Linux Mint 16 : Time to savour Mint this year?

Linux Mint goes from strength to strength, says Best Pc Tips – and why not? It does after all have the community behind it.

The old adage of ‘if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’ can certainly be applied to many different distributions of Linux, but there’s one distro that time and time again comes out shining above the others: Linux Mint.
The reasons behind the popularity of this particular flavour of Linux are many, and we’ve covered most of them thoroughly in the past (LXF167); however, there is one major factor contributing to this excellent example of an operating system that’s worth going over again, and that’s its commitment to providing us, the users, with a well tested and well thought out system. How often do we, as dedicated Linux users, casual Linux testers, distro junkies and enthusiasts fully appreciate the amount of work and effort that’s involved in taking what has worked in the past and improving on it? How much work does it actually take to listen to all the hands-on desktop experiences the community has with the system, learn from their voiced concerns or congratulations and apply those ideas and concepts to the finished product? The chances are most of us never fully comprehend the dedication of the people behind the scenes.
The same can be said for virtually every item of FOSS, regardless of whether it’s built by one developer or the result of a worldwide team of hundreds of developers and testers – the finished product is what Linux Mint goes from strength to strength, says David Hayward– and why not? It does after all have the community behind it.
makes or breaks you as a person, or indeed, as a team. The operating system is a prime example; we are all aware of the poor examples of a Linux distro, just as much as we are aware of the gloriously presented ones. However, to keep up the record of improvement, continual growth and success, and the appreciation of those who use it takes something more than just dedication, it takes passion.

“Most of us never fully comprehend the dedication of the people behind the scenes.”

Mint Condition

Has the battle of the charts been won? There’s a kind of unwritten rule throughout internet land, where charts, top lists and other popularity identifiers such as these are taken greatly into account. Some of these lists are compiled thoroughly using the most up to date data available, some aren’t. Distrowatch is one of the more popular and accurate of these lists (Although Chris Brown may not agree, see p58), and although their rankings are based on page hits from their own links, they have nevertheless established themselves as the go-to view in which to see the top ten, top twenty or top one hundred distros available to users.Linux Mint has been top of the Distrowatch charts for quite some time now. The battle between Mint and Ubuntu for first place has raged for a couple of years and has culminated in an all-out win for Mint – if you see Distrowatch as important, certainly. As you can see from the chart we’ve included below of the top distros from Distrowatch, Mint is leading the way with 3,424 page hits based on a six-month period. So what does all this mean? Well, in truth we do realise that there’s only so much faith you can put into the DistroWatch charts, they just represent a small section of the community by all accounts, but it makes for interesting chewing-over and although there’s not much chance of Mint being knocked off the podium for the foreseeable future, it’s also nice to view the rankings of the other distros as they climb the ladder of popularity.
Really though, it’s down to the team of developers and testers who work diligently to bring us a stable operating system, and their faith in what they’re doing. In the end, that’s what Linux Mint means to its followers and the vast community of users, not least us here at LXF. It’s the passion in which Clem Lefebvre and his team put into every release; to be forever moving onward and upward, and to offer us a complete system, free from as many bugs as possible while still embracing as much new technologies as is functionally possible. This, dear readers, is what makes Linux such an evolving and enterprising world to live in: it’s not just an obsession with free software, it’s our passion for the ethos of FOSS and its embodiment in the common good for working with and for each other.

The man  behind the  OS, Clement  Lefebvre.
The man  behind the  OS, Clement  Lefebvre.

What we’re looking at today is a version, and Linux Mint 16 ‘Petra’ can help offer both the Windows refugee and the habitual Linux user a fresh new outlook on their desktop doings. In the next few pages we’ll look at the new technologies involved in Mint 16 ‘Petra’, and see what’s she’s got under the hood. And finally we’ll take a gander at possibly the most important factor of this or any distro – the community. So let’s dive in.

“It’s an all-out win for Mint – if you see Distrowatch as important, certainly…”

Technologies galore!

What’s your flavour? Try a blast of freshness… Linux Mint 16 is certainly no backward operating system, as you’ll soon come to appreciate when you read on – or indeed, just use it. The technologies, tweaks and enhancements it offers far outweigh the more common operating systems that grace the screens of a modern PC. Mint, however, doesn’t always run with the latest innovations.As we’ll see later on, there are more recent updates for many of the features that appear in Linux Mint 16, but the team decided to make the overall experience of using Linux Mint a stable one, so where the latest version may have been forsaken for an earlier one, the stability of it means you’re ultimately getting a better operating system. Saying that though, there’s still plenty of up to date technology in Mint 16. As Clem mentions, “This new release comes with updated software and brings refinements and new features to make your desktop even more comfortable to use. Linux Mint 16 focuses on the task at hand, it does less and does it better than before.”

