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Mint 18.3: The best Linux desktop takes big steps forward

Linux Mint isn't just the best Linux desktop, it's the best desktop, period.

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I run many operating systems every day, from macOS, to Windows 7 and 10, to more Linux desktop distributions than you can shake a stick at. And, once more, as a power-user's power user, I've found the latest version of Linux Mint to be the best of the best.

Why? Let's start with the basics. MacOS has been shown to have the worst bug I've ever seen in an operating system: The macOS High Sierra security hole that lets anyone get full administrative control. Windows, old and new, continues to have multiple security bugs every lousy month. Linux? Sure, it has security problems. How many of these bugs have had serious desktop impacts? Let me see now. None. Yes, that would be zero.

Oh, and by the way, in using Linux desktops for over 25 years now, I have never needed to use an anti-virus program because, for all practical purposes, there are no Linux viruses. Yes, I know you've read stories saying they exist. And, they do, but you must actively try to infect your system to get them.

Then, there's ease of use. Despite ancient FUD, Linux, especially the new Linux Mint 18.3 but really all current Linux desktops, are simple to use. Mint's Cinnamon interface uses a classic Windows, Icons, Menu, and Pointer (WIMP) interface. If you've ever used Windows XP, you'll feel completely at home.

Want to install an application? Sure you can use shell-based tools such as apt-get on Debian-based Linux distributions or yum on the Red Hat family of operating systems. But, ordinary desktop users need not bother with these. Instead, they can just use an app store approach such as Mint's Software Manager. You search for your app, you point, you click. Not very hard is it?

Want to update your system to a new one? With Macs and Windows, that can take hours. With Mint, it took me less than an hour and most of that was waiting for the download to complete. Compare that with Windows, where as a friend recently pointed out, just updating a Logitech mouse driver took about 10 minutes.

Linux desktops are also fast even on older hardware. High Sierra runs as fast as pouring maple syrup on a cold day on my maxed out Mac Mini with its 3.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM. Windows 10, on my Dell XPS 8700 with a 3.6 GHz Intel Core i7-4790 processor and 16GBs of memory, runs fast enough to be useful, but fast is not the word I'd use to describe its performance. Mint 18.3, on my 2011 Dell XPS 8300 with its 3.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 8GBs of RAM, charges along like a champ. I wouldn't waste my time trying to run Windows or macOS on a six-year-old box.

But enough about Linux vs. the others, let's talk about Linux Mint 18.3.

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Linux Mint 18.3 is easy to use and works like a charm

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If you've never installed Mint before, you can download its ISO files from the Mint Downloads. There are still both 64-bit and 32-bit versions for the Cinnamon desktop, but unless you're running a really old system, just down the 64-bit version. Then burn the ISO image to a DVD using a tool such as ImgBurn. Or, you can put it on a bootable USB stick with a program like Rufus.

Then, boot your computer using the DVD or stick and make sure Mint works with your computer. If it does -- and I've never met a PC it wouldn't work on -- you can then install it. For further details see my How to install Linux Mint on your Windows PC article.

The one possible problem is if your PC has a newer NVIDIA graphics. In that case, for a better display, use NVIDIA's own drivers rather than the open-source ones provided by NVIDIA. To do this, take the following steps:

  • Run the Driver Manager
  • Choose the NVIDIA drivers and wait for them to be installed
  • Reboot the computer

If you're already running an earlier version of Mint 18, click on the Refresh button in Update Manager to check for any new version of mintupdate and mint-upgrade-info. If there are updates for these packages, apply them. Then, refresh the packages and install any updated package. Finally, launch the System Upgrade by clicking on "Edit->Upgrade to Linux Mint 18.3 Sylvia". Within an hour, you'll be running the latest, freshest version of Mint.

This version is based on Ubuntu 16.04.3. Like 16.04, it's a long-term support version. Mint developers will support it until April 2021. This distribution is based on the 4.10 Linux kernel.

Linux Mint 18.3 Software Manager

Anyone who tells you it's hard to install programs on Linux doesn't know what they're talking about.

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This version features a revamped Software Manager. It's now more attractive than ever, much -- three times -- faster, and, more importantly, it makes it easier than ever to find the programs you're searching for.

The Software Manager also supports Flatpak. This is a Red Hat software installation system. It enables you to install bleeding-edge applications even if their dependencies aren't included with Linux Mint.

Linux Mint 18.3 comes with Flatpak installed by default and the new Software Manager fully supports it. This lets you install such programs as GNOME Games 3.26, even though these games couldn't ordinarily run in Linux Mint since it requires the GTK 3.18 Linux toolkit.

Another new addition, which I really like, is the almost completely rewritten default BackUp program. It, as Mint points out, "is now dedicated to making a backup of your home directory, nothing less and nothing more". Once restoring, files are placed back where they were before with their original permissions and timestamps.

It also runs in user mode so you no longer need to enter your password. The steps required to perform a backup or to restore data are much simpler. Tour configuration choices are remembered so you can repeat backups often without the need to repeat your setup instructions over and over again. This makes backing up and restoring your most important personal files easier than ever.

What about your system files and installed software? No problem! Timeshift, which makes system snapshots easy, saves everything on your system, except your personal data. It works hand-in-glove with the Linux Mint Backup Tool.

If something goes awry with your desktop, the new System Reports makes looking at your crash reports much easier. This program can also be used to get a quick look into the state of your system and software.

Mint 18.3 also comes with the newest version of Cinnamon: Cinammon 3.6. This comes with many small improvements and one truly significant one. The important new feature is it now supports GNOME Online Accounts. For me, the real win is that you can now access Google Drive and the personal cloud program OwnCloud resources directly from the Cinnamon Nemo file manager.

This lets Mint users -- like macOS with iCloud and Windows users with Microsoft OneDrive -- work directly with Google and OwnCloud files from Nemo. Google has promised it would integrate Google Drive with Linux since Drive rolled out in 2012. Google never kept that promise. Today, if you want to work directly with Google Drive from Linux, you need to purchase InSync.

GNOME Online Accounts looks like it could replace InSync. It doesn't. Yes, it gives you access to Google Drive files from your desktop, but it does it by mounting Google Drive in your file system. That means every time you access it from your desktop you have to connect with it over the internet. Even with my 120MB internet connection, that can be painfully slow. What's really needed is a local copy of your Google Drive.

Still, it gives you cloud drive access directly from the file manager and that's still handy. It also lets you sync your Gmail and Google Calendar with the Evolution email client. Evolution happens to be my favorite email program, so that makes me happy.

Mint also includes the usual collection of handy open-source user programs. These include LibreOffice, Firefox, GIMP, for photo editing, Slack, and Pidgin for instant-messaging clients. You can also install Chrome and other programs.

Now, at this point, I usually hear hardcore Windows users complaining about not having Microsoft Office. Guess what? You can. Office Online, Microsoft's browser-based office-suite, gives you lightweight versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Outlook. If you really, really have to have full Microsoft Office, CodeWeavers' CrossOver 17 for Linux now supports MS-Office 2016.

I've been running Mint 18.3 since it first showed up on November 27. Like its predecessors, I've found it to be not merely the best Linux desktop, but the best full-featured desktop of any sort. Download it now and find out why I love it so. Enjoy!

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