Linux Mint 8 (aka Helena) is the latest version of the popular, desktop-oriented distribution. Helena was actually released late last year, but I’ve just gotten around to reviewing it. As with prior releases of Mint, Helena is based on the latest version of Ubuntu, which in this case is Karmic Koala. For this review, I’ll go through the features of Mint 8 that I consider to be good, not so good and those that I think are bad.
But before reviewing a running Linux Mint 8, let’s see what the installer has to offer.
Installation: If you have installed earlier versions of Mint and Ubuntu, you won’t fine any major feature enhancements in the installer. It still does not support setting up LVM and RAID. All the journaling filesystems – ext3, ext4, xfs, jfs, reiserfs – are supported, with ext4 as the default.
Full disk encryption is not supported. This installer, however, allows you to encrypt your home directory. That home directory is not even on its own partition, but is created within the root directory (within the single root partition). Encrypting the home directory is a nice feature, but as a real security measure, it does very little to enhance the overall physical security posture of the system.
You may choose to encrypt /home
Ok, that’s it with the installer and the installation process. There’s not really very much to write about it. How about the running system? Let’s start with the good.
What’s Good? The Mint team has been doing everything they can to make their distro as user-friendly as possible. And it just keeps getting better with every release. For starters, insert an audio CD, and the system will respond with a dialog box prompting you to play the CD with Rhythmbox, the default audio player.
You get the same response when you insert a DVD video. This time, however, you are prompted to play it with Totem, and with libdvdcss2 installed, Totem will play all your encrypted DVD videos. In contrast, Totem installed on ALT Linux 5 Ark Desktop, on Simply Linux 5, and other distros I’ve reviewed will not play commercial (encrypted) DVD videos out of the box.
As with all recent releases of Linux distros, hardware detection is excellent, and the system will detect and automatically configure a connected printer. My Gear Head webcam works.
Linux Mint 8 makes it very easy to search for and install an application right from the menu. One of the options the system presents to you when you type the name of an application into the filter box is to install it, that is, if the application is not already installed.
Aside from being able to search for and install software from the menu, Mint 8 offers other avenues to manage applications on the system. Synaptic, the graphical interface to the package manager, and the Linux command line are the two well known package installation avenues. A third software management tool is mintInstall, also known as the Software Manager. This is similar to Ubuntu’s software manager, but with more mature features. Keep in mind that there are certain applications that you can install using Synaptic or from a shell terminal that are not available from mintInstall (Software Manager).
From the featured applications window of the Software Manager, you can install some of the most popular applications available in the repos.
Software Manager’s featured applications
The default (and only) browser installed is Mozilla Firefox (version 3.5.3), and it packs all the plugins it needs to render multimedia applications – flash, Java, quicktime, etc.
What’s not so good (or not too bad)? Like Ubuntu 9.10, the distro it is derived from, Linux Mint 8 comes with ufw, the Uncomplicated Firewall, running out of the box. However, unlike Ubuntu, Helena pre-installs Gufw, the graphical interface to ufw. Which is a good thing for those not familiar with setting up IPTables via ufw’s uncomplicated interface. What’s not so good is that Gufw is disabled out of the box. This does not in any way affect the default configuration of ufw, but it is always nice to have these tools properly configured for inexperienced users.
One of the nicest features of Pardus is the Kaptan application. What Kaptan is is a first-time, welcome application that gives a user the opportunity to customize a fresh installation of the distro. It can also be called up at any time after installation. mintWelcome, Linux Mint’s welcome application, is an attempt at that, but it does not offer the same features that you’ll find on Kaptan. In addition to the list of items on mintWelcome, here are three that I’ll love to see added:
- Customize your desktop
- Enable Network Time Protocol
- Enable Gufw, the graphical firewall manager