Linux Mint 15
A better Ubuntu for the desktop
by Fabian A. Scherschel
The Linux Mint project has released the latest version of its Ubuntu-based Linux distribution and its developers are setting their sights on making the distribution the go-to choice for all Linux users on the desktop. With Ubuntu and Canonical apparently being focused on the mobile and entertainment spaces, Linux Mint 15 has a shot at accomplishing this goal. The H investigates whether "the most ambitious release since the start of the project" delivers on it.
With the release of Linux Mint 15, code-named "Olivia", the developers of the Ubuntu-based Linux distribution have presented the latest result of their efforts to create a Linux desktop that is usable by newcomers and experienced computer users alike. Since its inception over six years ago, the distribution has become popular with many users trying Linux for the first time and with those who find the general architecture of Ubuntu appealing, but who do not care for the direction that Canonical has set for Ubuntu's user interface. With Canonical and Ubuntu concentrating more than ever on expanding into mobile form factors and embedded entertainment devices, the time may have come for Linux Mint to take over a more prominent role as the desktop Linux of choice for a large number of users.
Linux Mint 15 is built upon Ubuntu 13.04 and has access to all of its packages through the official Ubuntu repositories. This is supplemented by the project's own repositories that, as in previous releases, provide a number of restricted, non-free codecs as well as a number of applications developed by the Linux Mint team, such as the distribution's update and package management tools. Linux Mint also provides its own Cinnamon desktop shell, built atop some GNOME 3 components (albeit with its own, forked window manager and file browser) and designed to offer users a stylish, but somewhat classical desktop experience that is more in line with GNOME 2's aesthetics than those of its successor. For those users who feel that even Cinnamon is too much of a departure from GNOME 2, the alternative MATE desktop is available and retains much of its upstream configuration with its GNOME-2-based desktop.
Linux Mint's package management applications have always been excellent. The distribution introduced a style of grouping applications and showing user ratings several releases before Ubuntu switched to their better known version in Ubuntu's Software Centre. Mint's update manager has long been regarded by many as one of the most informative of any Linux distribution. Linux Mint 15 continues this trend by replacing Ubuntu's "Software Sources" tool with its own utility called MintSources (which is also labelled "Software Sources" in the user interface for simplicity's sake). MintSources adds a number of useful features such as an improved interface for managing Personal Package Archives (PPAs) and easier ways to install and uninstall additional repositories and their corresponding signing keys. While these features will, most likely, be of little interest to newcomers to Linux distributions or Linux Mint, they do however simplify life for more advanced users who routinely add cutting edge software that is not available in the Ubuntu or Linux Mint repositories yet.
The new "Software Sources" utility also adds some interesting maintenance functions that will attempt to repair faulty repository configurations that can prevent the system from being upgraded. In preliminary tests the function did seem to work quite well with dependency clashes caused by added PPA packages, although it remains to be seen how useful it will be when dealing with complex dependency resolution problems involving a large number of third-party repositories and PPAs.
One feature of MintSources that even newcomers to the distribution will find very handy is the ease of use with which it allows the selection of download mirrors for package updates. When presenting users with a list of possible mirrors, the tool even performs quick speed tests of package downloads and shows the results as a coloured bar to help with deciding which mirror should be selected. This is especially useful in countries that list a number of mirrors as sometimes the URL of the server does not give any indication of where exactly it is located (something that can be fairly important if the country in question is as big as Australia, for example).