Linux Mint Review

First Impressions - Linux Mint Review

by Larry Neal Gowdy - November 02,2011 (updated October 6, 2013)




Mint, The Linux Distribution that Lives Up to the Hype

Mint Website


Most Linux® desktop distributions claim to be fast and stable, but rarely are any reasonably speedy, and more rare is to find one that is stable. Mint, however, is a Linux distribution that works as it promises. The live CD runs plenty well enough to get a good idea of Mint’s potential; the speed is decent, the video and audio drivers work, the ethernet card drivers work, and, well, the operating system works. Too, it worked as well on a Pentium 4 computer as it did on an AMD Sempron PC.


Screenshot of Mint Linux

Screenshot of the default Linux Mint desktop (a better version is shown near the bottom of the page).


The above screenshot is of a low quality because it was first taken by the screenshot utility in Mint, saved as a PNG, then placed into Libre® Writer, then converted into a doc for use by Microsoft® Word, and then copied from Word into Jasc® PaintShop Pro® (PSP) to resize and save as a jpg graphic. The graphic below was taken by simply using the 'prt scr' key, then pasting it into Writer, and later cropped by Word to be converted by PSP. Normally I would enter back into a program and take another screenshot, but I thought it would be useful to leave the above graphic (and the others of similar quality) as-is so as to illustrate some of the not so good results that are often encountered in Linux programs. Yes, normally we would save a file directly to disk from a screenshot program, and yes we would normally use the file from the disk to be resized and cropped in a graphics program, but sometimes there is a need to work with graphics within a word processor without the advantage of using graphics editing software. Libre is not as compatible with Word as is sometimes advertised, and if a person needs to create compatible documents then the person would likely find it best to simply use Word and to not use Writer. For me, I simply do not have the time to repeat steps over and over in Linux programs that require so little time in many Windows programs.


Screenshot of Mint Linux with a Hilary Hahn wallpaper

Screenshot of Mint with Audacious and a Hilary Hahn wallpaper (the photo is from Deutsche Gramophone® and copyrighted by ©Olaf Heine).


Installing Mint on a bare hard drive from the live CD took about fifteen minutes, plus about another half hour to load software packages, plus a few minutes to update 3D video drivers, plus another hour or so to download and install 160+ updates. Over all the installation was relatively quick and painless.

One of the first things that I did after installation was to open Libre Writer and turn off most of the accessories (ruler, text borders, tool bars, etc.). I then installed RhythmBox with the automated software installer (it took maybe two minutes), I picked a radio station to listen to, I opened the computer control panel to configure the keyboard repeat rate to be considerably faster (Windows does not permit keyboard settings as fast as I prefer, and so I really appreciate the option in Linux), and I then went back into Writer to begin writing this article while listening to music.


Screenshot of Mint Linux with a Hilary Hahn wallpaper

Screenshot of Libre Writer in Mint (tool bars and other accessories are turned off).


As I wrote about in previous articles, Libre has greatly improved its font display, and I am of the opinion that Writer can be an acceptable substitute for Word when creating new documents. Past tests showed Writer as not being capable of converting Word documents with line drawings, and Writer does not have as fast of a screen write speed, and too Writer has hesitation problems when scrolling through a page, but for new small sized documents I am thinking that Writer should work well enough for most users. If a person is accustomed to minimized page separation, copying, pasting, selecting all, scroll-select, moving graphics with text, manipulating graphics, and other common commands that are found in Word, the person may find Writer to be a bit annoying due to Writer not yet having similar behaviors as Word.

I still think of Word 2003 as being the best word processor available – I am not as fond of Word 2010 – and for the moment I am still ranking Writer well below Word 2010. Nevertheless, one of the rather large advantages of Writer is that you can change the application background color. I prefer a white page on a darkish gray background, which can be done in Word but at the cost of darkening the backgrounds of most all other software in Windows. The ability to change application background colors can be an important feature to me.


Screenshot of Windows XP with the silvre XP theme and a Hilary Hahn wallpaper

Screenshot of Microsoft Word in the silver XP theme on dual monitors.


Word can have a bluish-gray application background when the silver XP theme is used: it is still not as dark as I would normally prefer, but it is better than the light gray in some other themes. The usefulness of an operating system is fully dependent on the software that runs within the operating system, and regardless of how good Mint might be, the final decision will be based on how well the software meets the user’s needs. If a person’s primary needs include a quality word processor, then Linux might not be a viable choice.


Screenshot of Windows XP silver theme with Hilary Hahn wallpaper

Screenshot of an XP silver theme dual monitor desktop with Windows Media Player and a modified Sarah Brightman wallpaper.


The ability to change an operating system’s appearance to meet one's own preferences can be as important as its speed. One of the best advantages of Linux is the open source code that allows a person to configure their user interface any way they might want. With enough imagination a Windows desktop can be modified to please the user, but Linux has the greater potential.

