Review: Linux Mint 9 GNOME

Recently, Linux Mint 6 "Felicia" became obsolete. Like any standard Ubuntu release, Linux Mint is supported for 1.5 years after initial release. My installation of Linux Mint 7 "Gloria" will face the same fate in about 5 months. Given that I will leave home for college before that, I wanted to upgrade to a newer version. Due to all of the hubbub over Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"'s instability upon release, I skipped Linux Mint 8 "Helena" (though the reviews said it fixed all of Ubuntu 9.10's flaws and did more). As the newest version of Linux Mint (version 9 LTS "Isadora") is a long-term support (3 years after initial release) version based off of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS "Lucid Lynx", I decided to install that. Also, Ubuntu 10.04 had been getting extremely positive reviews, so I figured that Linux Mint 9 would do even better in the Linux Mint tradition [of surpassing corresponding Ubuntu releases in quality and polish]. Follow the jump to read the rest of my review.

I did the standard procedure to make the live CD, restarted, and booted into Linux Mint 9. Mint 9 uses the shiny new GRUB 2; I didn't experience any problems with it. As with any Ubuntu [derivative] live CD, I booted in "compatibility mode" just to be sure.
However, after I passed the bootsplash (which uses the nice new Plymouth bootsplash program instead of Usplash or Xsplash), I ran into a problem. For some reason, the live CD couldn't resolve my graphics card, so after a few tries (and restarts), I decided to log in using "low graphics mode". Thankfully, this didn't actually hamper any of the display settings. I then saw a nice new GDM login screen; the nice thing about this is that the users are presented as buttons, so one need only type the password (not the username as well).
I came into the Mint desktop. It looked like a nicer version of the standard Mint desktop, which is to say that it looks extremely polished. The theme is an updated version of Shiki-Mint called Shiki-Wise (the differences aren't huge). Unfortunately, I could not enable any desktop effects on the live CD (more on this in a bit).
Mozilla Firefox is included (version 3.6 - there are some really nice Linux Mint-themed skins for it, though these aren't included), as is OpenOffice.org (version 3.2). Thankfully, the Mint developers stuck with Pidgin instead of Empathy as the IM client. The rest of the software selection is pretty standard Mint.
Though Synaptic Package Manager is included, the new Software Manager (previously called mintInstall) looks really nice - it is, however, not the same as (or even based on) the new Ubuntu Software Center. Most of the functionality is similar, though, and there are tons of packages in there.
All of the codecs worked fine (more on this later), as did my webcam (I downloaded Cheese Webcam Booth on the live CD itself).
I went ahead and installed Mint. The procedure hasn't really changed at all, so there's not much to write here. I did read before some articles saying that GRUB 2 should not be written into the hard drive's MBR if dual-booting with Windows or with GRUB 1.X. I went ahead and installed GRUB to the MBR anyway (because no other partition made sense and I couldn't install it into the partition where Mint would be installed). Upon reboot, everything worked fine.
In terms of aesthetics, some things have changed. For example, the Update Manager (a.k.a. mintUpdate) has a shield logo instead of a lock logo, which makes sense for new users. Also, there isn't an error logo if some other program is using APT, which makes a lot of sense.
The Nautilus file browser now (finally) has split-pane viewing. That's enough to make me not consider installing Dolphin (the KDE 4.X file browser). That said, it's annoying that when a new window of Nautilus is opened, it defaults to a single-pane view.
The mintMenu can be customized more than ever before. Individual items can be customized to show different names or icons, be put on the panel or desktop, or in favorites (some, but not all, of these features were present before). Also, the transparency of the menu can be changed, which is cool. I have it at 95% opacity (5% transparency) right now, which makes it a lot more subtle (and still very usable).
There are some new icons as well for the folders within the home folder (like "Pictures", "Music", etc.) to better display their contents.
After installation, Mint detected my card and used the appropriate driver. While I have effects now, some of the effects (especially the desktop cube/wall effect) don't work quite right as the screen darkens way too much when the effect is initiated. However, the translucent window decorations on inactive windows make for a nice touch
Yesterday, I needed to finish a final project for a class: it involved making a video. I installed the OpenShot video editor and did the project there. Unfortunately, I couldn't export the video in any format besides Ogg because I didn't have the proper codec libraries installed. That's truly a shame, because this was not an issue in Mint 7. Here, Mint has regressed very slightly. Thankfully, that's the only problem I've run into so far.
This new version of Mint is definitely better than Mint 7, but I would say that more because of the bugs fixed than because of any particular new feature (also, the new versions of the bundled software are nicer than before). Also, this is an LTS release, so the additional support (period) is nice. I would definitely recommend this version of Mint to anyone who wants to try Linux.

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