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This weekend, I decided to look over the latest version of popular Linux distro Linux Mint, specifically its Ubuntu-based Xfce version. Unlike the Debian based Xfce version that Mint also offers, the Ubuntu based version is less bleeding-edge, with new versions released on a regular schedule. The most recent version, 13 (“Maya”), was released in late July.
Unlike my last look at Mint a year ago, I didn’t install it to my laptop; instead, I downloaded an .ISO of the 64-bit version, burned the .ISO to a DVD, and booted up into Mint from there. Thus, while I can’t comment on whether the installer’s improved, I can make a few other observations.
All of the controls on my laptop, including volume controls, worked normally. A major improvement from last year, where the controls weren’t recognized by the live CD (but did work once Mint was installed).
While the default Mint Xfce wallpaper is rather bland, Mint does come with a variety of preinstalled wallpapers that greatly spruces things up.
As usual, Mint Xfce uses the default file manager, Thunar, but favors offering by default heavier versions of programs, such as LibreOffice, Banshee, etc., instead of lightweight programs such as AbiWord (a word processor). Mint Xfce also maintains its trademark inclusion of preinstalled media codecs. Playing YouTube videos works right out of the box.
On the default desktop, I moved the menubar to the top of the screen (a holdover from my Mac days), plus swapped the wallpaper for something more colorful.
Mint includes its own Software Manager, which works similarly to the Ubuntu Software Center in the Ubuntu family of distros.
As noted above, LibreOffice is included by default with Mint.
Overall, Mint 13 Xfce seems fairly well polished, and with a desktop environment more familiar to long-time computer users than what’s coming up in Windows 8 (or the Unity/GNOME 3 situation in the world of Linux). While some of these programs might go against the Xfce philosophy of being a more lightweight desktop environment, I admit it does save me from installing programs I’m more likely to use over some of Xfce’s defaults. The inclusion of LibreOffice, which has made inroads into the non-Linux world, also will help lend an air of familiarity to newcomers to Linux. Similarly, not having to install codecs (or learn what a “codec” is) also makes things newbie-friendly.
While I’ll be sticking with Xubuntu, I’d recommend Mint 13 Xfce for those looking for an alternative to Xubuntu (or even regular Ubuntu). Some may also be interested in MATE or Cinnamon, two newer Mint-backed desktop environments loosely based on GNOME 2 and 3 respectively. While the desktops sound like they offer some nice features, I’d prefer sticking with an environment that’s been around for awhile/has some traction, such as Xfce.