2010-09-08

Review: Linux Mint "Debian"

Main Screen
I wrote a few posts in the past discussing CrunchBang's move to a Debian base (among other things), the realization of Linux Mint LXDE based on Debian for PowerPCs, and the development of Linux Mint GNOME based on Debian for the i386 architecture. Well, now Linux Mint "Debian" GNOME is here, and I wanted to try it out. Just to recap, Linux Mint "Debian" is based on Debian's Testing repositories (right now, that means "Squeeze"). That said, it is a rolling-release distribution, meaning that once one installs the distribution, full distribution upgrades will become a thing of the past as all users will get any and all package updates as they come. The developers have said that they are currently focusing their efforts on the GNOME release for the i386 architecture, though more architectures and DEs (more on the latter later) will be supported in the future. The developers have warned that being based on Debian instead of Ubuntu, Linux Mint "Debian" may seem a little rougher around the edges than its Ubuntu-based counterparts. Follow the jump to see whether or not this is actually true. (NOTE: As per the new status quo, I tested this in VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM and 12 MB of video memory. I also tried out a few steps of the installation process (but didn't actually complete the installation) — more on that later.)
Mozilla Firefox
The first thing I see is a standard Linux Mint boot menu — no surprises here. Though I picked the default option, there was no boot splash to speak of — there was only a running console commentary of the boot process. That said, the boot process was rather fast, and I was soon greeted by a standard Linux Mint desktop; there is visually no difference between Linux Mint "Debian" and Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" GNOME. The MintMenu is the same, as are the panel, desktop layout, icons, and window decorations.
OpenOffice.org & its Menus
As I played around with the desktop, I wondered if the developers rebranded Mozilla Firefox as Iceweasel as per Debian (and Crunchbang 10) standards. Surprisingly, Mozilla Firefox is present with the original branding; less surprising is the presence of most proprietary codecs. OpenOffice.org is also present, though a couple of the icons in the program (notably the "Open file" icon) look a little more ugly and drab for some reason (as far as I can tell, other than that, it's the same icon set). More importantly, some of the application menus open to the side of the button instead of below (e.g. "File", "Insert", etc.), meaning the menus cover up the other menu buttons; this is not an especially good design. I guess this is what they mean by "rough around the edges"; it's not a deal-breaker, for sure, but it is a little annoying and not quite up to the aesthetic standards for which Linux Mint has become renowned. Applications like Pidgin and Gwibber are present as well; VLC, which is not present in Linux Mint 9 "Isadora" GNOME, is present here, which is a pleasant surprise.
The Mint tools are mostly present and accounted for (including the new Software Manager), which is nice. Skimming through Synaptic Package Manager shows that although the developers haven't released Linux Mint "Debian" with DEs other than GNOME, DEs like KDE (at version 4.4.5, which is probably what will ship with Debian 6 "Squeeze") and Xfce are available in the repositories.
Installer — Time Zone Selection
As this version of Linux Mint is not based on Ubuntu, it does not use the extremely user-friendly (but not especially customizable) Ubiquity installer. I wondered if it used the text-based Debian installer, the GUI Debian installer, or its own installer. I decided to try out a couple of steps, and found that the developers have made a unique installer for Linux Mint "Debian", which is cool. That said, some things like the time zone selector don't look as pretty (the time zone selector doesn't have the interactive world map). The disk partitioner, while not as easy-to-use as Ubiquity, shouldn't pose a whole lot of problems; GParted is available and on call for on-the-fly partitioning. That said, going back a step from the disk partitioning step yields a screen not seen in the normal sequence, and that is the selection of the disk to partition; it is given its own screen, which seems a little wasteful, so this screen could be combined with the disk partitioning screen. I guess that's another thing that could use a little work.
Finally, shutting down yields a somewhat less pretty shutdown menu; only text buttons, as opposed to buttons and nicely-done icons, are present.
I think that this is the start of something great, and a solid one at that. There are a couple kinks that should be solved fairly easily, and the rolling-release model holds a lot of promise for the distribution. My next installation of Linux Mint might just be the Debian-based one, as I might need Debian to properly install some of my college's software (some stuff isn't installing right on my current Linux Mint installation).

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