One of the best things about Linux is all the different flavors that you can get in – Mint is one of my favorites. Based on Canonical’s Ubuntu 7.10, Linux Mint 4.0 (download) takes Canonical’s prodigy and makes it even better. And if you thought Ubuntu providing everything out of the box was impressive, Linux Mint provides everything out of the net. In addition to that, Linux Mint developers improved the usability by changing the menus and desktop layout. On top of that they added a software portal that makes installing the your software faster and easier. All of this put together brings about the finest beginner distro available to date.
Installing Linux Mint is just as easy as installing Ubuntu thanks to the live CD format which allows you to even surf the internet while everything is installing. Although there is an extra step added in which seems pointless to me – the MintAssistant. The MintAssistant asks you if you would like to add a root account and if you would like to see some random jokes added to the output produced in terminal. I don’t see anyone looking for any permission issues through an added root account, nor do I see people looking for laughter in terminal. None the less, when first starting, the install wizard will guide you through the whole process in less than 25 minutes. When you get to the partitioning step, you might want to select the ReiserFS as your file system as it has shown to be faster than the default ext3 file system.
Just like in Ubuntu, Compiz Fusion is pre-installed to give you some eye candy, and just like in Ubuntu you will have to install the Compiz Fusion control panel (sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager) to take full control of it. Naturally, to take advantage of Compiz Fusion you will need a driver that provides 3D acceleration. Users like myself that have an Intel graphics card do not have to adjust one setting. Anyone using an ATI or an Nvidia video card will have Envy automatically install the appropriate driver for you. At the end of your install you will have one of the most aesthetic desktop environments in front of you partially in thanks to the Red Hat Liberation fonts that were added to this version. I actually didn’t even bother to change one theme setting as I found the default settings just right for my liking. Nor did I have to delete the top panel to gain extra screen real estate, as is the case with most other Gnome distro’s. To make things easier for Windows expats, there will be little learning involved as the desktop layout is almost identical to that of Windows with the addition of some beneficial Linux touches which will be described later on.
Before anything else, you will be notified by a flashing padlock notifying you to update Linux Mint. Once you click on it, you can then click on preferences to modify what packages you would like to install based on the security level of each specific package; this is a unique feature to Linux Mint. If you would like to configure your desktop at this point, MintDesktop allows you to modify settings that previously required additional tweaking software. With this application you can select what shortcuts you want on your desktop, turn on or off network browsing and modify other less commonly used features which I won’t mention right now. Now you know what to expect from Linux Mint as a whole, but in actuality most of the unique features are under the hood.
Almost every single necessary application and codec is pre-installed in Linux Mint. All of my Xvid movies played and I was able to watch Stage6 videos thanks to MPlayer; Quicktime, RealPlayer and Windows media codecs are also pre-installed. After I downloaded some rar files, I was surprised that I did not have to install unrar, as is the case with almost all the other distros. Mind you, extracting rar files on Linux is much slower than on Windows. To speed things up you can install the Windows version of WinRAR through Wine. Your browsing experience is complete and ready for any website that you might want to visit thanks to the pre-installed Java and Flash. Those of you with a large music collection will be pleased to know that Linux Mint comes pre-installed with all of the major audio codecs: everything from MP3 to OGG. As complete as this package is, there are still some caveats. For example, it’s not possible to view certain Windows media streams (MPlayer flaw) and the AAC codec is missing preventing you from listening to some radio streams.
The software packages for Linux Mint have been chosen wisely to say the least, but there are still some valuable omissions. Linux Mint does include one of the best music players for Linux – Amarok. It certainly is the most popular music player and better than the player that comes with Ubuntu – Rhythmbox, but I would have rather seen BMPx in Linux Mint, as it is more user friendly and feature rich. Yet the biggest omission in my opinion is the lack of any CD/DVD authoring software. Why they would leave this software out I don’t know, but if you are going to add CD/DVD authoring software, add K3B. Skype also would have been a welcome addition, as it is officially supported in Linux and I now find more people are using it versus any other instant messenger client. Also, a decent bit torrent client like Deluge would also would have been appreciated. Either than that, all of the standard packages like Open Office, Firefox, Pidgin and Gimp are all there.
When you do need to install some applications, it really couldn’t be any easier. Linux Mint offers you a software portal via your web browser where you can download and install software with a single click. The database is small (94 applications) at the moment, but it is growing and it offers the best interface that I have see that comes with any distro. What I really like about the software portal is that other users can write their own reviews about the software, so you don’t have to Google for hints of what the software can do for you and you won’t have to wonder about how it will act on your system. Of course you still have access to thousands of other packages via the Synaptic package manager, and GetDeb which is my favorite. No matter what install route you take, you will have access to thousands of free applications.
The user interface and menu structure provides users with a fresh look making Linux Mint probably the most intuitive to use out of all the distro’s that I have tried. When you press the Daryna button a menu pops up divided into three sections: Places, System and Applications; right of the bat you have access to everything with one click. Under system you will find one great feature – Control Center. Control Center lets you adjust all of you settings, the great thing here is that all of your settings are nicely categorized with no sub-menus to get lost in. Under Places you have easy access to your network and files; NTFS files included. The applications box has one unique feature that I constantly found myself using – Favorites. Instead of digging around through sub-menus to get to your favorite application, you can set the apps you want to have in the Favorites box which can be interchanged with the Applications box when needed.
If you are new to Linux, there really isn’t a better distro than Linux Mint around. If you are an experienced Linux user, you won’t be disappointed. The biggest plus is that everything is set-up for you ready to go after the install. The chances are that you won’t have to install one driver or adjust one setting to use it properly, and all of the apps and codecs that you need are pre-installed. When you do run into some problems, the Linux Mint support community is ready to help; it is surprisingly big for a relatively new distro such as this one. In addition to the Linux Mint support forums, you have access to the largest Linux support community – Ubuntu forums, all thanks to the fact that Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. As you see, Linux is evolving quicker than any other OS right now and Linux Mint 4.0 is proof of it.