The final release of Linux Mint 8 (Helena) came out over the weekend. You can read the What's New document for the highlights, the Release Notes for a more complete description of the new release, or the complete User's Guide (PDF) for complete information about Linux Mint.
This release is derived from Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala), with a lot of significant fixes and enhancements, much nicer graphics (real relief for those who are getting tired of Ubuntu's orange/brown/dirt color schemes), and lots of pre-installed packages (for the applications most users commonly want or need). It is important to note that a good part of Linux Mint could be reproduced by a moderately experienced user installing Ubuntu and then adding the appropriate packages from Synaptic or whatever software repository or services - but that is exactly one of the major advantages of Linux Mint, you install it, and you have a system that includes many/most/all of the most popular packages. On the other hand, Linux Mint has come under some criticism because they include a lot of non-FOSS packages. They have attempted to respond to this by offering a "Universal Edition", which they describe as follows:
This edition aims to provide the same features as the Main Edition without including proprietary software, patented technologies or support for restricted formats.
Besides these generally available pre-installed packages, Linux Mint includes a number of Mint-utilities to make system administration, backup, software management and such easier.
The standard desktop layout has only a single panel at the bottom of the screen, rather than two panels as with Ubuntu, and there is a single main menu, rather than the three Applications/Places/System menus, which have been grouped into the single menu window, and a "Favorites" view has been added, similar to what openSuSE has for example. This turns out to be a big win in ease of use, especially if you take just a little time to customize the Favorites section to match you own typical use. You can remove items from Favorites by right-clicking on them, and add items by finding them in "All applications", and right-clicking on them.
Until now, if I were preparing a computer for someone else, who wanted to get the maximum functionality and usability out of it, I would always install Linux Mint. However, for my own use I would still load Ubuntu, partly because of the inevitable delay between the release of each new Ubuntu version and Linux Mint catching up to it, and partly because Mint includes some things that I don't generally need. This time, though, the Mint release has followed quite quickly behind the Ubuntu release, and I find that the more I look at and work with Mint, the more I like it. Add to that the fact that I start loading the Ubuntu Alpha/Beta/RC releases quite early in the cycle, which results in my having two different versions of Ubuntu at once, and I think what I will start doing is keeping Mint instead of the "current" Ubuntu.
So far I have only installed Linux Mint 8 on my two HP 2133 Mini-Notes - but they are probably two of the most difficult systems. I will add a short note here once I have it installed on all of the other systems, with notes and comments as necessary.
By the way, I have already confirmed that Linux Mint 8 does not have the irritating 60-second delay on Logout/Reboot/Shutdown (Hooray!).