Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

Summary: The Linux Mint distribution is giving users three different flavors of GNOME to choose from for their desktop use.


Mint 12 with GNOME 3.2 & MGSE looks and works a lot like a Mint with GNOME 2.32.

Mint 12 with GNOME 3.2 & MGSE looks and works a lot like a Mint with GNOME 2.32.

The popular Linux distribution, Mint, will be giving its users three different distinct flavors of the GNOME for their desktop in its next release, Linux Mint 12, Lisa.

Like any Linux you can, of course, switch it to your own choice of desktop. Many, indeed, offer users a choice of desktops. Mint, for example, while primarily a GNOME-based distribution, also offers its users a version that uses the LXDE desktop for its interface.

By and large, though, Mint is best known GNOME-based desktop Linux. In particular, its most recent claim to fame that while Ubuntu has moved on to its controversial Unity interface, Mint stuck with the older and well-liked GNOME 2.32 interface... until now.

Clement Lefebvre, Linux Mint founder and project leader, explained in a blog posting that while "in Linux Mint 11 we made the decision to keep Gnome 2.32. The traditional Gnome desktop, although it's not actively developed by the Gnome development team anymore, is still by far the most popular desktop within the Linux community. As other distributions adopted new desktops such as Unity and Gnome 3, many users felt alienated and consequently migrated to Linux Mint. We recorded a 40% increase in a single month and we're now quickly catching up with Ubuntu for the number #1 spot within the Linux desktop market."

But, "as much as we'd like to keep Gnome 2.32 a little while longer we need to look forward and embrace new technologies. This doesn't mean we need to change the way people use their desktops, not at all, it means we need to try and do our best for people to feel at home again, but on top of a brand new base, a new layer of technology, one that is actively supported upstream and that can be maintained properly going forward."

All well and good but many people, including myself, really dislike GNOME 3.x, so Lefebvre and his crew elected to not just force users to switch to GNOME 3.2 but to develop "'MGSE'" (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions), which is a desktop layer on top of Gnome 3.2, that that makes it possible for users "to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way. You can disable all components within MGSE to get a pure Gnome 3 experience, or you can enable all of them to get a Gnome 3 desktop that is similar to what you've been using before. Of course you can also pick and only enable the components you like to design your own desktop."

The Three Faces of Linux Mint Gallery

In addition, for those who really can't stand GNOME 3.2 even with a MSGE wrapping, the Mint team elected to support MATE. This is a GNOME 2.32 fork. But, while you "could have both MATE and Gnome 3 installed on your computer and be able to switch between desktops from the login screen. In practice, MATE is a brand new project and it does conflict with Gnome 3 in many areas. We're currently working hard in collaboration with the MATE developers to identify and fix these conflicts so that we can have both Gnome 3 and MATE installed by default on the DVD edition of Linux Mint 12."

Today, November 21st, Mint 12 is close to shipping. The Mint 12 release candidate, Lisa, is now available.

Users, however, still aren't sure they want GNOME 3.2 with MSGE or MATE for that matter. In a more recent blog note, Lefebvre wrote, "As expected, the introduction of Gnome 3 is dividing the Mint community. We were delighted to see that MGSE was well received and that it helped people migrating to Gnome 3. MGSE received a lot of noticeable improvements since and the final release of Linux Mint 12 will come with a Gnome 3 experience that is significantly better than in the RC release."

Still, "I personally understand the fact that some Gnome 2 users are extremely concerned. Whether it's Gnome 3 or MATE, these technologies are recent and they're not as mature as Gnome 2. It's important to understand that they represent our future though, and that sticking to Gnome 2 would make the situation in terms of packages and runtime conflicts with both Gnome 3 and Ubuntu completely unmanageable. In other words, if we were to stick to Gnome 2.32, Linux Mint would no longer be compatible with Ubuntu and you would not be able to run Gnome 3 in Linux Mint. We were one of the last distributions to support Gnome 2, we're amongst the very few to support MATE and we're innovating on Gnome 3 to ease this transition and make people feel at home on this new desktop. With Linux Mint 12 we're giving Mint users the option to try MATE and to migrate to Gnome 3/MGSE. Though it might be considered a step backwards, these two desktops will improve rapidly and this is a process which needs to be done at some stage. Previous releases of Linux Mint are still available to users who prefer Gnome 2 of course, and by the time they become obsolete, both MATE and Gnome 3/MGSE will have matured, MATE into an ever-closer incarnation of Gnome 2, and Gnome3/MGSE into a brand new implementation of the vision we have for the Linux Mint desktop."

