Linux Mint 9 (codenamed Isadora) was released just two days ago, on May 18th. You can read the official ANNOUCEMENT from their site, which explains what the main changes/improvements are, as well as highlighting the most notable new features.
To begin with, I want to stress that Linux Mint 9 is derived from Ubuntu 10.04 Lucid Lynx. As a result, it gets the best from the latest Ubuntu improvements, but also suffers from its shortcomings. This is something to keep in mind before installing Linux Mint 9 and something I have also taken into account when putting together this review. In other words, I won't go into those issues explicitly, but I recommend reading the full LIST OF KNOWN ISSUES, which is part of the Ubuntu 10.04 Release Notes.
The good news is that Isadora makes up for many of Ubuntu's mishaps while keeping the best of its strengths very much alive. Before you start reading the review, though, make sure you are ready for a healthy overdose of GREEN!
As was the case in previous Linux Mint releases, the installation wizzard in Linux Mint 9 is almost identical to Ubuntu's. There are some branding adjustments and some application information has been updated where necessary, but no significant changes. As you can imagine, the Ubuntu 10.04 branding colours and logos have been substituted by Mint's, but the overall vibe is certainly similar. This is actually a good thing, for the installation wizzard in Ubuntu 10.04 is one of the best and most informative in the Linux world today.
If you have not seen Ubuntu's installation wizzard for the 10.04 release, you can check out some of the screenshots I included in my REVIEW.
As expected, the splash screen was not displayed correctly in Linux Mint 9, just like it wasn't in Ubuntu 10.04. This is a known issue with Plymouth installation and can easily be fixed installing certain extra packages.
Something tells me the Linux Mint Logo should be around somewhere...
Other than that cosmetic little issue, the boot process was very fast, certainly benefiting from some fine tuning which was put in place for Ubuntu 10.04.
The login screen is the first of many screens where green is all over the place. I personally find it fresh and appealing, but it could be tedious for some. Fortunately, Linux Mint 9 includes applications to customize the Splash screen, GDM theme as well as the usual appearance settings manager available in GNOME.
I told you to get ready for some green overdose!
As soon as we get to the desktop, we start to see some of the subtle but important differences between Linux Mint 9 and Ubuntu 10.04. Aside from the default wallpaper, we can see that there is a single panel located at the bottom. The default icons on the desktop include Home and Computer. As you can probably tell, there is a subtle overall MS Windows flavor, which should help new users feel right at home from the start.
The Linux Mint 9 Isadora desktop
One element that I find convenient, specially for anybody who is using Linux for the first time, is the "Welcome" dialog. New users will surely find help and documentation easily with this component. If we add to that that the many customizations already installed (Video and Audio codecs, DVD playback, Flash Player, Droid fonts, etc.), we can see Linux Mint 9 is a great choice for anybody willing to give Linux a spin.
This convenient dialog will surely help new users.
The main character role clearly goes to the Linux Mint menu, though, which is quite a radical departure from the GNOME default one. I personally didn't like it in previous releases, finding it a bit cumbersome and slow, but I must say I loved it this time around.
The Linux Mint 9 menu showing the Favorites section.
The Linux Mint 9 menu showing all Applications.
In fact, one interesting addition in this release is the improvement of the main menu configuration, which includes more options and the ability to tweak the menu opacity. In my opinion, this new feature would have been a nice addition if it was only the background of the menu that got transparent, keeping icons and letters visible. At its current state the whole menu becomes transparent, which makes this feature impractical in my opinion.
Some further configuration for the main menu is now available in Linux Mint 9.
Obviously, this is a not a major miss, considering the configuration available for this main menu is thorough and flexible. From changing the icon displayed to setting up favorites or showing/hiding applications, it's all pretty much in there.
LOOK & FEEL
I was quite disappointed with Ubuntu 10.04 in terms of Look&Feel. In my opinion, and I know this is totally subjective, it lacked the quality I was expecting, specially when a much anticipated branding change was in place. On the other hand, Linux Mint 9 seems to have pulled the right strings and it simply looks better than ever. Instead of pushing for tons of window theme changes or changing the window buttons location, they have kept their signature Shiki theme as default and have concentrated on providing a great and very professional set of wallpapers. I believe this piece was outsourced to a third party and the quality is there.
The wallpapers in Linux Mint 9 are of excellent quality... That's a good looking gnome-terminal!
There is one element that I found lacking in Ubuntu 10.04 and it's also a miss in Linux Mint 9 as well: The default icon set leaves much to be desired. When you browse those gorgeous wallpapers, set up fonts to your liking and open the good looking main menu, you can't help but notice how bad those icons actually look! I did find a solution which seems perfectly fitting: Get the Oxigen Green refit icon theme, which feels custom made and looks awesome. (For those interested, you can download it from GNOME-LOOK.ORG)
A good example of how well Oxygen green fits in Linux Mint.
The home folder also looks good in Oxygen green.
I very much like how Linux Mint 9 looks overall. The screenshots included are using only default wallpapers and window themes, even Droid fonts come pre-installed. The only external customization I added, as already mentioned, was the Oxygen green icon theme. I guess that makes Linux Mint 9 the best Linux distro ever in terms of Look&Feel for me, because I always end up customizing the hell out of everything!
