Linux Mint is a very popular distribution and has seemingly been so since the start. My first look at Mint was in 2010 about the time I went through my second season of distro hopping. At the time, ultimately, openSUSE won out but it was close. I am taking another look at Mint, not due to any dissatisfaction of openSUSE but because 19.1 came out and the good folks in the BigDaddyLinux community decided to try it out.
This review is not going to be a comparison to previous Linux Mint versions. I have mostly stayed on top of it. I have even contributed a bit to the project in my time and talents for setting up the smart card reader. Linux Mint has been know for it’s being a well polished distribution. I would say that release 19.1 keeps in this tradition. I will be evaluating Mint strictly against what I use today, openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma. This is a biased review but with a mostly open mind.
I didn’t test Mint on actual hardware, for my purposes, that wasn’t necessary, my evaluation is about the user experience, interfacing and ease of use. At this point, pretty much all Linux distributions run great on main stream or older hardware and Linux Mint is known for just running well.
When booting from the installation media, there wasn’t an option as to what to do. It just did an automatic boot. I see this good for some users but not my preference.
The media boots quickly and you are presented with a great looking desktop and I was even given a warning that it is using software rendering. It brought a smile to my face to see how the desktop looks friendly yet, “cool” and approachable. Often approachable has to be bright in color but this is not.
The installation is is the standard Ubuntu Ubiquity installer that I have grown to appreciate with so many other distributions. It is a well done installer that is easy for even the non-technical to navigate.
You start with your language and keyboard settings. Then if you want third party software and how you want to install Mint. In this case, I just went with to use the entire disk.
I should have explored my options further but did not and regretted after more exploration into the depths of Mint. More on that later.
After partitioning the hard drive you are asked to create the user and off it will go writing your new Linux experience to disk.
I appreciate how Mint gives you a “commercial” that is very relatable to a typical user. I do agree that Netflix is quite useful these days and rather expected. It’s just interesting to see that in the installation process. I also can’t help but think about the days I had to do a hacky work around to get Netflix working in Linux… oh, those were the days…
After the installation is done, you are asked if you want to continue testing or reboot immediately. Of course, I chose immediate reboot.
The welcome screen on Mint it is a most certainly a well crafted and well thought out entrance to this desktop experience. This is a well done and very welcoming, especially for someone new to Linux.
The different sections of the welcome is clean and laid out very logically and not overwhelming to go through. This is a great crash-course for a new user to get going with Linux Mint.
It gives you a point to spring board into what is truly important to a user. From here you can set up a lot of the specifics for you hardware and whatever requirements you may have.
Should you have problems, help is a click away and I also like that they have a click for contributing to Mint as well. I really hope that its users do take the time to throw them some bucks because all the thought and effort they put into it really does deserve it.
The first order of business was to see how, if available, the dark theme would look on mint. The window borders and controls can be set separately. I set mine to be Mint-Y-Dark on both.
I give it 3-thumbs up. It just looks so pleasing on the eyes. I really believe that this should be the default theme for Linux Mint
Linux Mint has all the basic application installed to do whatever you need to do on a computer. LibreOffice for document creation. Firefox web browser, HexChat for IRC and Thunderbird for email.
The menu they have put together for it is also really well done. I do like that have it set up nicely organized and have an “All applications” listing as well. Not that I find that as useful, but I see the utility in it if you are just looking through the list of installed applications. It also has a search function that works well too.
The default Firewall is also very approachable. This is the same as MX Linux and many other distributions out there, Gufw. It looks good and is pretty easy to use with a very nice help section too get you started. Interestingly, it was disabled by default.
The system backup / snapshot utility has two options, RSYNC and BTRFS. I was excited to see the BTRFS option and wanted to see how close this would be to openSUSE.
After hitting finish, I was given a sad dialog box that said it was not supported. Here is why I wish I would have looked at the partitioning options more closely. Maybe next time.
Upgrades on Mint are about like what you would experience on seemingly any other Debian based distribution. I did have one issue of not being able to fetch some of the packages but the system still hummed along quite fine after a reboot.
My only real issue with the installer was even after authorizing the upgrades, I had to do further authorizations in the same session. It was a bit odd but better to be safe than sorry.
What I Like
The dark theme on Mint is top notch. I am partial to the dark theme with green highlights, as that is how keep my desktop with openSUSE. Green is just a great color. Kermit was wrong, it is easy being green.
Cinnamon looks real nice and is very approachable for a new-to-Linux user. The menu is nice the icon theme is nice, it is all, real… nice. There really isn’t much to complain about with the appearance and usability. It does what I would expect, it feels clean and the system settings all feel very nicely integrated. Linux Mint feels like a complete experience.
The default applications are sensible basics that I am perfectly fine with. I don’t get hung up on default applications, so long as I can get what I want. I could get my work done in Linux Mint just fine.
What I Don’t Like
I didn’t care for how Mint automatically started a live media version when booting from the downloaded media. I do prefer having the option to install directly not just force me directly into a live media session. Perhaps the audience that Mint is catering to, this is indeed a good solution. Not my preference but I see its utility.
It is common in many distributions to require authentication to do updates. What I didn’t notice with other distros was without closing the update application, I had to enter my password again to attempt updates. I guess better safe than sorry but it is a bit of a paper-cut issue from my perspective.
The default partitioning is not my preference. I would prefer separate home and root partitions. I have played around with Linux to “configure” it my way or get something else working and have messed things up beyond repair. I have also spent enough time working on systems to know that there are times that a nuke-and-pave that is required periodically. I really believe that it is unwise to have one partition.
I was real excited to see BTRFS based snapshots as a way of backing up the system but that option was given to me after the installation. I would have had to know ahead of time to set it up as such but I didn’t see that immediately in the installer as an option.
Linux Mint looks great and I see this as a good distribution for the uninitiated into the Linux world. I would gladly recommend it to anyone, especially if you can’t be there in person to help them out with it and through it. The welcome screen is a great and seems to get a newbie right to where they have to go.
I think Cinnamon is nice desktop and would be satisfactory for any casual user but it is not exactly what I like. I still prefer the flexibility of KDE Plasma. Would I be happy on Mint? I really don’t know if I would. It was all real nice but I just don’t know. I think I would have to play around with it some more to be able to answer that. I certainly prefer it to many other distributions of Linux and I would take it over the Windows or Mac experience but as a daily driver on my main machine, it wouldn’t be my first choice. I very much prefer what openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma gives me, it satisfies those varied itches I have. Mint is not a bad place to be, it just doesn’t happen to scratch all my itches.