Cinnamon 2.0

One of the biggest features showcased prior to the Mint 16 launch was, of course, the release of Cinnamon 2.0. After spending five months in development, along with 856 commits from 28 developers, Cinnamon 2.0 was unleashed with a plethora of bug fixes, brand new features and many, many improvements.
The Cinnamon project did have something of a shaky start in life when it was first introduced back in Linux Mint 13, although Mint 12 owners gave it a good testing base in early 2012. There were a number of users complaining of frequent crashes, and issues such as unusable desktops, but after some bug fixes things started to settle and the users began to get the measure of this new environment. Back then Cinnamon addressed the concerns of Gnome 3.x that some of the community held, particularly the loss of productivity and usage versus the Gnome 2 environment. Cinnamon appealed to the masses who were becoming a little sick of the flashy, bubble gum tablet interface that most desktops were turning into regardless of their desktop OS origins. Cinnamon was simple, powerful and had a catchy name: perfect ingredients for a community winner.
Fast forward a couple of years, and we have Cinnamon 2.0 on our desktops, and it’s looking as good as ever. However, looks aren’t everything and the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the tasting.
It would be easy to list all the minutiae of details regarding the many fixes and features of Cinnamon 2.0, but it’ll be somewhat superfluous, especially since this ground has already been covered many times before. Rather than that, then, we’ll simply highlight the more important aspects, that way those of you who aren’t familiar with the delicacies of Cinnamon 2.0 can at least make a small judgement based on what you read; remember though, as with most desktop environments, Cinnamon is a personal thing, what works with one user may not necessarily work or attract the next.

Work round the edges

Edge tiling is when you move an active window to the edge of the screen and stick it there, occupying half the screen (or by pressing the Super key + L + Arrow key). It may sound unnecessarily flashy for some, but consider the modern desktop owner with a widescreen monitor, tiling the windows to one half of the screen potentially makes for a more productive layout and better use of the available desktop space available.

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Cinnamon has matured into a Gnome free environment rather nicely.  A sample of delicious technologies from Cinnamon 2.0.
Cinnamon has matured into a Gnome free environment rather nicely.  A sample of delicious technologies from Cinnamon 2.0.

With Cinnamon 2.0 there were some nice additions to the edge tiling feature: tiled windows no longer needed to fill half the screen, as they do by default, and now display a Heads Up.

What’s in Mate 1.6?

Mate, the other desktop environment that Linux Mint comes in, is an alternative that has found much favour among its users.
Mate is, essentially, designed to be the new Gnome 2. Whichever way you decide to look at it, Gnome 2 was basically renamed, and Mate has carried on with the desktop project where Gnome 2 eventually left off. But Mate goes far beyond Gnome as a desktop. The features, the look, feel and performance of Gnome have since evolved into Mate, and as such Mate has evolved into an environment that encompasses everything that was once great about Gnome – but without the bugs that inherently plagued it for years. With Linux Mint 16, Mate was destined to accompany the latest Cinnamon with version 1.8 of its environment. However, there were a few problems and as a result Mate 1.8 wasn’t released in time for Mint 16. The Venerable Lefebvre has since stated that he talked extensively to the Mate team, and stressed the importance of releasing a new Mate for each new version of Mint, as both projects benefit greatly and it helps momentum, particularly for the Mate project. But the problems raised during testing meant that Mate 1.8 had to be replaced with an updated version of Mate 1.6.

Edge Tiling has many exciting benefits...
Edge Tiling has many exciting benefits…

Display zone where they’ll tile to but you can then resize the edge tiled window to better suit your needs. In addition to the four edges of the desktop (left, right, top and bottom, duh!), you can include the four corners in the edge tiling zones, too. That way, you can effectively and easily create four distinct windowed programs, occupying the corners of the visible desktop. The end result is very effective and again makes for a more productive desktop layout. Like its edge tiling companion, edge snapping is a modern UI-inspired snap to edges or corners function that allows the user to snap an active window to the surrounds of their desktop, then open a full screen program without it covering the snapped window.

Nemo is better than ever, and considerably more stable.
Nemo is better than ever, and considerably more stable.

In essence, this means that the user can effectively do what they need to do on the main program window, while still being able to keep one eye on the snapped program window. Users with a multi-monitor setup have naturally been able to do this anyway, however, a single monitor setup makes edge snapping a valuable and very functional addition.
Screen snapping may very well have been born from the pages of Microsoft Windows 8 or the Xbox One, or from some other system before that, but that’s not to say it’s a bad thing. While Cinnamon prides itself on being an interface that forsakes the semi-useless features of the tablet generation it doesn’t ignore the worthwhile features that are actually of some use. Okay, so it’s not every day that you’ll stick a movie in one corner, a document in the lower half of the screen and a web browser in the other, but you can if you wanted to, which is more important.

