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Linux Mint 11 review

Linux Mint 11 is the latest release of Linux Mint, a desktop distribution based on Ubuntu Desktop. This is different from Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), a version of Linux Mint based on Debian. (See a review of LMDE.)

The Linux Mint project makes different installation images for the major desktop environments, and this article presents a detailed review of the GNOME version, the main version.

Installer and Installation Process: Like previous releases, Linux Mint 11 is available as a Live CD/DVD ISO image for 32- and 64-bit platforms. The boot menu allows you to boot into the Live desktop or to boot from the local disk, and installation can be started only from the Live desktop. The difference between the installer and the installation process on Linux Mint 11 and previous editions is only cosmetic and is shown in this screenshot. On previous edition’s installer, the third option at this step is “Specify partitions manually (Advanced)” instead of “Something else,” and the options were shown as an unordered list, sans icons, aligned to the left, rather than what you see here.

It seems that with every release, Ubuntu (the Mint and Ubuntu installers are the same) makes minor cosmetic changes to the installer that adds no real value to it. I am still looking forward to when full disk encryption and point-and-click LVM configuration will be supported.

Though the installer does not support disk encryption, it does offer the option to encrypt your home directory. While this has the appearance of offering a good physical security protection, it does not offer the same level of protection as full disk encryption. Full disk encryption is one of several physical security features that I have consistently recommended and supported. Why do I consider it very important? I have stated the reasons here, and the folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation agree. They consider it so important that they have a Call To Action to “force” Ubuntu installer developers to bring full disk encryption to their Live Desktop edition.

The journaling file systems supported are ext3, ext4, xfs, jfs, reiserfs and btrfs, with ext4 as the default. Installing Linux Mint 11 on a btrfs file system is a very simple process (see how to install Linux Mint 11 on a btrfs file system), but I found that if btrfs is used for the boot partition, as the system boots, it will spew the error message shown in the image below. This “sparse file error” is a known bug, and the “Press any key to continue” line is immaterial because the system will continue booting after about 42 seconds, even if you do not press any key.

The installer has an automated disk partitioning mode, and also an advanced partitioning tool for those who would rather configure a custom set of partitions. While it is a point-and-click tool, the advanced partitioning tool (shown below) does require a fundamental knowledge of disk partitions and disk partitioning in Linux. If you interested in setting up partitions manually, manual disk partitioning guide for Linux Mint 11 is a good place to start. A weakness of the automated disk partitioner is that it is unable to choose free space on the hard disk for partitioning, so if you want to install it (Linux Mint 11) on what is considered free space, you will have to use the advanced partitioning tool.

Desktop: Before it was released, I think we all knew that Linux Mint 11 was not going to follow Ubuntu into the land of Unity desktop, and so it is. What we have on Linux Mint 11 is the very familiar GNOME 2 desktop environment, cloaked in a different wallpaper, which, I think, has one too many logos on it. The logo on the left is a very bad idea, and should not have been there. I understand that this is just a logo on a desktop’s wallpaper, which can be changed in about three mouse clicks, but bad decisions like that tend to manifest in other areas, too. Aside from one too many logos on the desktop, there is virtually no contrast between the desktop’s background color and window colors. By the way, the logo on the right is very good.
Mint desktop

On a new installation of Linux Mint, the first configuration change I always make it to add the Workspace Switcher to the panel (why is it not there by default?), then enable CompizFusion, the 3D compositing window manager. I found that the desktop freezes and switching between workspaces becomes impossible. The only option was to disable CompizFusion, which meant loss of functionality. It also meant that I am not going to upgrade a desktop computer running Linux Mint 10 at a non-profit group where I volunteer my services. Kids there love to play with “wobbly” windows and other Compiz effects and I am not about to disappoint them.

A favorite feature of the Linux Mint desktop is the menu (mintMenu). But there are a couple of issues with it. These are not new issues, but nothing has been done about them. The first is a minor issue (there is an easy fix for it), but it plays a role in the second issue: The menu offers a tooltip description when you mouse over an item, and when the Applications column is visible, each entry also features the same description in the tooltip, a totally unnecessary duplication.

The second issue is that the menu takes up too much desktop real estate (close to 60%), and it takes up even more if the “Recent Documents” column is enabled. I think the width of the menu can be reduced without a negative impact on it by an amount equal to the sum of the length of the red horizontal bars in this image. And the width can be reduced further if the entries in the “Recent Documents” column are aligned to the left.
Mint desktop menu 2

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