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Hands On with Linux Mint 18.3 Cinnamon and MATE

The new release of Linux Mint is imminent, so here is a look at both the Cinnamon and MATE versions.

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Before going into the hands-on description of the upcoming release, I would like to mention a couple of news items which were included in the Mint Blog Monthly News for October 2017.

The biggest item was that the Linux Mint 18.3 KDE edition will be the final release in that line.

That's right, no more Mint KDE after this release.

This is a fundamentally good decision, considering the limited resources available to the Mint development team, and how different KDE is from Linux Mint's core distributions of Cinnamon and MATE. Not only at the user interface level but perhaps even more importantly at the development level, the libraries, the utilities and applications, pretty much everything is different. But that is not going to make this hurt any less for the long-time dedicated Mint KDE users.

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Linux Mint 18.3 Cinnamon (left) and MATE (right) desktops.

Image: J.A. Watson

The first few paragraphs of the blog post explain why this decision was made, and give a few examples of what problems they had been having to deal with. Two things that are said there stand out in my mind:

We're not just shipping releases and distributing upstream software. We're a product distribution and we see ourselves as a complete desktop operating system.

This is what makes it the right decision - and it is what makes Linux Mint different from almost any other Linux distribution. It's not just a distribution, the Mint development team has done a lot of engineering and development work to improve it. I think this started when Ubuntu went stupid with the Unity desktop, and Clem and the Mint development team decided to develop the Cinnamon and MATE desktops rather than just follow Ubuntu. Before that, I considered Mint to be "Ubuntu plus a lot of stuff that you would probably want to install yourself anyway", but after that Mint became an important source of development and innovation.

By the way, who still remembers MGSE (Mint Gnome Shell Extension), which was Linux Mint's first reaction to the double-whammy of Gnome 3 and Unity? It was their first attempt to provide continuity to Linux Mint users, when both of their upstream desktop environment providers had suddenly decided to veer off in a completely new and unfamiliar direction. That desktop didn't work out, and didn't survive for very long, but I believe that it started the Mint developers on the path of identifying problems, developing their own solutions, and most importantly of providing stability and complete solutions to their users.

Anyway, to get back to the KDE distribution, those who have been using Mint KDE might want to try one of the KDE-oriented distributions such as openSUSE (Leap if you want stability, Tumbleweed if you want the leading edge), or KaOS if you want an exclusively KDE-focused leading-edge distribution.

The other topic in the Mint October News that interested me, perhaps even more than the KDE news, was LMDE 3 (Linux Mint Debian Edition). This time it's good news, they say that it is important to continue development and support for Mint Debian "in case Ubuntu ever disappeared". But there is still no concrete news on the long-awaited LMDE 3 release. It now has a name (Cindy), and it is planned for release in the first quarter of 2018, with only a Cinnamon version. I hope this all turns out to be true, but given the history of LMDE releases, I'll believe it when I see it.

There is more interesting information in the October News, including an explanation of why Mint will not be following Ubuntu down their latest dead-end (snap), so if you are interested in that sort of thing take a look. For now, I need to move on to hands-on with the new Mint distribution.

While the release of Linux Mint 18.3 (Sylvia) has not been officially announced as of this writing, it is very likely to come within the next few days. The Beta release was made nearly two weeks ago, and the ISO files are in place in the stable release hierarchy, so it may even be officially announced by the time you read this.

This is a continuation in the Mint 18.x Long Term Support series, so it will be supported until 2021. This is not a "mandatory" update, if you are using one of the previous Mint 18.x releases and you are satisfied with it, and you value stability over having the latest releases, then you can pass on this release.

On the other hand, if you want/need to run a newer Linux kernel, or the latest version of the Cinnamon or MATE desktops, then you want this new release.

The Beta Release Announcement gives a very brief overview (my favorite part is "This new version of Linux Mint contains many improvements.", thanks for that), and some information about hardware requirements. More detailed information about the release can be found in the What's New document, and installation tips, known issues and work-arounds are in the Release Notes.

The ISO files are on the Mint Downloads page, as usual. There are still both 64-bit and 32-bit versions for both the Cinnamon and MATE desktop. The ISO files are roughly 1.8GB, and they are hybrid ISO images so they can either be burned to a DVD or dumped directly to a USB stick for booting and installation.

The installation media boots to a Live desktop, so you can try out the new release and be sure that it works properly with your hardware before installing it.

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Linux Mint 18.3 Cinnamon Live Desktop

Image: J.A. Watson

When you are ready to install, just double-click the Install Linux Mint icon on the Live desktop. That will start the installer (a slightly modified version of the Ubuntu ubiquity installer). As far as I can tell there is nothing new in the installer, so I will spare you a screen shot walk-through of it.

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Image: J.A. Watson

After the installation is complete and you have rebooted to the installed system, be sure to run the Mint Update program, by clicking on the shield icon in the panel. This will let you choose the update policy you want, and it will then install whatever updates are already available.

As with previous point-releases in the Mint 18.x series, this release only takes a few small steps forward. It is running Linux kernel 4.10 by default, although newer versions up to 4.13 are available through the Update Manager / View / Linux Kernels. It is still running X.org server version 1.18.4, rather than the newer 1.19.x series, and it includes LibreOffice 5.1.6.2, rather than the newer 5.3.x or 5.4.x versions. It does, at least, include the new Firefox Quantum browser.

The biggest differences in this release, of course, are the latest versions of the Cinnamon and MATE desktops (Cinnamon 3.6.6 and MATE 1.18.0). If you need those, then that is plenty of reason to upgrade. But again, as I said above, if you already have a running Linux Mint 18.x system, and you are happy with it and have kept it up to date with the latest security updates, then you really might want to consider skipping this release, and waiting for the Mint 19 release.

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