Monday, 11 January 2010

Review: Linux Mint

I have long been an advocate of Debian GNU/Linux (hereafter referred to as Linux). It's wonderful for servers, stable, with a predictable development cycle. The Ubuntu distribution builds on this with a lovely desktop and wonderful, easy hardware and software management. Mint builds on this again with a polished distribution that I'm finding quite enjoyable to use. You can find Mint here at: www.linuxmint.com It's a regular 700MB download iso and uses Ubuntu repositories. As usual, you have the options of using the included software manager (which is good) or aptitude or apt (my preference).

The machine I'm using for this is a HP/Compaq Presario C300. It's an older laptop, with a Celeron M processor and I've bumped the RAM up to a gig which gives me plenty to play with, even given that the video card steals some RAM. The C300 also has a lovely wide screen with that glossy look I normally despise but find to be very eyeball friendly at the moment. It only has a 60GB hard disk which is completely adequate for my needs. On to the review of Mint...

Given that this distribution is built on Ubuntu there are many lovely features that are underlying it. All the hardware in the notebook was picked up very swiftly and easily. It all worked out of the box. As a little back story - I was running Ubuntu on this notebook but the wireless wouldn't connect to my hidden wireless network. Frustrated because there seemed no answer to this problem, I found via Google a forum note that Mint worked correctly. The developers have apparently fixed this up. So I installed it and enabled things like the encrypted home directory (just to play with). The performance of the device is not noticeably affected by the decryption/encryption of files in my home directory which is nice. Access to all controls is through the Control Centre and I've had no problems with it at all. Automatically detecting devices works beautifully - Mint found and configured my HP2100 laser printer quickly and very easily. This is the kind of thing I love about the new Linux distributions. Long ago I remember writing the lp files to get printers recognised and working. Not much fun at all - but very stable!

Stability is always an issue for me. Being a computer professional, the last thing I want to do is come home and have to fix my own PCs - what a nightmare that always is. Especially given I have a *very* non-standard network doing all kinds of weird things and the last thing I want to do is try to work out whether it's my PC or my network causing things to be unhappy. Mint is wonderfully stable. I've had it running as my day to day work machine, in and out of suspend and hibernate and it's been terrific. It's worked reliably and quickly even with the in and out of suspend/hibernate. I have had problems with this in the past with other Linux distributions but Mint kicked butt. As a work box that needs to do all kinds of weird things and do them reliably, Mint does the job admirably.

On a superficial level, I like the green theme and the backgrounds etc are all very good. I really don't like the browns of Ubuntu and usually the first thing I do is to change the themes and backgrounds. I know I know - very shallow but... I'm still using the default Mint theme. It's nice and it's easy on the eyes. I'd recommend this distribution for the novice user all the way through to the systems admin type person. I don't know that it would suit the hardcore hacker (not being one) but I'm sure someone of that ilk would get by :-) You also have the option of the LTS 5 year supported version the same as Ubuntu. It's a nice little option to have. Otherwise you get the same release cycle as Ubuntu.

In conclusion Mint is definitely worth a look and it's heritage of stability, great software and hardware configuration, and ease of use make it a terrific distribution.

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