Mint 17: The best Linux desktop to date

I've used hundreds of Linux desktops over the years, and Mint 17 with Cinnamon is my favorite one to date.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Over the decades—yes decades—I've been using Linux desktops, I've had many favorites. Now, I have a new one: Linux Mint 17. I expect it to be my favorite for a long time to come.

Linux Mint 17
Linux Mint 17 "Qiana"

I can say that because this version, now a late release candidate. like its base operating system, Ubuntu 14.04, is a long-term support edition. It will be supported until 2019. This makes this edition one that businesses should consider. 

In particular, I love Linux Mint 17 with the Cinnamon 2.2 interface. This GNOME 3.x-based desktop is a great windows, icons, menus, and pointer (WIMP) interface. Windows XP users will find it far more familiar than Windows 8's oddball tiled desktop. I also like the MATE interface, which builds on top of the GNOME 2.x interface; but for simplicity's sake I'm going to focus just on Cinnamon.

Like almost all Linux desktops, Mint is free and it can run on almost any PC you have at hand. All it requires is an x86 processor; 512 MBs of RAM (you'll be happier though with 1GB); 5 GBs of disk space; a graphics card that can handle 800×600 resolution; and a DVD drive or USB port. That's all.

A quick look at Mint 17 (Gallery)

Unlike most of its Linux brothers and sisters, Mint also includes many proprietary programs. So, for example, you can play Adobe Flash videos and DVDs from your Mint PC without jumping through any hoops. Mint doesn't include proprietary drivers such as the ATI or NVIDIA drivers; it does make it easy to install drivers.

Another nice feature, which Mint does shares with most modern Linux distributions, is that you don't have to commit yourself to it. You can try it out by running it from a live USB thumb-drive or DVD drive before actually installing it.

In my case — since I know Mint like the back of my hand — I went ahead and installed it not just on test systems but on my production desktop and laptop. Yes, I'm a brave Linux user!

My work desktop is a Dell XPS 8300. This PC uses a 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, has 8GBs of RAM, and an AMD/ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphic card. Mint 17 “Qiana” ran perfectly on it. The new Mint also ran flawlessly on my Lenovo ThinkPad T520 laptop. This computer comes with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GBs of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor.

This didn't come as a surprise. I haven't had a hardware compatibility problem with any Linux in years. The one annoying thing about Mint, however, is that you can't just upgrade from one version to another. Instead, you must over-write your existing system.

Six Clicks: Linux Mint tips and tricks

On both systems, installing Mint was as easy as falling off a log. There's nothing complicated about it. You just hit yes to most of the questions, give your computer a name, give yourself a login name, and you're in business.

Another potential problem for some users is that to install Mint 17 on a Windows 8 PC with Secure Boot, you'll need to turn Secure Boot off. Since I find Secure Boot much more of an annoyance than a benefit this doesn't bother me in the least.

For its default programs, Mint sticks with its tried-and-true formula of LibreOffice 4.2 for its office suite; Firefox 28 for its Web browser; Thunderbird 24.4 for its e-mail; and Pidgin 2.10 for instant messaging. Personally, I prefer Chrome for my Web browser and Evolution for e-mail. Mint makes it easy to mix and match my software of choice to its distribution.

Indeed, in a related development, this new version of Mint makes both updating the system, your installed software, and your drivers much easier. For example, besides simply having a better display with more information, Update Manger now tracks all your system's upgrades no matter how they were made: Update Manager, apt-get, aptitude, gdebi or dpkg, whatever you use — it now records what you've changed.

The operating system and Cinnamon paired together have had many minor improvements. For instance, previous versions of Cinnamon came with a hard-coded list of system tray icons to hide. This list is now gone and Cinnamon now dynamically shows relevant system tray icons when applets are removed, or to dynamically hide them when applets are added.

Expert users will also appreciate that hot corners, settings to make use of the display's four corners, have now been made easy to customize.

Put it all together and you have a very fast, very secure, and very smooth and easy to use desktop. While other operating systems lately seem to be determined to make things harder for users—and no, I'm not just talking about Microsoft and Windows—Mint's developers keep improving an already superb desktop experiences.

You don't have to take my word for it. Download and install it for yourself and you'll see what I mean.

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