Shepherding accounts

One bugbear of former Gnome versions was a decent application for managing and administering user accounts. In Cinnamon 2.0’s case, the Users and Groups function were written from scratch and now feature a more fluid, and intuitive control method.
Mint system administrators have control over the groups particular users are a part of, and users themselves can access and modify their own account information via the Account Details section of Settings. Additionally, the User Applet adds fast access to account information, details, user switching, system settings and the ability to quickly logout or power off the computer.
Next comes Nemo, the Cinnamon file browser (a fork of Nautilus 3.4), which has had some welcome improvements, which include better MIME handling, new tray icons, improved performance, bookmarks, move to and copy to functions, previews and a bug free Extra Pane view. Not only that, but it looks better overall and thanks to the bug testing and performance enhancements, now feels more snappy and greatly enhances the overall Mint experience. Finally, and probably the most significant addition, or enhancement, is the fact that Cinnamon is its own desktop environment built on classic Gnome technologies. Where Cinnamon was once the frontend of Gnome, version 2.0 has become more like its colleague environments: Mate and Xfce. It still uses the various Gnome libraries and it launched with the reassurance that compatibility with Gnome programs isn’t a problem, but now rather than rely on the

Edge Snapping also has a fair array of benefits. Watch your edges, basically.
Edge Snapping also has a fair array of benefits. Watch your edges, basically.

Gnome backend services Cinnamon enjoys its own environmental freedom to grow, mature and evolve into something greater than its original parent desktop. Managing Minty goodness The Mint Display Manager (MDM), which basically handles the login window and starts the X session, has seen an impressive array of graphical improvements since Linux Mint 15, and some nifty performance tweaks to make it an extremely streamlined process.
The speed and performance improvements (24,500 lines of code were removed) have required the removal of a number of features such as: remote login and XDMCP support, Xnestand Xephyrnesting, server management, dynamic servers, some custom commands, Solaris support and the MDM Photo setup. Their departure, however, doesn’t impair the ability or functionality of MDM, in fact it’s considerably lighter on its feet now and more user friendly. Additionally, the new default login theme features an animated background and a clearer aspect for the user. The theming, therefore, is now open to those of a suitably artistic bent to go forth and create a wealth of stunning login backgrounds for Mint users to use.
It would have been nice to see the previous version of Mint’s pre-installed HTML MDM themes with 1.4, but there’s only Clouds and Mint X available at present. It’s not too difficult to include more, though. There’s also still a wide range of GTKand GDMstyles to choose from, if you decide to opt for a non-HTML login screen instead.
Although the creation, formatting and so on of a USB stick isn’t much of a problem to those who know what they’re doing, within Linux in general and not just Mint, it’s something of a befuddlement to the new user. With that in mind, and to help out the rest of us who regularly format USB sticks on what seems like an hourly basis, the team have introduced a new USB Stick Formatterwith Mint 16. The new tool is capable of formatting sticks to the tune of FAT32, EXT4 and NTFS, and what’s more, it’s incredibly fast and stable. Overall, the benefits Linux Mint 16 offers over many of the competition is the fact that it has been significantly improved and tweaked over the last six months to represent the absolute best of both worlds.

MDM HTML5 animated themes are a really very nifty feature.
MDM HTML5 animated themes are a really very nifty feature.

By this we mean, not only is Linux Mint 16 a very quick, snappy and responsive OS that has many performance improvements that use less system resources than before, but it’s also, as our friend Clem Lefebvre happened to mention in a recent interview: “Only interested in stable and proven technology” which, in turn, offers users – for personal or for business use – an ideal computing foundation on which to expand from.

Speed, speed and more speed

This all-new set-up is, in short, pretty much ideal for the new user, as well as the more experienced Linux aficionado, and it’s managed to look consistently great at the same time. There’s plenty of scope to further improve the visuals of the system, and through some clever manipulation you can come up with a Linux desktop that’s more personal than any other operating system around is capable of doing.

A small addition, but a worthy one: USB Stick Formatter.
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This is what it means to be a Linux user though: to experience something that is continually evolving, that will always be getting better with every human usage, and indeed, to be one of the active users who actually contribute to the experience and to have your thoughts, ideas and contributions recognised and listened to by others out there. Linux may be a personal thing to the end user, in that they may prefer one distro over another, or one desktop environment over another, but as a whole, as the community, the Linux user becomes something more than the individual. And Linux Mint makes for a great entry in this wider community of likeminded individuals.
[To be countinue …..]

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