Linux Mint 12 “Lisa” Review

Linux Mint has always been known as the great alternative to Ubuntu. In fact, after Ubuntu implemented the Unity desktop, many people switched ship and flocked to Linux Mint as their next “easy-to-use and user-friendly” distro. According to DistroWatch, Linux Mint has even overtaken Ubuntu as the most popular distro. Well, that was Linux Mint 11, which is still based on Gnome 2, the desktop that most people are familiar with. What about Linux Mint 12?

In the latest release of Linux Mint (version 12, codenamed Lisa, Release Candidate), the developers of Linux Mint decided to embrace the new technology and use Gnome 3 in place of Gnome 2. As we all know, Gnome 3 comes with a brand new user-interface (aka Gnome Shell) that is confusing to many. It is interesting to see how the developers of Linux Mint intend to tame this beast, without failing the expectation of its users.

The most notable differences in Linux Mint 12 is the MGSE, also known as the Mint Gnome Shell Extension. As its name implies, this is a Gnome Shell extension built on top of Gnome 3 and I can tell you – it is awesome! The MGSE brings back the bottom panel and the popular MintMenu. It allows you to use Linux Mint the traditional way without losing the functionality of Gnome 3.

linuxmint-desktop-mgse

linuxmint-activities-overview

The MGSE menu comes with a left shortcut sidebar where you can quickly access your favorite applications, such as Firefox, Banshee, Gnome Tweak Tool, Terminal, Folders etc. One thing though, the shortcut bar doesn’t seem to be configurable. You can’t add/remove applications to/from the list. There is also a search bar where you can search for app.

Update: The items at the shortcut bar is configurable. It is a reflection of the “Favorites” items in the Gnome Shell windows overview. You just have to add applications to the “Favorites” for it to show up at the shortcut bar. Thanks to @Steve Furches for the update.

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Most of the desktop features in Linux Mint 12 are just Gnome Shell extensions and you can easily turn them on or off, depending on your preferences. If you want a native Gnome Shell experience, simply deactivate all the extensions with the Gnome Tweak Tool. The Gnome Tweak Tool is a must-have tool for Gnome 3 users and I am glad that it comes pre-installed in Linux Mint.

linuxmint-deactivate-extensions

In Ubuntu, if your computer does not support 3D acceleration, there is always the Unity 2D fallback mode. In Linux Mint, Mate is the 2D fallback mode for the MGSE. The Mate desktop is a fork of Gnome 2 that is compatible with Gnome 3. You will see a bottom panel with the usual Mint menu, icons and system tray. If you prefer the old Gnome 2.x style, Mate is the one for you.

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You can choose “Mate” from the login page.

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The default theme used in Linux Mint 12 is Mint-Z and it uses the default silverish grey as the background with shade of transparency in the Gnome Shell top panel and Activities overview.

The Software Manager is similar to the Ubuntu Software Center except that it is more organized and the categories are well laid out. I never like the Ubuntu Software Center because it is heavy, slow and displays too much information on the screen. On the other hand, the Software Manager in Linux Mint loads fast and is less taxing on the eyes.

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Banshee is now the default music player and popular apps like GimP, Synaptic, Pidgin, Gdebi and VLC still come pre-installed in LM12. For commercial reason, the default search engine in Firefox has been changed to DuckDuckGo instead of Google Custom Search engine.

In one word, Linux Mint is gorgeous. It is still as user-friendly as before, and the MGSE does give its users the best of both world: Gnome 3 and Linux Mint. Kudos to the developers of Linux Mint. While it is a derivative of Ubuntu, you can’t find any trace of Ubuntu in it, not to mention the Unity desktop. If you are sick of Ubuntu, particularly the Unity desktop, Linux Mint is definitely the best alternative.

Download Linux Mint 12 (RC)