Back to Mint, with a few clicks of the mouse and in less than three minutes I installed Audacious® (my favorite Linux music player) and the latest version of Opera®. Mint has Firefox® installed by default, but I like Opera too. With a few more clicks I installed the Quanta Plus®, Geany®, and BlueFish® editors to later test to see if one might work well for my needs. With quality font displays I would like to see Libre create a script editor like what Microsoft had in Office 2003 but with word wrap and spell checking. It is the word processor-like behavior and quality of font display that attracts me the most. Quanta Plus, Geany, and BlueFish can get the job done, but Libre has a more polished text display, and well, that's what I would prefer.

Microsoft Expression® Web 4 is an excellent HTML/CSS editor mainly because it has the same quality of fonts, word wrap, and spell checker as Word. Expression is an expanded version of Script Editor®, and it can be a bit of a pain to initially configure due to most “features” needing to be turned off before the editor is useful for typing code, but once the program is setup properly it can be quite good. I hope that Libre will someday offer a similar editor.


Screenshot of the Mint Google page in Opera

Screenshot of the Mint Google page in Opera.


The Google® search box in Opera opens a Google results page branded with Mint, which I like because the page is very lightweight without the unnecessary graphics and pop-up flash like what Google, Yahoo®, and Bing® normally have. Opera allows for several different skin colors by default, and Opera has become a quite good browser for speed, appearances, and usefulness in both Windows as well as Linux. The Mint branded Google page may be removed from default soon; it appears that some people prefer the full Google home page.

I did a quick Google search for my main website, and clicking on the link brought up my site super fast (for me to say something is fast, it has to be really fast, as in instant or almost instantaneous). It should be remembered that Mint was a fresh install on a bare hard drive, and the visit to my site was the very first time on this drive, and yet the site opened about as fast as if I had loaded the files straight off of the hard drive. Opera Next is noticeably faster in Windows, and the newest Opera for Mint appears to be as fast or maybe even faster. I'm impressed!

Mint never crashed during more than seven hours of running. I did have the software installer minimize out of site when I exited the keyboard configuration menu, and Writer unloaded completely (luckily I'm in the habit of saving documents frequently). The software installer was still downloading the file to install when I opened the menu again, and so it was no problem. Except for that one oddity (and I may have inadvertently caused it myself), I have not noticed any mentionable flaw in Mint. I turned off most of the display animations, and later I will dig further into the menus to ensure all unnecessary animations are disabled. Except for Puppy, Mint is the only Linux distribution to run this long on my computers without a rather nasty crash. Very nice!

In the past I had tried to install Mint numerous times on different computers, but the live CD would never fully load. The ISO files checked good, I tried different CD brands, different CD burners, and most everything I could think of but Mint simply refused to fully load. If an operating system will not load on my computers with a live CD then I take it as a sign that the operating system may not be compatible, and so I did not attempt a full installation. Seeing the new version 11 of Mint I thought that I would try it one more time, and I am glad that I did.

One almost universal effect of desktop Linux distributions is that their slowness fatigues me. After about an hour on most distributions I feel exhausted and my right wrist is often sore from using the mouse, but moving back over to an XP machine I feel fine again due to the fast response speeds. With Mint I did not experience sizable fatigue, and after about five hours of use I still wanted to continue working. XP is sizably faster than Mint, and Word 2003 is faster and much easier to use than Libre Writer, but over all I am not complaining (at least not loudly). Mint seems to be as fast or faster than all other Linux distributions that I have tested, and while it may be far less responsive than XP, for a Linux distribution it is quite good.


What separates Mint from other distributions?


Apple® does not have the best selection of hardware and software, but the computers are housed with materials of a quality and style that are attractive to individuals who prefer a higher standard. Similarly, Mint’s default theme copies some of the Apple-ish feel, which gives Mint a sense of refinement.

Mint’s choice of menu/icon designs are sizably favored for my personal tastes. My general opinion is that Mint’s appearance might be best favored by individuals who prefer a more mature atmosphere.


Screenshot of the Linux Mint default desktop

Screenshot of the Linux Mint default desktop (copied with CorelDraw®).



Conclusions


So far Mint has been reasonably stable on my computers, which is a good indication that it may work well for many different computers. Nevertheless, I have only run Mint for about seven hours, and it may crash a horrible death at any moment like what I have experienced with almost all other Linux desktop distributions.

While Mint itself is promising to be a good operating system, I myself will not be able to use it due to the software not being of a quality that I need. I need a quality word processor and an HTML/CSS editor with word processor qualities. I would not mind using Audacious, Evolution® email, and most of the other available programs, but I cannot afford to use text software that is slow and annoyingly peculiar in behavior. I can get more work done in one hour with Word and Expression than what I could accomplish in five hours with Writer and a Linux-based HTML editor, and so for me Linux is not yet a feasible choice.

If a person only needs an operating system for browsing the Internet, listening to music, and watching videos, Mint could be a good choice. Puppy has a lot of help screens that are good for users new to Linux, while Mint has Windows-like menus that might be best appreciated by experienced users.

If you are interested in Linux, give Mint a try, it is definitely one of the best distributions available.




Unless otherwise stated, all content and graphics are Copyright©2011-2013 by Larry Neal Gowdy.
No content nor graphic may be copied or reused without written permission.