It's been a while since I did a technological (read: geek) blog, so I thought I would update you on what's going on.
As you are aware, I am a full-fledged geek by trade and passion and I have gone from Windows to Mac to Linux. My Linux evolution went from Linspire to Mepis to PCLinuxOS to Ubuntu. I stayed with PCLinuxOS and Ubuntu for the longest. However, I have always read good things about another distribution called Linux Mint. It's based on the latest Ubuntu release but with a lot of add-ons. The latest version is called Linux Mint 5, Elyssa. So, at the office, I downloaded the latest iso and tried it out to see how it all worked.
First of all, there are always some things I keep in mind when trying any new Linux distro, the primary thing being, 'How would the average user feel about using this OS?' 'Is it (very) simple to install? Is it easy to use? Is it easy to get help? Is it easy to add or remove applications? Is the terminal (command line) used a lot?' In my opinion, all of these are valid questions, especially if I am looking to recommend an open source alternative to proprietary software or hardware. Which I am always looking for. Some of my clients are non-profit companies that don't have a lot of extra funds or could use existing funds in a different way instead of spending it on software licensing.
So, how does Mint answer those questions? Extremely well, actually. I don't have a lot of knowledge with Mint, so I read through the release notes and downloaded the User Manual. From what I have gathered, Linux Mint started a couple of years ago as mainly a way of getting multimedia codecs in Ubuntu. However, it quickly became a thing of it's own and has been a favorite distro for many people and winning new fans every day (including me).
One of the things that sets Mint apart from other distros is it's mintMenu. Upon first glance, I thought this was just the same slider menu found in Suse and in the new KDE4. But upon further investigation, I found that it's something altogether different. Something that I enjoy about the mintMenu is a new feature this release, something I have not seen in any other OS, whether it's another Linux distro or Mac or Windows. Let's say you found an app that you really don't need or want. How does one uninstall it? It's very easy with mintMenu. Just click on the menu like normal and find the app.
Then, right click on the app and select 'Uninstall' from the pop-up menu.
Mint then opens a window showing the application (and dependencies, if any) to be removed. To remove it/them, just click 'Remove'.
And that's it. Simple, right? Right. And that is a major thing I look for in a distro, simplicity. And to me, Linux Mint comes through with flying colors.
[SUGGESTIONS: I would like to see the application that is selected highlighted. As can be seen in the second screen shot, we aren't really sure which app is to be removed. Keeping the app highlighted would be nice. Also, I would like to see the wording the same. That is, have both places say either 'uninstall' or 'remove'. Consistency is a big deal for a new person wading into the uncharted waters of Linux and anything that is worded different (even if it means the same thing) makes some people uneasy.]
Since I'm trying this at the office, I need a different email client to interact with the Microsoft Exchange server. This application is called 'Evolution'. It works very well with Exchange and has all the features I need on a daily basis. To install this app (and any other one you might need) you would launch the 'Software Portal' from the menu. This opens an app called mintInstall.
Just type in the app you are looking for and it will then open Firefox to the Software Portal page. Select the app from the portal and click 'Install now'.
You will be asked what to do with the file and you just accept the default (open with mintInstall). MintInstall then asks you if you are certain you want to install the app and where to install it. Keep everything as is and click the 'Install' button.
After a few minutes, it will install and appear in the menu.
Another thing I like is mintUpdate. This is an application that keeps your system minty fresh! First of all, it runs in the background and checks (as often or as few times as you want) to see if there are any updates to your system. And not only the OS, but all the apps installed through the proper channels. Here again is where Mint shines.
As can be seen, the menu is very well thought out and non-geek language is used which, again, makes it better for the end user. As Mr Rogers said, 'Simple is better.' MintUpdate does that very well.
One of the things I want to touch on is the 'Level' column. There are five different levels of an update. To quote the release notes:
- Prefer level 1 and 2 upgrades to be safe and only apply level 3, 4 and 5 upgrades selectively and after you made sure they fixed a bug you needed fixed.
- Always use mintUpdate to perform package upgrades, avoid to do so with APT or Synaptic; these tools are not aware of the stability level related to package upgrades.
I will state, however, that I have used level 3 upgrades without issue.
[SUGGESTION: Just another wording consistency issue. I would prefer if they either used 'update' or 'upgrade'. Since the app is called 'mintUpdate', I would like to see 'update' used throughout the app.]
I could go on and on. Most of what people do when they review a new distro is talk about how to install it, how to update it, how to install/remove applications, etc. All of this can be found in the Users Manual. It is a great resource that is very easy to follow.
Personally, I have found Mint to be the best distro I've used. It makes the switch from Windows very easy. Which is the whole point, especially for my line of work. Mint comes with all of the features of the other distros I've used: Firefox, OpenOffice, etc. so you can use it with other systems in a network settings, be that a home network or an enterprise. I was so impressed by this distro, I installed on my home system. It has replaced Ubuntu and I haven't been happier.
My only hesitation is the same one I had with PCLinuxOS -- it seems that there is only one lead developer of Mint ('Clem'). This gives me concern for the future of the distro. What happens if Clem 'moves on'? What if he won't or can't continue to work on Mint? What becomes of this most excellent OS? I am not certain but in the meantime, I will continue to use Mint and recommend it to all of my clients.
Peace be with you.
[EDIT: I should point out that I have tweaked the look of Mint for my tastes. The default look is different. It uses different icons, window borders, color scheme, etc. This ability to change the look is one of the things I like most about Linux.]