Most users that have used Linux as their desktop operating system for any length of time will tell you that Ubuntu is one of the most user-friendly Linux versions available. The people over at Linux Mint disagree, however, and make it their mission to customise each new release of Ubuntu with a layer of additional user-friendliness. To do this they re-build Ubuntu with a range of popular tools that are excluded by default from Ubuntu as well as including a couple of their own scripts to make managing the system easier.
Well-practiced Ubuntu users could achieve mostly the same end result themselves by manually applying updates and installing additional tools, but Linux Mint’s niche in the market is to provide users with a system pre-configured and ready to go.
Ease of use
Many of the changes that Linux Mint applies are to ensure that new users have an easy introduction to Linux. These changes include installing additional, and sometimes proprietary, drivers and multimedia codecs so that a wider range of hardware and multimedia are supported out of the box. This has, however, attracted criticism from many open source advocates who don’t agree with including proprietary software in a Linux desktop. In response to this Linux Mint also makes available a “Universal Edition” of its desktop which includes the additional Mint utilities but no proprietary or restricted software and formats.
Linux Mint 8, codenamed Helena, is the latest version of Linux Mint. Based on Ubuntu Karmic Koala, or Ubuntu 9.10, which was released last month, Linux Mint 8 applies the usual changes as well as adding a number of improvements in menu systems and management tools.
These changes include better configuration options for the core menu system, including the ability to define custom “places” or disable parts of the menu system.
Mint 8 also includes a number of changes in the software manager so more data is made available to users. The Software Manager also auto-updates and alerts users of new versions.
One of the big changes to Mint in this version is the new Upload Manager. Replacing what was known as mintUpload in previous editions are two tools: Upload Manager and File Uploader.
The Upload Manager is a single place to manage the servers a user needs to upload files to. Through the interface users can manage multiple FTP, SFTP and SCP connections. When the File Uploader tool is launched each of these servers can be opened on the desktop and users only need to drag and drop files into the appropriate space to upload them.
Linux Mint 8 also simplifies the desktop by doing away with the dual-menubar layout preferred by Ubuntu in favour of a single menubar across the bottom of the screen. Mint also trims down the tripartite Applications/Places/System menu of Ubuntu and condenses this into a single Main Menu flyout. This adds a layer of simplicity to the Mint desktop and mimics the style of the Windows desktop, with which most users are familiar.
Despite criticisms over its use of non-free software tools and its obvious catering for entry-level users, Linux Mint has clearly found its niche, regularly ranked among the five most popular Linux versions on Linux tracker Distrowatch.com.
Long time Linux users probably won’t be rushing out to try Mint Linux but for users looking to take a first step into Linux, Linux Mint 8 could be one of the better starting points. Linux Mint can be downloaded from http://www.linuxmint.com
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