Luckily, the Linux Mint developers kept a cool head and decided to pass on most of the new application choices introduced by Canonical on Ubuntu 10.04. Gwibber makes it into the application catalog, but Empathy is out in favor of Pidgin.
Linux Mint 9 provides a nice catalog of social networking clients.
Thunderbird continues to replace Evolution, as has been the case in previous Linux Mint releases. Unfortunately, because Linux Mint 9 is derived from Ubuntu 10.04, it also suffers from Thunderbird lacking Lightning calendar functionality. I get this issue is being worked out as I type these lines, though. Firefox is the default Internet browser, installed under the latest stable version (3.6.3).
Thunderbird is the default email client in Linux Mint.
The GIMP is in, which should be good news for those who, like me, enjoy having it as part of the default installation. PiTiVi is nowhere to be found.
GIMP made it into Linux Mint 9.
Unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint includes the full OpenOffice suite (v3.2.0), which is good for those who do use Base and Draw.
You will find the complete OpenOffice Suite installed in Linux Mint 9.
In terms of security, Linux Mint comes with a firewall interface pre-installed, but as is the case in Ubuntu, the firewall is deactivated by default. Gufw (Graphical Ubuntu Firewall) is extremely simple, allowing end users to enable protection with a single click.
Security duties are handled by Gufw.
Linux Mint 9 does include some interesting system management applications, some of which I want to show in this section. The disk analyzer is a neat little tool to run quick analysis on the whole or a part of the hard drive.
Linux Mint 9 Disk Analyzer.
The backup tool deserves some special attention. This application has gained momentum and is very solid and simple to use at this stage. I did some quick tests and it worked reliably and quickly. I believe this is a great tool to have around, specially handy if you want to back up your home folder and keep your copies in a network share or some external media.
Ain't that terminal getting too much in the way!?.
Another application I found interesting is the graphical Hardware Analysis tool. This application apparently provides a graphical interface to the lshw command, obviously making it very easy for unexperienced users to get to that information. In fact, I think this tool can be very helpful for troubleshooting hardware problems. It even includes a "Copy to Clipboard" function, which should prove useful when trying to get help from forums or IRC channels.
The Linux Mint 9 Hardware Information tool should help new comers with troubleshooting.
The user administration tool also got a nice new face, which I find simple and clean. Once again, I think this is just another feature which helps positioning Linux Mint 9 as one of the easiest distros out there.
User administration is particularly simple.
One other area in which Linux Mint departured from Ubuntu's ways is the management of software. Linux Mint has been using a Software Center application for years, which I think is what inspired Ubuntu to do the same. Additionally, Linux Mint uses its own Update Manager, which is docked in the system tray.
Linux Mint 9 Software Center.
When I first tested the Software Center and the Update Manager back in Linux Mint 7, I used to think they were awfully slow. I liked the overall concept, but its performance was terrible when compared to Ubuntu's Software management tools. I am not sure if that was related to the Linux Mint repositories lacking resources or bandwith back then, or if it was related to a design problem, but the good news is that both applications performed very well this time around. It seems that whatever the problem was, it is fixed now.
Searching for packages is simple and quick. Chromium is available from the repositories.
I was glad to see that the Chromium browser made it into the Mint repositories. The search was simple, quickly returning all related packages. I must say this is something Synaptic or the Ubuntu Software Center don't do all that well. You often find yourself getting results which have little or nothing to do with what you were searching for, so it was a nice treat to see my search results were spot on in Mint 9. Drilling down on one of the package entries shows more information, as well as user scores, which I find particularly useful.
The main Chromium package screen with scores from other users.
The Update Manager is also performing well this time around, and now I find that its very simple and clear interface can definitely be put down to good use.
The Linux Mint 9 Update Manager sports a nice and simple interface.
THE FINAL WORD
I personally had my share of issues with Linux Mint in the past. I felt that many of its customizations were actually intrusive. I was so used to configuring Ubuntu to my own taste that Mint's own customizations felt a bit alien. This time around, though, Ubuntu 10.04 has taken such radical twist that Linux Mint 9 feels like the more familiar now. No MeMenu, no window buttons on the left, no push towards social interaction... In short, I have found myself very comfortable using Linux Mint 9. It obviously does include applications such as Gwibber, Pidgin and Thunderbird, it's just that it does not feel like you are supposed to use them.
Being derived from Ubuntu, Linux Mint is always released a few weeks later, guaranteeing that some early bugs get fixed by the time it hits new users. This release is no different and although some of the known Ubuntu 10.04 bugs are still being worked out, Linux Mint 9 feels solid enough from the get go.
Performance is also quite good, as is the application catalog. Ease of use is one of its obvious strengths, but I have also noticed a very strong effort towards making the default Look&Feel convey a good and professional quality to it. A successful effort, I have to say.
All in all, Linux Mint 9 has been a pleasant surprise, probably the best 2010 distro release so far along with PCLinuxOS 2010. I obviously recommend it for anybody trying Linux for the first time, but also for experienced users, who should equally enjoy its great features. If you are an Ubuntu user who wanted to upgrade/install 10.04 but were disappointed with the end result, make sure you give Linux Mint 9 a try.
Thanks for reading and have fun!