Linux Mint 19.3 is here and better than ever

The easiest and best Linux desktop had a new long-term support release during the holidays. Here's what's new and neat in this latest version.

What's holding the Linux desktop back?

While many of us were getting ready to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, Linux Mint quietly gifted us with the latest long-term support (LTS) version of its popular desktop Linux desktop, Linux Mint "Tricia" 19.3.  

This release supports three different Linux desktop interfaces: my own favorite Cinnamon; MATE, a fork of the venerable GNOME 2 desktop; and the lightweight Xfce. Most desktop users will be happy with Cinnamon or MATE. I use Xfce on low-powered systems or when running Linux on Chromebooks or Windows 10 PCs with Windows SubSystem for Linux (WSL) 2.

When I say low-powered, I mean machines from the 2000s. The full version of Linux Mint requires a mere 2GBs of RAM. It can even run with as little as 1GB and with older 32-bit processors. You'll also need at least 15GBs of disk space, but I recommend 20GBs. Finally, you'll need a graphics card and monitor that supports a 1024×768 resolution. In short, you can pretty much run Mint on any PC you have lying around your junk room.

Beneath the hood, the new Mint is based on Ubuntu 18.04.3 LTS and the 4.15.0-72 Linux kernel. MInt 19.3 is also a LTS version. It will be supported until December 2023. The default kernel has already been upgraded to the Linux 5.0

The first thing you'll notice about the new Mint is the warning icon in your system tray. It's not nearly as alarming as it looks. Now, when you boot up Mint, System Report checks for potential issues, such as a missing language package, multimedia codec, an updated hardware driver, or a new version of Linux Mint. Just click on the mini icon and Mint will let you know what's missing or new and guide you to getting the latest and greatest update. You can, of course, just ignore its recommendation and continue on your Minty way. I find it a very handy little feature.

Another nice, small feature is you can now fine-tune the Nemo file manager preferences. You can configure what actions you want to be visible in the context menu. 

The Cinnamon interface, Cinnamon 4.4, boasts many small improvements. The one I noticed the most is that it's a trifle faster than earlier editions. 

If you have a High Dots Per Inch (HiDPI) monitor, Mint now does a much better job of supporting it. It's reported to still have a few quirks, but I never saw any trouble with my display.

Speaking of no problems and smooth performance, the main machine I tested Mint 19.3 on was a 2011 vintage Lenovo tower running on a 2.6GHz Dual Core Intel Pentium Sandy Bridge processor with 6GBs of RAM. This is so, so not a fast machine. Despite that, this Mint ran just fine on this almost-decade-old PC. If you want to make the most from an out-of-date PC you can't do better than Mint.

The built-in applications are quite friendly. Gimp, a great image-editing program, but with a steep learning curve has been replaced by the new, easy-to-use Drawing. If you want Gimp, and I for one do, you can easily add it with Mint's simple Software Manager.

The Xplayer and VLC video player apps have also been replaced by Celluloid. This is the old GNOME MPV media player with a new coat of paint. It ran flawlessly for me. You can also install Xplayer and VLC if you like. As an old VLC fan that's what I did. 

One of the great myths about Linux is it's hard to install programs. It's not. Software Manager makes installing software as easy as point and click. Invisible to the user, Mint now uses both the traditional Deb packages and the newer Flatpak to install applications.

Of course you may not need to install anything. Mint comes ready for work with a host of great, popular programs. These include Firefox 71 for web browsing; LibreOffice 6.0.7 for your office work; and Thunderbird 60.9 for email. 

It's not all good news with this release. Mint, thanks to an underlying regression problem with the Samba file server, still has connectivity problems with Windows file shares. To work around this issue, you must manually edit /etc/samba/smb.conf as the root user and add the following lines under "workgroup = WORKGROUP" in the "[global]" section:

name resolve order = bcast host lmhosts wins
client max protocol = NT1

It's a nuisance, but you can work around it. Personally, I find myself using the operating=system agnostic, open-source ownCloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud servers for sharing files both in my office intranet and on the internet these days rather than Windows Server-based file services. 

If you're already running Linux Mint 19.x or newer, you can automatically upgrade to the latest version. Just run Update Manager > Edit > Upgrade To Linux Mint 19.3 'Tricia' and you'll be good to go. As always it's a smart idea to back up your system before upgrade. I recommend you use Mint's built-in TimeShift or Mint Backup Tool for this job.

If you're new to Mint and want to give it a try, check out my How to install Linux Mint on your Windows PC article. It's easy to do whether you want to wipe out Windows, run it with Windows, or just give it a trial run using a USB stick with persistent storage. 

Whether you're an old-hand at Linux or brand new, give Mint 19.3 a try. You'll be glad you did.

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