I’ve been using Linux Mint for a few weeks now and I am very impressed with it. I like it enough that I’ve overwritten my last Windows PC with Mint and now have only Linux (3 PCs) and OS-X (2 Macs) running in our home. Mint has replaced Ubuntu as my number 2 OS preference. I still prefer the OS-X package overall, despite being annoyed by the active-application versus active-window OS focus paradigm and a few other annoyances, but Mint is decreasing the gap between Linux and OS-X for me. Add to this the open nature of Linux and I can see maybe even preferring Mint to OS-X (for most work) in a few years.
Lineage of Mint Linux
Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu Linux (which is itself based on Debian Linux). The Linux Mint engineers start with the latest Ubuntu and add a number of aesthetic and functional enhancements that make Mint feel almost like a different operating system.
Installing Linux Mint is almost as easy as installing Windows. I would say that anyone mildly familiar with PCs could do it, provided they could call someone if they have a question. I was installing Mint over existing Windows or Linux installations, so the installation to a new PC or a new hard disk might be even easier.
I actually found Mint Linux after installing the Windows 7 release candidate to a 2004 vintage (Athlon XP 2500+) PC to try it out as a media center OS and finding that although Windows installed smoothly and looked and behaved much better than Vista, it didn’t recognize my audio, video, or wireless chipsets, all of which were very popular in 2004 and 2005 at least. I didn’t feel like fighting with drivers on Windows so I installed Ubuntu, which worked well except for the wireless chipset. After building and installing drivers for the wireless chipset, I was online and ready to go, except for the annoying and laborious process of installing all the multimedia codecs and other components that would allow me to watch Youtube and Flash videos, play movies, etc. Note that it’s not Ubuntu’s fault that they don’t include this functionality in their releases. These components are illegal in a lot of countries, thanks to a bunch of parasitic corporations and their lawyers. OS-X and Windows only work well out of the box because they’ve made deals with these parasites, feeding them in exchange for the right to build multimedia into their OS. Ubuntu is doing the right thing given the legal requirements they labor under.
The thought of once again going through the hassle of installing all the multimedia components to make Ubuntu sing made me consider other options. I found Mint Linux and read up on it. It turned out to be one of the most popular Linux distributions and looked promising, so I tried it out. The installation went great, with all the old PC components recognized (even the wireless card) and after installation, I was up and running with a fully functional (and beautiful to look at) PC.
Look and Feel
OS-X is still the king of the hill in ease of use and aesthetics. XP was the high point for Microsoft but was still too much of a mess to seriously compete against OS-X. Windows 7 looks like a huge improvement over Vista and may top XP. Time will tell. Linux has always lagged behind in this department, but major Linux-based systems such as Red Hat and Ubuntu are getting better all the time at allowing users to get serious work done and even reconfigure the OS without having to navigate confusing menus and apps or resort to the command line. Mint has gone even further in this direction and looks and behaves more like a cross between Windows XP and OS-X than a mainstream Linux-based system. I’m using the Gnome-based “Main Edition” version of Mint Linux, which is able to play multimedia and support most major graphics and wireless chipsets out of the box. If you are at all interested in Linux, you really owe it to yourself to install Mint to see if it suits your needs. I’ve been using Linux since the early 90s and develop for it (among other OSs) at work, so I’m very familiar with various Linux versions, and this is the best Linux I’ve ever experienced. It has all the power of Red Hat 5 and every other modern Linux and has the best UI I’ve seen.
Need for the command line
Ubuntu is getting better all the time at allowing users to get serious work done and configure the OS without resorting to the command line. Mint has gone even further in this direction. The terminal is readily available for people like me who prefer the command line for certain types of work, but it’s rarely necessary to use it to accomplish something a normal (non-engineer) user would want to do.
You can see that I like Mint Linux. I want to stress that I’m not badmouthing Ubuntu or Debian or even Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Mint would not exist without Ubuntu and Debian and Red Hat is targeted at a different audience (many of my work customers use it). Linux based systems are so powerful and advancing so rapidly because of the diversity and openness of the open source and Linux communities, which are a microcosm of the way the world should be, mostly cooperative instead of mostly competitive. I hope that one day companies like Apple and Microsoft are either forced to embrace openness to survive or are replaced by companies that are inherently open.