Mint 9: Minty fresh Linux

Linux distributions come through my office in a constant flood. Most of them stick around long enough for a quick try-out on one of my test systems or on a VirtualBox virtual machine. A few find permanent homes. I currently use OpenSUSE on my servers, and Ubuntu, Fedora, and MEPIS on my desktops and laptops. Now, I have a new resident on my desktops: Mint 9.

I've been fond of Mint for years, but my affection for it never quite reached the point where I wanted to use it on a daily basis: Until now. It's not that Mint, an Ubuntu-based Linux desktop distribution, has made a great strides forward, it's that the distro has continued to get better and better with each release.

Mint 9 is based on Ubuntu 10.04, so if you're already a Linux user chances are you already know its foundation. On top of Ubuntu though Mint layers a much more attractive, to my eye, default GNOME 2.30 interface. The color scheme is green with a very clean and simple desktop. I find Mint's desktop to be both restful and inviting.

My Mint 9 Linux desktop

Considering how many people have looked over my shoulder at LinuxCon and OSCon and complemented me on it, I think Mint's designers are on to something.

My observers were watching me use it on my faithful old laptop companion a Lenovo ThinkPad R61 This 2008-vintage notebook is powered by a 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7500 and has 2GBs of RAM. I also tried it out on a Dell Inspiron 530S powered by a 2.2-GHz Intel Pentium E2200 dual-core processor with an 800-MHz front-side bus. This box has 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB SATA (Serial ATA) drive, and an Integrated Intel 3100 GMA (Graphics Media Accelerator) chip set.

Like any modern Linux, installing Mint is as simple as downloading and burning a Mint image to a CD or USB stick, booting up, and clicking a few buttons. Besides the default GNOME version, there are also editions that use the KDE and such obscure Linux desktops as Xfce, LXDE, and Fluxbox.

Regardless of your choice in desktop, you'll appreciate Mint's Apple App store-like Software Manager. In Linux, long before the iPhone was a glimmer in Steve Jobs' eye, there was always an app for whatever you wanted to do. The problem was finding and installing it.

With Mint's software manager, it's easy to find the program you need. Another handy feature is you can click your way down a program's description to screen-shots, fuller descriptions and, in the case of more popular programs, reviews and a score from other users. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn handy for users who don't know their way around the old Debian/Ubuntu apt-get utilities.

One thing you won't need to do though is search down programs to watch Adobe Flash videos, MP3 music files and the like. Mint, unlike the vast majority of Linux distributions, comes with all the most popular proprietary media codecs and programs ready to run. If that bothers you, well you have lots of other choices, like Fedora, Trisquel, and gNewSense that makes a point of avoiding any trace of proprietary software. As for me, I'm more pragmatic. I like a distribution that lets me work with the Web as it is now, rather than how I'd like it to be.

The new Mint comes ready-to-run with all the usual popular open-source programs such as OpenOffice, Firefox, and Pidgin for instant messaging. For some reason, Mint's elected to use Thunderbird for its default e-mail client. I wish I could like Thunderbird, but this is one program from the Mozilla/Firefox family that continues to have real problems. Fortunately, as I said earlier, Mint makes it easy to install other programs so I was up and running with Evolution for my e-mail and calendaring in a matter of minutes. No fuss, no muss.

Mint also has a variety of other small default programs of its own to make using it a pleasure. The most important of these is the new Backup Tool. This comes with an easy-to-user interface and features incremental backups, compression, and integrity checks. You can also tag your installed software, save this as a list, and then restore the selection on a different computer or on a new version of Linux Mint. This is a rather handy trick if, like me, you find yourself often moving from one PC to another and don't want to jump through the hoops required by imaging software.

The Mint Backup Tool is about as easy to you as you can get.

Finally, this version of Mint comes with three years of support. Now, I'm more than capable of supporting myself on Linux, but this will make Mint more interesting to new users or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) considering offering a desktop Linux already installed on their PCs.

As I said at the start, I'm very impressed by Mint. To me, it really does feel like a fresh start for desktop Linux. That's why I've decided to make it my new default Linux for my laptops. Give it a try. I think you'll agree. Mint 9 is one wonderful desktop Linux.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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