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Proprietary drivers

Another area where Linux Mint is trying to improve on Ubuntu's work is installation and management of proprietary drivers. "Olivia" introduces a new Driver Manager application that is based on the same backend as Ubuntu's tool for the same job (which Linux Mint used in previous versions), but has a redesigned frontend. However, in contrast to Ubuntu's utility, it gives the user detailed information (including full version numbers) of the proprietary drivers that are currently installed and the alternative versions that are available.

Steam on Linux Mint 15
Zoom Steam is not available from the default Linux Mint repositories but the Ubuntu package can easily be installed

Users who want to use cutting edge proprietary drivers for their NVIDIA and AMD graphics cards, which is especially important when playing graphics-intensive video games, will find this feature very useful. The Driver Manager can also be used to explicitly enable open source drivers for these video cards, such as the NVIDIA drivers from the Nouveau project.

Proprietary video drivers for high-end video cards have always been very well supported in Linux Mint, possibly the best when considering the popular desktop distributions, and the importance of this support will most likely increase as more and more games become available on Linux. A large part of this trend is Valve's Linux version of its Steam game distribution platform. While Steam is not available in Mint's default repositories, the Ubuntu version of the package can be installed effortlessly in Linux Mint 15 from Valve's Steam repository.

A new lock screen and redesigned user greeter

The Cinnamon variant of Linux Mint "Olivia", which now uses Cinnamon 1.8, introduces a new screen saver and screen locking utility. The application's configuration options are rather sparse at the moment, but it works well, allowing users to lock their machine when they leave it and prompting them for a password to return to their user session. In a unique twist, it also allows users to set the tool to prompt them for an away message when they leave their machine. That message will be shown on the locked screen, superimposed over the current wallpaper, alongside the current date and time.

While the screen locking application is a comparatively small detail, it helps to give the distribution its own look and feel and adds polish to the desktop experience. This kind of polish is something that exemplifies the purpose of the distribution and it is something that is noticeable throughout the history of the project. Linux Mint seems determined to turn Ubuntu's mantra of "Debian for the rest of us" on its head and apply it in turn to Ubuntu itself. As a result, Mint ends up being two levels removed from Debian with a sizeable increase in upstream projects as compared to Ubuntu itself, but it also carves out a niche for itself and acquires its own personality; something that many of the myriad other Ubuntu-derived distributions lack.

The same approach also is evident in the redesigned Mint Display Manager (MDM) user greeter that debuts in Linux Mint 15. In the latest version of the distribution, users can use GNOME's GDM greeter with all of its assorted themes or MDM in its simple GTK-based mode or with a new HTML, CSS, JavaScript and WebGL mode. All three modes can be configured with Mint's own configuration tool. The HTML mode is used as a default and allows animated login screens that can, due to the accessibility of the underlying technology, be easily themed. Out of the box, the default theme blends really well with the rest of the desktop and adds polish that should appeal especially to newcomers. Experienced users and those who love to tinker will find the tool highly customisable with a wealth of options available to tweak and a large collection of themes that can be installed.

Next page: Nemo, desklets and Spices

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