One of the most popular Linux distrubtions, Linux Mint‘s latest edition was bound to attract plenty of interest. And rightly so, too.
We downloaded the 700MB Live CD ISO file: once burnt to a disc, this – as is the norm with Linux Mint – allows you to boot directly from the CD and try the operating system without installing it. You do, of course, pay a time penalty for this, and so once we’d booted the live distribution up, we double-clicked on the ‘Install Linux Mint 8′ icon on the desktop.
From here you’re taken through as friendly an installation routine as it’s possible to imagine. We opted to install the OS onto a hard drive that already had an iteration of Linux on it, and the built-in disk partitioner didn’t even flinch. We were given a straight choice between erasing the disc entirely and installing Mint alone, or running both operating systems off the same hard disk. Then, we could also scale how much hard disk space should be given to each partition. Once we’d done that, and answered one or two questions, we were away.
The installation itself was quite swift, save for the disk partitioning which did take a little time. And certainly for those migrating across from Windows, the sheer pace of the Ubuntu-based Linux Mint will be a revelation. From a cold start-up post-installation, we had a working desktop available within a minute. That’s properly workable too: no hour glasses, no continually waiting for something else to load. Just an OS ready to work.
So what’s new? You can add new places to the menu system, perhaps to direct you straight to your movie collection at the touch of a button. There are numerous graphical and interface touches that help make things that bit easier to navigate. Synaptic has been brought on board to handle updates to software packages, and there’s more flexibility in the packages in general, and where they come from. A new upload manager is now included too.
None of these drastically alters Mint, and there’s more of an overall feel of a nip and tuck rather than anything close to an overhaul. But given the success of the distribution to date, that seems a wise path to follow.
No proprietary drivers are installed by default, in line with the ‘free’ (in every sense) ethos behind the operating system. But as soon as we tackled some multimedia playback, Mint offered us the opportunity to improve performance by installing closed source drivers. This was a fair way to handle the conundrum faced by many Linux distributions, and it also means features like DVD playback are seamless (although not Blu-ray).
That said, not for the first time with a Linux distribution, the only problem we had post-installation was in getting audio to work. We’re not sure whether this is bad luck on our part, but around half of our fresh Linux installations have gone the same way. In this case it was a conflict between Mint’s inclusion of Pulse Audio and the Intel motherboard in the system we were using. Once we disabled Pulse Audio – which does have one or two consequences if you’re looking for a proper home cinema system – all was well.
As for the rest? Everything worked, and worked well. For a home machine Mint has real credentials. It adapted to our test home network easily enough and found our NAS drives with no hassle. It’s also efficient, comes with a wisely-chosen collection of software and achieves an admirable balance between power and lack of hassle. The best Mint yet, as you’d hope, but also a real temptation for Windows users looking to move across to Linux.