So, how do both actually work? I've been using Mint with GNOME3/MGSE and also with MATE for several days now.

I've found that GNOME 3 with MGSE actually works quite well. While it's not quite as smooth as Mint with GNOME 2.32 was, I had no trouble doing my daily work with it. I had no trouble using my usual assortment of programs-the Firefox and Chrome Web browsers; LibreOffice, for my office suite; Evolution for e-mail and scheduling, Pidgin for e-mail; Banshee for music; and Bluefish for HTML editing. For the most part, I didn't have to interact with the GNOME 3.2 shell and that was just fine by me.

I wish I could say the same for MATE, but I can't. While, on the surface, MATE looks even more like GNOME 2.32 than MGSE does, once I started using GNOME applications on it I kept running into one problem after another. None of them were show-stoppers. I could usually find a way out of them. But, taken as a whole, it's clear that MATE is still early beta software.

So, while I'll do a full review of Mint 12 later, I can tell you today that most dyed-in-the-wool GNOME 2.32 users will be happy with Mint and MGSE. MATE, that's another story. In the end it may be what GNOME 2.x fans really want to use, but it's not there yet. At this time, I can only recommend it for people interested in developing it and helping to debug it.

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Topics: Linux, Hardware, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

    I moved to Mint from Ubuntu a couple of months back, and I really like Mint 11. I can't see a reason to move forward (from 11) at least until the dust settles and the choices (MGSE, MATE) become clearer (and less buggy).

    I still use Unity on my netbook, but for a normal screen, it just drives me nuts.
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

      @dimonic That's why I hope Ubuntu also does something on the lines of Mint.
      I wish we can have the best of both worlds of Unity & Classic, where one can choose any one of them or both.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

        I'm not sure if anyone has posted this but in Ubuntu 11.10 the Gnome shell is right in the software center, and can be installed with a single click, no scripts to run, nothing. Just open the software center, search for Gnome and click the icon that appears. It will download and install. Then the next time you logon, there is a wheel to the right of your logon name, click it and you can choose Ubuntu or Gnome as your logon shell. Could not be any simpler. See this if you need more help.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

        @Skudera<br><br>Gnome 3 is no better than Unity. That's what Mate and such are all about. Fixing Gnome shell and Gnome 3 to be what users actually want. Loading the default Gnome stuff will just give you a different mess.<br><br>What SJVN doesn't say is that Mint also gives you other options. XFCE, LXE or KDE. Personally, I tend to like the old fashioned Unix approach with a good GUI. Least mouse movement is a plus. Multiple virtual screens for different workloads. different programs running in each screen. That's good on a laptop or desktop. <br><br>Unity and Gnome3 are designed more for the limited display and limited resources of a tablet or phone. If the Gnome folks are sensible, they will take what the Mint people are doing, and make it easy to integrate, or even make it the default for Gnome. <br><br>KDE seems to be taking that sort of approach. Maybe when they get it right I will willingly go to a KDE distro again.
  • This shows the fractured, geeky nature of Linux

    Having to choose between (or getting to choose, depending on how you look at it) shows the fractured nature of Linux on the desktop. I can't imagine a major IT department looking at Mint with three choices for desktops, and thinking anyone can support Mint. Too many choices, too confusing and too many upset customers.

    Linux works well when completely locked down, like Android. While I can install applications, the number of choices is minimized so the "average Joe" can do something and not spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out how to set the neat desktop.

    Android successful, though pretty much locked down. Linux unsuccessful, wide open and complete choice.

    Gotta be a lesson there somewhere.
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

      @Cynical99, your post actually demonstrates either a lack of experience with corporate IT governance or a tendency to see problems where none exists. Or maybe both. ;-)

      Are you aware that Microsoft sells 6 different versions of Windows for the desktop? Do you imagine that any major IT organization supports all 6? Of course not! Any sane IT organization defines one standard desktop configuration (most commonly Enterprise), and enforces it across the corporation with few exceptions.

      Similarly, if an IT organization decided to deploy Mint, it would simply choose one standard desktop and disable the rest.

      Nor is this speculation on my part. Our IT group just changed to a new desktop Linux vendor, and among the first decisions to make was the desktop environment (notice the singular there) that we will support.

