenOffice.org itself, that’s not surprising. Not sure if it’s intentional or not, but I’ve noticed that there’s no Oracle splash screen with OpenOffice.org in LM10, though. Launch Writer, and it just starts with no splash screen.

Speaking of OpenOffice.org, Linux Mint 10 has the usual barrage of package updates. So if you move to LM10 you’ll have more or less the most current set of productivity apps and whatnot.

The Upload Manager is new to LM10 as well. It’s a nice touch, and something that emphasizes a deficiency in Linux Mint. The Upload Manager lets you configure a drag-and-drop tab to upload files to a server. Handy if you happen to do Web management or something else that requires putting a lot of files from your system to another server. But it’s anything but intuitive when you configure a server how to actually upload files. It places a little icon in the App Tray and if you right-click on that, you can enable a nearly transparent tab that lets you drag and drop files to put on the server or servers you’ve configured. What would be really helpful is if the Linux Mint applications had some inline help. But most of the Mint-written apps merely have an About dialog under the Help menu. They might be available in the user guide (which isn’t available yet, since LM10 is a RC right now) but users shouldn’t have to dig through the user guide just to find help on an application they’re currently using.

Aside from that minor annoyance, I think Linux Mint 10 should get nearly 10 out of 10 stars (or whatever rating system you might use). It’s definitely at the head of the pack for desktop Linux. It’s easy to use, but it also has some refinements that are perfect for people who’ve been using Linux for some time.

Mint 11?

With the news that Ubuntu is going to be defaulting to the Unity interface on Ubuntu 11.04, what happens with Linux Mint? I pinged Mint lead developer Clement Lefebvre to see what they were planning to do. Clement said that it’s really not decided yet, but that he’s not too excited by Unity or GNOME Shell as default desktops.

So Linux Mint may continue using the traditional GNOME desktop with 11. I’m curious how that decision will sit with Mint users today, whether they’ve been hoping for a Mintized GNOME Shell or are excited by Unity. My experiences with Unity so far — as a desktop interface — have been less than satisfying. I’m very happy with Mint’s GNOME implementation, and their decision to stick with a traditional GNOME interface would make Mint a great refuge for Ubuntu users who don’t care for the newfangled Unity interface. Yes, Ubuntu will probably ship with a vanilla(ish) GNOME and GNOME Shell, but it’s not going to have the same level of polish it has now.

Stay tuned, for GNOME fans this is going to be a very interesting six months as the various projects decide which flavors of GNOME they want to support. Though GNOME Shell is the “official” shell for GNOME 3.0, it’s looking more and more as if it’s going to be just one of many GNOME UIs in use through 2011.

Worth the upgrade?

Recently I said that Ubuntu 10.10 is really not a compelling upgrade. Linux Mint 10, though it’s based off of 10.10, is (in my opinion) worth the trouble. Like 10.10, Linux Mint 10 is not a revolutionary update, but the changes here are not focused on the Canonical services.

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