Like a lot of people, I tend to view operating system upgrades as something to avoid. If forced to change I want the experience to be as simple and painless as possible. So, when the support lifetime ended for the Linux Mint version I had been running on my main desktop, there was a wee bit of angst over what to do.
For 2 years Mint had served me well as a stable, functional environment on an older desktop machine from which I had retired a copy of Windows XP. Staying with Mint was a know quantity, and version 13 had just been released in April with a 5-year support plan. It looked like a OS I could stay with for a while. Since Mint 13 offers a choice of versions the only real question was which one – MATE, which continues the GNOME 2 desktop used in previous releases, or CINNAMON, which promises “something new”. Once I had downloaded and booted up live-CD sessions for both versions, CINNAMON caught my attention as worth a closer look.
Installing Mint 13 CINNAMON was as simple as an OS upgrade should be. After taking a full backup of my working files and software selections I simply let the install package do its work. In 30 minutes it installed the OS, found all of my hardware drivers, configured the nulti-media settings and installed all of the software packages that I use every day. Another hour to restore my working files and the job was done.
For the next month I used CINNAMON as my main desktop in order to to see how it would fare in everyday use. Overall it did well. The interface is fast, and it looks good – crisp fonts, good menu layout and some nice visual effects like windows that explode out from the center of the screen. It was easy to customize it to my own preferences for background graphic and for putting frequently used program shortcuts into the bottom panel bar or on the desktop.
The software menu is an improvement over previous versions –easier to navigate, and an instant response when the mouse pointer lands on a category. One handy feature that I discovered by accident was that pointing to the top-left corner of the screen displays a tiled view of all of the screens currently active. That simple visual experience makes a switch between applications a little more satisfying than scrolling through with <ALT><TAB>. One small complaint is that sometimes I could trigger this feature accidentally by over-shooting a mouse movement to the “File” selection in a program menu.
It wasn’t all good. In spite of the excitement and development attention that CINNAMON is receiving, the Mint Linux Team is quick to point out that it’s not for everyone. The big issues are stability and the demands that it makes on a workstation’s graphics capability. Depending on the strength of the 3D acceleration available CINNAMON can behave unpredictably. My experience was an unexpected screen-freeze about once a week, which led me somewhat reluctantly to conclude that CINNAMON was too much spice for the in-board graphics on my aging desktop. Fortunately, the switch to MATE was as easy and uneventful as the original installation. Everything has been operating smoothly since.
After nearly 2 months of operation my assessment is that with Mint 13 project leader Clement Lefebvre (aka. Clem) and the Mint community have made a big success in producing a Linux distribution that can compete credibly in the mainstream of desktop operating systems. MATE is a great choice for anyone who simply wants a hassle-free Linux experience. For those with a more pioneering spirit, CINNAMON is an interesting development line that is worth checking out.