Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" - It Just Keeps Getting Better

I have now loaded the new release of Linux Mint on all four of my laptop and netbook computers. It loaded absolutely smoothly on all four of them, including both HP 2133 netbooks, with no problems and no special "tricks" required.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I have now loaded the new release of Linux Mint on all four of my laptop and netbook computers. It loaded absolutely smoothly on all four of them, including both HP 2133 netbooks, with no problems and no special "tricks" required.

As I mentioned in my previous post, this Mint release is based on Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope). That in itself brings along a lot of updates, new package releases and bug fixes. As I have been asked about this several times recently, I will mention here that Linux Mint 7 comes with OpenOffice.org 3.0.1.

Beyond the Ubuntu updates, though, the big news in this release is what has happened to Linux Mint itself. It has gotten even better - it is obvious that a lot of thought and a lot of hard work have gone into this release, it is not just the standard Ubuntu distribution with a few bells and whistles thrown in the box. The differences are obvious right from the beginning - Linux Mint uses the gfxboot version of grub (the bootloader), and includes a nice graphic background for the boot sequence.

Once the boot is complete and Mint is running, you'll see that the default screen layout is different from Ubuntu - there is only one system panel, at the bottom of the screen, rather than two at the top and bottom. That seems like a small thing when you are familiar with Linux desktops, and experienced users are likely to be customizing their desktop anyway, but I have heard many times from inexperienced users, and users switching to Linux from Windows, that they find the two panels confusing, and this one-panel setup seems more "natural" for them.

The menus are also quite different in Mint from Ubuntu. Again, it seems to me that they have put quite a bit of thought into them, and what they have come up with is a sort of a combination of the standard Ubuntu (Gnome) hierarchical menus, and the SuSE-style "Favorites" layout. Both have their advantages, and it's nice to be able to switch easily between the two views.

Mint also includes a lot of its own utilities to supplement the standard Linux and Ubuntu versions. One good example of this is mintUpdate, which provides a very nice, easy interface and notification system for tracking and installing updates. There is an icon in the panel which looks like a padlock, and conveys a lot of information about the state of updates in a glance - whether the package database is locked or not, whether the system is up to date or there are updates available (and if so, how many), and a special "broken padlock" icon to show that there is no network connection, so it doesn't know the current update status. I have often grumbled about the fact that Ubuntu only displays an icon when updates are available, so if there is no icon, I find myself wondering whether there are none, or perhaps the update manager hasn't gotten around to checking yet. I don't have that uncertainty with the mintUpdate icon.

Another notable place where Mint differs from the Ubuntu philosophy is the "su"/"sudo" commands. Ubuntu doesn't like for you to simply "su" to be root, they want you to use "sudo" for each individual root command. There are good reasons for that, but it still creates a good bit of grousing in the user community. (Yes, I know you can "sudo" a shell, but that is not the point.) Mint not only keeps the "sudo" functionality, but it also uses the default user password given during the installation process to the root account, so you can just "su" to root, if that is your preference.

As I said in my previous post about Linux Mint 6, one of the biggest advantages of Linux Mint is that it includes a lot of good packages that you might otherwise end up adding individually yourself, so it saves you time and work. There is another Mint utility which further simplifies this as well, mintInstall. It provides a higher-level view of packages, with descriptions, icon views of applications windows, links to more information and the package home web page, and review/comments from other users. As such it not only provides a much simpler interface for package management, it also gives you an easy way to browse the available packages, and find things that might be interesting to you, which is something that I have found to be difficult to do with Synaptic.

There are other Mint utilities, such as mintBackup and mintNanny, but the bottom line is, if you are looking for a solid Linux distribution, you can't do better than Ubuntu, and if you want it to be better packaged and easier to use, then Linux Mint is definitely worth a look.

jw 28/5/2009

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