After hearing the hype over Linux Mint 12 recently, I decided to give it a spin. Not just a run in a virtual machine, but a full run on a spare hard drive. That would give a more robust opportunity to see how Mint handles full 3D video and other capabilities.
Installing Mint proved simple. I started with a LiveCD. Mint 12 doesn’t fit entirely on a CD and also offers a Live DVD for the full installation. That’s not an problem, though, because the rest of the installation can easily be installed later. The LiveCD booted and found all my hardware with no problem. After playing around for a few minutes, I installed Mint 12.
I don’t have any screenshots of the actual installation since I didn’t do this in a virtual machine. The process proved simple and should be easy for novices. When all was done, though, the computer rebooted to an unreadable graphics screen. Ubuntu 11.10 did the same thing when I upgraded to it. Hitting ‘Enter’ moves the user to the login screen. After logging in, Mint 12 loaded:
The screenshot doesn’t do the 3D picture justice. It’s very sharp. The desktop looks pretty much like GNOME 3 except for the bottom panel and trash can. The Mint 12 developers created a wrapper called Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MSGE) for GNOME 3 to make it look and work a bit like the beloved GNOME 2. The extensions seem to work OK, but they don’t really bring back GNOME 2’s full capabilities that GNOME 3 sorely lacks at this point.
When Mint 12 first loads, a helpful window appears on the screen:
Unfortunately, I didn’t take this screenshot on the first run. In the lower left corner on that window, another entry appeared on the first load offering to install the proprietary codecs. I did that right away and it couldn’t have been easier. Ubuntu requires loading the Medibuntu repository and the ubuntu restricted extras package, which takes some specific knowledge. After taking this screenshot, I clicked on Upgrade to the DVD Edition, which installed the remaining software, including LibreOffice. All very simple and well thought-out. Big kudos to the Mint team.
Unlike Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric, Mint follows the GNOME 3 schema pretty closely. That includes the way GNOME 3 uses and allocates workspaces. Mint 12 starts with one workspace as you can see in the above screenshot (lower right on the bottom panel). When you open apps, Mint 12 adds another workspace:
Once offered, the user may change to that workspace and open applications in it. That will result in adding yet another workspace. This seems to be part of GNOME 3’s using an activities metaphor vs. a location scheme that’s been so common before.
Also, check out the area next to the word “Activities” on the left side of the top panel in the above screenshot. The name of the active window appears there, Firefox in the above case. If the pointer is moved off of the active window, the name is removed from the top panel:
Interesting, but I’m not sure it’s a particularly useful feature.
Clicking on the word Activities on the top panel or hitting the Super key brings up a dash-like display:
The default Windows tab displays all the loaded application windows on the current workspace. If more than one window is open, it displays them spread out:
It seems basically like a task switcher, and clicking on any window or workspace opens that item in the foreground. Loading more windows provides a better idea (yes, I used a different background at that point):
The left side of the display is a vertical icon array of favorite and running applications, kinda like a dock. The right side of the screen presents a graphic display of the available workspaces which become useful when you mouse over that panel:
You can see what’s on each workspace in miniature. Adding VLC on workspace 2 opens a new workspace 3:
I should note that as you mouse over workspaces, that panel opens fully and the windows in the middle shrink a bit. Selecting a different workspace produces a display of its windows in the middle section. Moving the mouse back to the window section causes the workspace panel to shrink and the windows to grow slightly. There’s no mistaking where your pointer is located.
I found this overall scheme a pretty interesting and useful feature, actually better than Unity’s dash in some ways. The Mint 12 feature page touts the schema as “activity centered”. Well, OK. I make particular uses of each of my workspaces and operate pretty efficiently that way. If the Unity panel had a decent workspace switcher, I’d be even happier with it. Compiz provides a number of nice task and workspace switchers, best of all the cube.
Clicking on the Applications tab produces a list of installed applications like the application lens in Unity’s dash:
Menu categories appear on the right so that you can narrow the choices.
The top panel indicators loaded by the user appear on the lower right of the display. Mousing over them puts their name next to them. Right clicking on each provides appropriate context menus to Open and Remove.
Lastly, I really like the Mint 12 menu system and how it works:
On the left side of the menu is a vertical panel of handy shortcuts that include Firefox, Banshee, Software Manager, Advanced Setup, Terminal, and Files by default. Mousing over a menu category like Internet brings up the menu’s contents on the right side. This menu implementation proved simple and intuitive – far better than KDE 4’s default menu. I’d like to have it ported to a Unity panel icon. If not for the great menu, I’d pass on the Mint’s bottom panel altogether in favor of its Activities display.
Overall, I think that Linux Mint 12 is well thought out and works quite nicely. It’s easier to load proprietary codecs and other helpful tools like Advanced Settings. The Activity display is pretty cool and quite useful, but not as cool as the Compiz cube. I’m impressed with Mint 12.
I started out thinking that I might like Mint 12 more than Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric with Unity, but it didn’t turn out that way. I really like docks like AWN. Although Unity isn’t as functional as AWN in that regard, it’s way ahead of Mint 12 which doesn’t have a dock. The GNOME Shell Extension site has a dock, but it isn’t compatible with this version of GNOME.
So, it looks like I’ll be sticking with Unity for now, but I will keep monitoring Mint 12 for developments. Their developer team is doing great work.
BTW, I wrote this post using Firefox in Mint 12.