Still, as the blogosphere suggests, many Unity-sceptic Ubuntu users have given up and decided to try Linux Mint. So after the briefest of cursory brushes with Juila in 2010, I thought I'd really give Katya a chance to woo me on the desktop. What's the worst that could happen? I fall in love with the Mint Menu or concluded that even Global Menus are better than this?
I'm well aware at this stage that Linux Mint 12 is out but for a couple of reasons I decided to retro test Katya. First as a rescue CD on a system with a corrupt boot partition and later I decided to test what I know, as the Mint Team had decided to stick with Gnome 2.x for Katya.
There is nothing to tell of the installation, using pretty a pretty much unchanged Ubuntu installer, everything including repartitioning my hard drive was simplicity itself. I was pleased to see a 2.6.38 kernel as booted into the OS for the first time.
When you log into the desktop (image above) everything looks professional and, if you'll excuse the pun, well polished. Seamless integration is a strong selling point of Mint, it aims to be every inch as consistently branded and well fitted together as Ubuntu itself. Job done.
When I first poked at Helena, last year, with a metaphorical long and suspicious stick, I was not the Linux user I am now. I was put off by the green branding and the infamous Mint Menu, that I tried to edit and succeeded only in breaking the favourites, which I took as a sign and disappeared in a sulk to another distro. Fresh green is not for me so how about a nice, muted Debian blue and a change of wallpaper. I'm determined to give the Mint Menu a chance and it really doesn't bother me greatly even in it's default and unedited form (heh). Now I know it has an underlying Gnome 2 architecture and as I know how that works I poked around and created two new bars in the the traditional panels layout. I observed that I could replace the innovative Mint Menu with Gnome's traditional Applications, Places and System menu's, but resisted.
I told you I like that wallpaper.
Some distros look and feel like they're stitched together from many disparate open source components, mainly because they are. Anyone can do that, if you'd like to try Arch Linux or Linux From Scratch are definitely worth a look. What distinguishes a good distro from any homespun software collection is consistency and branding. All the disparate components are seamless integrated, look and work well together. If you've never used a less polished distro than Ubuntu, openSUSE or Fedora this is something you won't won't relate to. Integration and consistency is only something you notice when it's absent. When a OS component pops up and is so glaringly alien then you notice it: that component and the lack of consistency. You'll certainly notice if a component doesn't work or won't work in combination with others.
Which software ships with a distro is an issue for many, but with a package system like APT and repositories and PPA any Ubuntu based distro makes a default software package redundant. As you can see above I grabbed my media player of choice Audacious, which I recommend you try if you don't need all the things Banshee is capable of. The capable Brasero disk writing app is included in your newly deployed desktop as is VLC's media player along with the more conservative GNOME MPlayer and Movie Player. Flash is, of course, installed by default no problems with YouTube, either running the live DVD or using Katja out of the box.
The browser of choice is my favourite: Firefox, I don't dislike or love Chrome, leave it I'm sure it's great, I just love Firefox. Pidgin delivers IMs and mail is managed with Thunderbird, my default choice too. Transmission is a stable and capable bittorent client for those who just want to get things done, it's great, it works, I use it all the time. Java is Sun's at version 6. As you'd expect, proprietary hardware drivers are a trivial installation issue via a functionally GUI. Debian this is not. If you crave patent free, open source purity Mint has a version to cater to your tastes and rest assured I'll be giving that an extended test in the new year.
I was pleased to see LibreOffice bundled simply because it saves me removing OpenOffice and then installing Libre by hand. GIMP is here so another download task saved. I like that no games are installed by default...I rarely use them and often end up clawing back the wasted space. Tetravex, any card games, Mines and Mahjonng always get installed for idling away a ten minute coffee break.
I know what I like and I like to try new things. The best approach really.
The really nice thing about this component is that if you click Install Updates it does just that. You can now forget all about updates as it won't come back and report unless there is something to know, if everything is successful it simply closes. If you want information Mint has it in the log, otherwise you won't be told things you can do nothing with like: Everything completed fine, now interact with me to make me go away.
For those yearning for the power of the Synaptic Package Manger, don't. It's here and you can use it if you wish. I have a place in my arsenal for Synaptic but most of time I'm happy to use the Software Manager.
I felt at home immediately with Katya. So I installed Wine and tried to run Windows games. I have nothing to report other than the Wine is at 1.3.15 and installed completed and my games launched, played and performed perfectly well. That is all.
So how did Linux Mint 11 Katya fair on my main box? Well four weeks later it's still installed. I succeeded on installing Managler the open source Ventrillo client to use with Ventrillo Voice Chat services. This means that with the quite reasonable performance Wine delivers presenting a Windows API to Warcraft I now have few reasons to boot into another OS, so I haven't.
I have persevered with the Mint Menu start panel and it's...well it hasn't bugged me enough often enough to rip it out and go default Gnome. With less fresh, zinging greens and more restful, subdued blues there is nothing to put me off any aspect of the interface. Almost everything I need or want is either installed or a short sudo apt-get install package away and worked out of the box.
I entitled this the inevitable review as Linux Mint gets a lot of attention, I felt it would be much more interesting to be reviewing Arch or Gentoo or some tiny gem I'd happened upon. However, sometimes I just want to do some work or play some Warcraft and so I want a workhorse distro that handles it all with grace and stabilty, So as many other reviewers have found, I inevitably have discovered that I really, really like Mint and can't wait to try the Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) and Linux Mint 12 Lisa.
In conclusion, my post Ubuntu, 2011 distro of choice is Katya, my Distro of 2011, the one I'm using full time on the main box, is Linux Mint 11 "Katya".