Linux Mint 15 review
A very usable Linux distribution, offering a traditional desktop and all the add-ons you need to hit the ground running
Linux Mint is a comprehensive and beginner-friendly Linux distribution. To that extent it’s a rival to Ubuntu – and in fact it’s derived from the Ubuntu codebase, which means all the same software and drivers can be used. Releases run to a similar six-monthly schedule, with periodic long-term support releases following Ubuntu’s. This newest release is Linux Mint 15, known to its friends as Olivia.
In typical Linux style, there are two window managers to choose from, dubbed Cinnamon and MATE. Both look superficially similar to Windows, offering a taskbar along the bottom of the screen and a launcher button (blandly labelled “Menu”) at the bottom-left. In use, though, you’ll quickly notice that Cinnamon’s menus and preferences work in a more Windows-like way, while MATE – which builds on the discontinued GNOME 2 desktop – draws more on established Linux conventions.
Getting started with Mint is simplicity itself. The installer is much the same as Ubuntu’s, guiding you through the installation process, helping you partition your hard disk and automatically detecting and installing drivers for your hardware. When the operating system starts up for the first time, you’ll be presented with a friendly welcome window, linking you to release notes, community resources and more. The default theme is perhaps a little cold, but you can change that easily enough.
As you start to use the OS, you’ll find that additional software such as supplementary media codecs and the Java engine – optional components in Ubuntu – have been installed by default. Naturally, you get a familiar suite of free applications too, including Libre Office, Firefox, the Banshee music player, the Pidgin IM client and the GIMP image editor.
Installing further software is handled via the simple, cleanly designed Software Manager, which works similarly to the systems you’ll find in other distributions. Available software is divided up into twelve categories, including Featured applications and a view showing all 60,000+ available packages. Within each category, packages appear with descriptions and star ratings; for faster access you can use the search field at the top-right of the window.
When it comes to actually getting work done, Mint is a breeze to get around. No one who’s used Windows Explorer will have difficulty finding their way around in the Nemo file manager. Cinnamon offers configurable hot-corners, which give you an Exposé-style overview of open windows, or of virtual (new users are set up with two desktops, though you can add as many as you like). MATE lets you plonk a tiny overview of your virtual workspaces directly on the taskbar (the “panel”, as it’s called in Mint-speak).
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