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Linux Mint does it for the diehard geek

Sunday June 9 2013



My confession is simple: Linux has been a part of my life for over 10 years. Granted, Linux never was a cup of tea for everyone but the curious. Once you got it to work right, it was the closest thing you got to perfection.

If you can get past the fairly steep learning curve and step into the “light” side of computing, then Linux Mint 15, “Olivia”, is probably where you should start.

We will not explore the history of Linux Mint since that is a well-trodden path, but the one thing that has become true is that Debian-based distributions like Ubuntu and Mint have won the day, taking out earlier contenders like Fedora and openSUSE heavyweights earlier on.

The first thing about Mint is that you must choose between using either Cinnamon or MATE — different desktops offering different approaches but doing the same task. So it is really a matter of taste. Nonetheless, the desktop of choice seems to be Cinnamon.

Olivia is the first of two annual releases for 2013. It offers a much fresher approach than Nadia, last November’s release. Cinnamon has received a lot more sprucing up than MATE, and it seems to be the choice for many users.

The first thing you experience on Cinnamon 1.8, the new version, is that there have been a lot of bug fixes, some that were long overdue. Then controlling it through GNOME is a thing of the past. GNOME was the predecessor to both Cinnamon and MATE.

A very nice addition is that the login screen is now customisable through HTML5. This has put it way ahead of all the other operating systems. You might wonder why this is significant. It comes down to this: Who wants to login through what appears to be a dull and boring replicated login screen? You can build your own now and make it as cool as you choose, including full animation.

The desktop now gets “Desklets”, which are really widgets that make certain bits of information available to you in a much easier manner. These include a system monitor for keeping an eye on the computer’s performance, a frame that supports pictures, slideshows, and videos, and even a terminal widget that gives you access to the command line. If you are a command line aficionado, this will seem a tad like heaven.

There is also a calendar, an RSS reader, which will come in handy after the July 1 banishment that awaits us all. There is also an email notifier.

Secondly, Nemo, the file manager, is spruced up, though I am not quite convinced that this is a good thing. There is such a thing as ruining a product. In this case, what used to be a good file manager has lost the plot. It has become less controllable. This ruins flexibility and appeal, but this is Linux. You have a choice, and in this case, you can still instal the older Nautilus File Manager, from which Nemo has been created.

About software management, there is a treat for those who waited patiently. MintSources for managing software, and MintDrivers for managing drivers, are overdue. This may be the first hint that the long relationship between Linux Mint and Ubuntu may be coming to an end.

Linux Mint has for long relied on Ubuntu, but the end does not seem to be far. Now, many Ubuntu enthusiasts will claim that Ubuntu is still the greatest. Well, it remains well endowed, but if you have used either of the two, you will find yourself leaning towards Linux Mint. With Olivia out, it is proof that there can be true independence after all. But that is presumptuous, seeing that both are born from Debian.

So, why Linux Mint? According to its developers, this is their most ambitious release so far. It seems to be true, save for the fact that you will happen upon a bug or two, or even find something that will not really work out for you. However, it is a huge and significant upgrade from Nadia.

You probably want to avoid the widgets or desklets as they just clutter the screen. If you do not mind them, though, you are in for a real treat. Installing it has not really changed that much, but more of that needs to be done because if you are careless and have multiple partitions on your hard drive, you can accidentally delete them and lose all your work.

For the new guys switching to Linux or willing to learn more, it does not get easier than Mint. This version makes a worthwhile experience. For those who are yet to upgrade, the question really is: What are you waiting for?