The official announcement gives a general overview of this release, and the release notes contain a lot more detail. Of particular importance in the release notes is the information concerning Intel graphics adapters. If your CPU load seems unusually high — often indicated by the CPU fan running much more than usual — or graphic performance seems very poor, you might be suffering from this problem, so check it out.
The Mint distribution ISO downloads are available in at least four versions — with either the Cinnamon or MATE desktop, and either with or without codecs included. Linux Mint changed to hybrid ISO format a year or so ago, so experienced users who already have a running Linux system available can simply dd the ISO image to a USB flash drive, and it's ready to boot and install.
A more complete explanation of the various USB creation options can be found in How to install Linux Mint via USB in the Linux Mint blog. It is also worth noting that all the ISO images are too large to fit on a CD, so if you still prefer to burn optical media for installation, you will have to use a DVD.
It is important to remember to pick up the latest updates when the basic installation is finished. A number of packages have been updated while the Mint distribution was being finalised. One good example is Firefox, which installs with version 16.0.1 and needs to be updated to get to 16.0.2. There are numerous other examples, so be sure to do the update right away.
What's new and noteworthy in this release? First, of course, is an updated Linux kernel, 3.5.0. The desktop has also been updated, to Cinnamon 1.6 or MATE 1.4. I generally use Cinnamon, and I am impressed with the way it continues to improve.
Those who have been using Cinnamon 1.4 in previous Mint releases are likely to be pleasantly surprised by the improvements in features, flexibility and stability in this version. Most — probably all — the application packages have also been updated, such as LibreOffice 22.214.171.124, GIMP 2.8.2, VLC 2.0.4, Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird 16.0.x.
I ran into one significant problem with this release, on two of my systems which have AMD ATI Radeon graphics controllers. There seems to be some sort of timing issue, or initialisation problem, which causes it to occasionally boot to a black screen. I can get around this issue by disabling kernel graphics mode setting — add nomodeset to the boot command — but then it disables the GPU entirely and does software graphics rendering, and believe me, that is not a good thing.
So for the time being I am just living with it, and rebooting when necessary. I don't know if this is a kernel bug or an X.org bug, but I'm confident it will be fixed soon.
openSUSE 12.3 Milestone 1
The other recent release with which I've been experimenting is openSUSE 12.3 Milestone 1. This release is still very early in the development cycle, but it is looking quite good so far.
The ISO images are available from the openSUSE download page and as usual are available as a full-blown DVD installer, including all available desktops and software, as Live images for either Gnome or KDE, or as a network install image that boots a minimal system and then downloads everything else from the network. These are also hybrid ISO images, so they can be converted to a bootable USB drive in the same way as mentioned for Mint.
Because openSUSE 12.3 Milestone 1 is very early pre-release software, it is not fit for production use or critical installation. It is a good way to see what the openSUSE developers are working on the for the next release, and it is a convenient way to get a look at the latest versions of the Linux kernel, currently 3.6.3, and the KDE desktop 4.9.3.
Of course, I can't talk about openSUSE KDE without mentioning what I consider to still be the best netbook desktop available today, KDE Netbook:
I have loaded both these distributions on a variety of notebooks and netbooks. If you are looking for the latest stable Linux distribution, Linux Mint is just the ticket. It started out as Ubuntu with all the additional good stuff already installed, but has moved far beyond that now.
Just having Cinnamon or MATE instead of Unity makes it worthwhile to me. If you are looking for the latest cutting-edge development system, openSUSE 12.3 Milestone 1 is probably what you are looking for. Enjoy.