As I've said that many times before, Linux is all about choice: first, and most obviously, choice in operating systems for your computer. If you don't like the desktop or user interface of Windows 8 (I personally don't know even one sane person that does), or if you just don't like paying Microsoft over and over and over again, Linux gives you another choice. But even within the Linux world, choice is an important advantage — choice of distributions, and within many distributions, choice of desktops.
One of the most popular distributions is Linux Mint, which offers a 'standard' distribution with either the Cinnamon or MATE desktop. The latest release of this distribution was made about a month ago and now, after what seems like a somewhat longer than usual delay, the Xfce desktop distribution is available.
The delay in these distributions is in large part attributable to the fact that although they are derived from Ubuntu (as is the main Mint distribution, of course), they are not derived from the Xubuntu (Xfce) or Kubuntu (KDE) distributions. These distributions are created by the developers at Linux Mint, based on the latest Mint release.
There is a bit of bad news about the Linux Mint Xfce distribution at the very beginning — the Live/Installer image does not seem to be UEFI Boot compatible. On both of my UEFI BIOS systems, I had to enable Legacy Boot support to get the Live USB image to work. That's a bit unfortunate, and it seems odd to me since the relase notes specifically mention EFI support, but only say "if your system is using Secure Boot, turn it off".
I keep thinking that I must have done something wrong, but I can't see it. Anyway, I'm sure that UEFI boot support could be added after installation, by installing and configuring the grub2-efi package, but I suspect that is more trouble than most people would want to go to.
Personally, I just enabled Legacy Boot long enough to boot and install Mint Xfce, then added it to the existing UEFI grub configuration for openSuSE 12.3, which is my primary boot setup on both UEFI systems. That works just fine, so I could then turn off Legacy Boot.
Linux Mint 15 Xfce desktop, shown below, is based on Xfce version 4.10 with Graeme Gott's excellent Whisker Menu application launcher.
I really like this menu package — I find the design and layout both cosmetically and functionally excellent, with things like having the shutdown, reboot and lock controls integrated in the top of the menu window, for example.
Users coming over from Windows are also likely to find Whisker Menu easy to learn and use — I am going to be giving this serious consideration when setting up systems for friends and family in the future.
Xfce is generally known as a fast and lightweight desktop, but the Linux Mint version is a bit of a special case.
Many (perhaps most) Xfce distributions include small and lightweight versions of things like Office applications, graphic and photo processing packages, and multimedia applications. However, Mint Xfce stays much closer to its own heritage, thus including more and larger packages. Here are a few examples:
- Firefox (web browser)
- Thunderbird (mail and news feed reader)
- Libre Office (office suite)
- GIMP (graphic image editor)
- Banshee (audio player)
- Simple Scan (scanner)
- VLC (multimedia player)
- Totem Video Player (video player)
- Pidgin (chat client)
- eVince (document viewer)
- Ristretto (image viewer)
- openJDK and icedTea (Java)
In fact, I have been looking through the menus of a Mint 15 Cinnamon system and a Mint 15 Xfce system side-by-side, and I don't see any major differences in content between them.
Installation on the three or four systems I have done so far was no problem, other than the UEFI issue mentioned above.
As it's based on the same kernel, drivers and utilities as the other Mint distributions, there were no surprises in system or device support, everything just came up and worked as expected.
It seems to me that it is noticeably faster in daily use than the Mint Cinnamon version, but that is a subjective opinion, and the difference is not large in any case.
In summary, I would say that Mint 15 Xfce is an excellent addition to the Mint distribution family. It would certainly make an excellent transition system for users changing from Windows to Linux. It also provides dedicated Xfce users with a fully-loaded alternative to the many 'stripped-down' Xfce distributions. But in addition to those, I think it is an excellent option for those who are still unhappy with Gnome 3 and the alternatives associated with it — Gnome Classic, Cinnamon and MATE.