Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Review: Linx Mint 10 'Julia'

I've been trying and reviewing Linux Mint since version 5.  At the start, Mint was a close Ubuntu derivative with a Windows-like interface and the USP of including preinstalled codecs for restricted formats.  Mint then began to push it's usability changes to make it easier for Windows users to jump ship; the Mint Menu, safety levels in system updates, including popular third party applications by default; screenshots, ratings and reviews for applications in the software center. The combination of theme and user interface controls remains simple, clean and sharper than a lot of the standard gnome desktops... 


Working through releases roughly in line with, and only a little behind Ubuntu itself, Mint has arrived at version 10 (actually based on 10.10), code-named Julia. 

The Mint installer is derived from the new Ubuntu Maverick Meerkat installer. It has the same features, like installing the system in the background while you set your options like user-name and locale.  A notable difference in the DVD edition is the lack of an option to install codecs and flash, Mint already includes those codecs that are usually be optional installs from other mainstream distributions. Third party applications installed by default include Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for email, VLC for video, and OpenOffice for word processing.  Gimp image editor is included, but Pitivi video editor is not. F-Spot is favoured over Shotwell, Thunderbird over Evolution.  Much as I criticse Evolution it does have a calendar; Thunderbird doesn't unless you get the lightning add-on which Mint doesn't provide - odd. You get spolit for media players as Mint installs Gnome-Mplayer, Totem and VLC. Firestarter wirewall front-end is here, along with established Mint favourites Firewall GUI, Giver file-sharing, MintBackup, Mintnanny and Mintdesktop.

Mintbackup has improved a lot. In additon to the backing up files and folders, Mintbackup also includes the option to backup and restore your software selection. This is a step closer to what I call a real one-stop system backup (not just data).

The default icon set is Faenza, which has good clean lines and coloring.

The default panel is a deliberate Windows taskbar clone, a single bottom panel with Mint Menu accessed in the left corner, running application icons centere-left, system tray and clock in the right corner. 

Mint has some visual sore thumbs present in various settings windows; blue underline links  open up webpages in the browser for things like downloading other wallpapers, themes and icons in gnome.art. Some people dislike this, I don't have a problem since the browser is a ubiquitous tool and we know how it works.

Mint Menu. Perhaps the best laid-out Linux menu, even if it does ape Windows with a lot of options to customize the menu.

Getting used to the button to switch between Favorites and All Applications and you have a good solution to move between frequently used program and everything else. Mint Menu has been running a useful match-to-typing search function for some time, allowing you to quickly launch programs without going through the entire menu.

If you have no applications matching your term then it will search for packages to install. With this you can install a program directly from the menu. Other search results include Google search, Wikipedia, Dictionary and your computer.  MintMenu sports support for GTK bookmarks (you have to enable this feature manually) and GTK themes so you can tweak MintMenu’s appearance to your liking. Genuinely useful improvements like these make the MintMenu utility one of the best launchers available, leaving plain old Gnome Menu trailing in its wake.

Software Center: LinuxMint uses the popular Synaptic package manager but for everyday use offers a software center that lets the user install entire programs without worrying about dependencies or specific packages and package names. 
 
It will let a user install something like a KDE program with large dependencies without warning of the huge amount of dependent KDE libraries that will be installed with it.

The Software Center pioneered a layout including ratings, short reviews and screenshots, but to my mind Mint does this more clearly and better.

The “Featured” category is helpful and the breadcrumb navigation provides a smart and easy interface to browse through categories and applications.

Nautilus: The file manager is Nautilus, love it or loathe it. LinuxMint adds functionality and options to Nautilus that are not usually included by default, such as the context menu getting extra options; open as administrator, send to..., and sharing options. It also suports multiple tabs. You can customize background and appearance with a tool that uses a drag and drop operation.

That said, it's not a great interface; click anywhere inside the window will open a file or folder no matter where you click, even in the blank white spaces. there are uneditable System Links in the Places Panel and you always get a "Floppy Drive" link - I don't have one! None of the entries are changeable by right-click operation, or by editing bookmarks.

There is no toolbar configuration or "Undo" button to back-out renames and deletions - this is Nautilus, after all.

Verdict
Pros: Improved MintMenu launcher, beautiful new theme and icon set , stable, responsive, customisable; still good for new users and Windows-migrants
Cons: conservative selection of default software, few new features since v.9

Some reviewers judge distro's on 'completeness' or “do I need to add a ton of packages, post-install to be able to perform my dayjob?” Since Flash, Java and codecs are included by default alongside Open Office suite and browser, the answer is no. Install it and be productive, it's as ready as many Linux distros and more than most – with the exception of no calendar app – this is a bad miss. RC

Mint project at: http://www.linuxmint.com/

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