      I suspect that your bias against Linux is driving you to make up issues where none exists, though perhaps you are just unfamiliar with corporate best practices.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

        @ricegf - The six different "versions" (aka SKUs) of Windows 7 (using 7 as an example) all come from one source, so the code is all the same, it's just a matter of what's enabled (example, no domain or bitlocker support on Home Premium, no Windows Media Center on Professional, etc.)

        Apple takes it even further, offering exactly one SKU of each version of OSX.

        You can't really say that of all the Linux distros.
      • Don't worry about It


        Don't worry about it. You are looking at this as a corporate computer manager.

        Cynical and Polly are looking at it as Windows only users. They will never be in the position you are, because they don't know Linux.

        They think they are 'Power Users', but lack the basics to run really powerful systems. As they only understand Windows, they will be limited in your world to 'help desk' level jobs.

        You are looking at this as someone who needs to understand what it takes to run a business.

        Different world views, different worlds.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops


        For a moment, I thought I was reading one of LD's posts!
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

      @Cynical99 Ya fractured markets with varying products offering differnet features and price points, from multiple makers, never work, well except for cars, stereos, TVs, appliances, printers, lawn mowers, snow blowers, batteries, furnaces, air conditioners...
      Wait a second, looks like virtually every market for everything under the sun is fractured. It appears your argument is baseless.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

        @anothercanuck - The arguement isn't baseless. If the Linux community would band together and offer one quality distro of Linux instead of the fractured "distro" scheme that exists now, Linux might actually make a considerable dent in the Windows desktop numbers, but until that happens, Linux will continue to be in an extreme minority for desktop numbers.

        And given that there are far more desktop users than servers, that's the number where you really want to be successful.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops


        The argument is completely without merit. There are many quality Linux distros. You are basing Linux success on putting a "dent in the Windows desktop." That's your mistake.

        none none
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops


      I can name at least 4 different launchers for Android, basically different desktop choices. Its not about being "locked down" because most distros offer better security to keep users away from crucial file systems than Windows XP or 7. Its only about how you interface with the system, not about what you have access to changing.

      LInux, wide open and complete choice to administrators, lock down tighter than Alcatraz for users.
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

        @biglama Put it on your mom's machine, and stop getting those phone calls.
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops


      Microsoft Playbook 101:

      For the other guy;
      Choice = Fractured
      Frequent fixes = security problems (& don't mention severity, or actual attacks, EVER!)
      Attacks on programs running on the OS = Weakness of the OS
      1 person in 1,000 having to compile ANYTHING = Having to compile everything
      Manufactured (Cooked up) IP Claims = Questionable legality

      For MS;
      Extorsion = Protecting IP
      Stealing = innovating for customers sake
      Bribery = encouraging the political system
      Using 3rd part proxies in the above = no corporate responsibility for their actions
      Driving "partners" out of business = strategic marketing changes
      Failing in given market = either,...
      No interest in that market or Someone taking something of theirs, "because we invented computing, after all!"

      Yep,... Each competitive situation, just another entry in the Siebel database, and another number picked out of the Playbook... And if you really DON'T work for them, I'm sure they appreciate free help... As well as the surprise of people actually drinking the Kool Aide...
      • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops


        --> "Bribery = encouraging the political system"

        Did you know that until the first anti-trust suits were brought against Microsoft, not one cent of Microsoft money ever went to lobbyists?

        Did you know that it was Microsoft's competitors that use the government as a bludgeon against Microsoft because they couldn't compete adequately to make a difference?

        Did you know that when Microsoft did their original exclusivity licensing, it was standard industry practice, not just for computing , but for pretty much everything made in America and still happens in restaurants (example: Many restuarants in America are still "Coke products only" or "Pepsi products only") and many other businesses.
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

      Major IT departments are generally pretty knowledgeable, and I can't think of one which would install what amounts to a consumer desktop like Ubuntu or Mint. Suse, Red Hat Enterprisr Linux, Cent, Debian or Mandriva would more likely be chosen. That which you regard as a negative is regarded as a very large positive by most who are familiar with Linux. The "confusing" choices allow one to construct an environment tailered to the needs of the organisation.
  • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops

    I am just going on the picture provided in this post, but why is it so ugly? Do they use designers on open source?
    Do designers value their contributions and therefore not contribute to Open source?
    Just curious begause that desktop picture looks like it was done by an engineer with no eye for design!
    • RE: Linux Mint 12's Three Desktops


      The original artwork comes from an artist called Gelsan.
    • It is, however...

      ... far better than a bunch of tiles.