The years go by, and I keep trying one Linux desktop distro after the other. But for more than a decade now, I come back to Linux Mint. Why? It's simple: Year in and year out, Mint remains the best, easiest-to-use Linux desktop. That's the case again with the latest release, called Linux Mint 20.2 "Uma."
While I prefer the Gnome-2-based Cinnamon desktop (now up to version 5.04), Mint gives you a choice of fully supported interfaces. These include MATE, a Gnome-2 fork, and the ultra-lightweight Xfce. Most desktop users will be pleased with Cinnamon or MATE. But if you have older low-powered systems or if you're running Linux on Chromebooks or Windows 10 PCs with Windows SubSystem for Linux (WSL) 2, Xfce is an excellent choice.
Even PCs built in the 2000s can run Mint. If the box has a 64-bit processor, it can run Mint. The full version of Linux Mint requires a mere 2GB of RAM, but you can run it with as little as 1GB. This is not Windows -- where trying to run it on 4GB is asking for trouble.
You'll also need at least 20GB of disk space, but Mint recommends 100GB. Finally, you'll need a graphics card and monitor that supports a 1024×768 resolution. In other words, you can pretty much run Mint on any PC you find in a second-hand junk shop.
I like running the fastest and best hardware, but let's face it, sometimes we can't afford the latest and hottest. That can be a real problem. For example, Windows 11 won't run on hardware dating from 2016 and earlier. It also won't run on some processors from 2019 or earlier. Linux Mint? I know people who are running it on 2009 Intel Core i5 desktop processors. To get the most of your old gear, you want to use Linux Mint.
This latest version of Mint is a long-term support (LTS) release. It will be supported until summer 2025. Under the hood, you'll find Linux firmware 1.187 and the Linux kernel 5.4.0-80. For its foundation, Mint is still based on Ubuntu 20.04. Looking ahead, Mint has no plans to move off Ubuntu 20.04 until 2023. Unlike Fedora, Linux Mint is not a cutting-edge distribution. It puts stability over experimentation.
When you first update to Linux Mint from Mint 20 or 20.1, which can be done in a couple of clicks, there's little to see. If you look a bit closer, though, you'll find several excellent new features.
For example, Cinnamon's updated Nemo file manager now enables you to do content searches. Before this, you could only search for files. With Nemo 5.0, you can combine file search and content search into one search. So, for example, you could search for all LibreOffice .ODT document files with the phrase "2nd Qtr 2021" in it. Nemo also supports regular expressions and recursive folder searches. This is very handy.
A related program is Bulky. This new application enables you to bulk rename files. Me? I'd do this with a quick shell script, but if you'd rather not bother, Bulky is right there and easy to use.
Another invisible improvement is that, in the past, Cinnamon could eat up too much memory. That made it slow. Now, besides getting rid of five memory leaks, Cinnamon will monitor how much memory it uses. If it goes over a user-configurable amount of RAM, it will silently and invisibly restart the desktop. You won't notice anything, except perhaps a second of delay, but Cinnamon will have restarted in the background and freed up memory while it was at it. The result? Cinnamon now feels almost as fast as Xfce. That's impressive.
Returning to LibreOffice, Mint 20.2 comes with version 6.4.7. For other popular applications, Mint includes Firefox 89.0.2 for web browsing, Thunderbird 78.8.1 for email, and the Bash 5.0 shell.
The Update Manager also automates Flatpak program updates. In earlier editions of Mint, this was located in "Startup Applications." Flatpak programs are easy-to-install containerized applications. While Mint still doesn't natively support Snap programs, which operate in the same basic way, it's clearly putting more effort into supporting Flatpak.
Mint also now gives you more information when security and kernel updates are available for your Linux system. Instead of just showing you a little orange dot on the Update Manager's icon in the system tray, the revised Update Manager now tracks how long each update has been available for, how many days the computer was on during that time, and will remind you again of available updates. Mint's developers decided to do this rather than push security updates on users.
By default, Update Manager will now show you a notification if a particular update has been available for more than seven logged-in days or if it's older than 15 calendar days. You can change these values from two days or all the way up to three months. You can also change the notifications so that it will do the same for application updates and patches.
Me? I pretty much always upgrade every time I see that orange dot. This isn't Windows, where updating programs is taking your computer's life in your hands. With Linux Mint, it's safe to patch and upgrade. I have yet to have a meaningful update failure with Mint.
That was the case again when I moved my Linux Mint 20.1 main desktop. This is a 2020 Dell Precision 3451. This model, which came with Ubuntu 20.04, is powered by an Intel 8-core 3GHz i7-9700 CPU. It also includes 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. This is far more computer than Mint needs.
It ran like a top. Once more, I was impressed by how fast Nemo handled not just files on my SSD, but the ones on my Samba-powered Network-Attached Storage (NAS) devices, Windows Servers, and local and remote Nextcloud servers.
If you don't run your own file and cloud servers, Mint's own easy-to-use local area network file-sharing program, Warpinator, has also been improved. Besides making it easy to drag and drop files from one Mint 20.x machine to another, it's now available on most Linux systems and, via a new Warpinator app, on Android phones and tablets.
There are also other numerous small improvements. Put them all together and you get the fastest and most stable Linux Mint distro to date.
Let me sum this up for you. I run Ubuntu, Fedora, OpenSUSE, Windows 10, Windows 11, Chrome OS, MacOS Catalina, and MacOS Big Sur regularly. But what I use every day is Linux Mint. And, today, I'm using Linux Mint 20.2. It's my desktop operating system of choice, and if it keeps up improving the way it has, it will be tomorrow, too.