2012-07-20

Review: Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce

Main Screen + Xfce Menu
The final release of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce hasn't even been officially announced yet, but despite that, I'm reviewing it now (and it is indeed the final release and not an RC). How is that possible? To be honest, I was quite anxious to get my hands on it, and earlier today I found that some mirror sites of Linux Mint had uploaded (though not others, which was weird, although as I write this, more mirrors have uploaded it). Well, in any case, now I'm trying it out.

The main editions of Linux Mint now feature the MATE and GNOME 3/Cinnamon desktop. I've checked out Cinnamon from time to time and have found it to be too unstable for my use, at least in a live USB session; plus, some extensions like the Auto-Move-Windows extension don't work as they should. That leaves MATE, which I tried over a month ago. I wasn't especially happy with it because of the issues with Compiz trying to work with MATE, and this surprised me considering that MATE should have replicated the GNOME 2 experience. That left me waiting for the KDE edition. Then I found out that Xfce would make an official return to Ubuntu-based Linux Mint, which was surprising given past statements by the developers that the Xfce edition would be exclusively offered with the Debian base. Now that this has happened, I want to see if Ubuntu-based Linux Mint with Xfce can effectively replicate and replace my current and ideal GNOME 2 setup on Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora".

I tested the 64-bit version of the live session through a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like. Also, please note that because this is Linux Mint, I may be more biased in favor of it, but then again, I just couldn't overlook the deficiencies of the MATE edition no matter what, so this may or may not be an issue.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a blank screen for the boot splash, as has become typical of Linux Mint. A short time after that, I came to the desktop. Weirdly, the first thing that started was the screensaver, but moving the mouse made that go away (and the issue never recurred when I subsequently logged out and logged back in).

Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
The desktop is fairly standard for Linux Mint with Xfce. There is a panel on the bottom that oddly seems to be a little thicker than I am used to seeing; indeed, the panel thickness is 25 pixels which is more than the 24 pixels I am used to seeing in GNOME 2 and MATE, and the difference is actually noticeable. Desktop icons for mounted and removable volumes as well as the home folder are present, and the nice thing is that there is no background color for the text labels under the icons; it's one of the things that makes standard Xfce still feel a little dated, and I'm glad Linux Mint does away with that. That said, unlike in GNOME 2 and MATE, the label text color is black rather than white, and there is no subtle shadow surrounding the text, so unless the user modifies the text color in a particular configuration file, trying to read the labels while using a dark background is an exercise in futility. The panel on the bottom has, from left to right, an Xfce menu, a button to show the desktop and hide windows, a shortcut to some places in Thunar, a window switcher, a notification area, and a clock. The GTK+, Xfwm4, and icon themes as well as the default wallpaper are identical to those from the MATE edition, and this helps keep a unified look for Linux Mint. Although the notification area icons are not the sliding ones from GNOME 2 in Ubuntu/Linux Mint, they work quite well. Better yet, the notifications are the pretty Notify-OSD style notifications rather than the standard ugly notifications in Xfce or MATE; that said, although they can be clicked through, they seem to linger on the screen for longer than usual. One visible issue from the RC of there being too much space between the borders of maximized windows and the edges of the desktop has been fixed in the final release, which is good. Overall, the desktop works quite well, which is to be expected of Linux Mint.

Mozilla Firefox is the default browser, and as this edition (as well as the MATE, Cinnamon, and KDE editions) of Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, it now gets updates at most a few days after a new version of Mozilla Firefox is released. Most multimedia codecs are included, and my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked, as have become standard practices for Linux Mint.

LibreOffice is the default productivity suite, even though this is the Xfce edition, and this follows with the idea that for a while now, Linux Mint has been shipping Xfce as a fully-featured desktop to be reckoned with rather than as a stripped-down alternative DE. LibreOffice, like Mozilla Firefox, gets updated through the Ubuntu repositories as frequently as the upstream developers release updates.

The other installed applications are fairly standard for either Linux Mint (e.g. VLC) or Xfce (e.g. Thunar). That said, I do feel the need to question some application choices. While I feel most comfortable using GNOME Terminal, was there really an issue shipping the more lightweight Xfce Terminal instead? Plus, it has GTK3 dependencies; then again, so do a number of other applications included. Along the same lines, why is Eye Of GNOME the default image viewer? (That said, despite the fact that on my main installation I usually use Gloobus-Preview to preview images and Viewnior for more options in viewing, in this live session, Eye Of GNOME does load faster than I remember, and it even loads faster than Eye Of MATE.) Moreover, why is Gthumb also included if it is never the default application for anything? Would users really have felt shafted if a more lightweight alternative like Mirage, Ristretto, or Viewnior (the last of which incidentally does not have official packages for Ubuntu) were used instead, given that all of those fulfill the basic needs of browsing images and making basic edits like cropping and rotating? And for music collection applications, why is Linux Mint sticking with the bloated beast that is Banshee instead of going back to Rhythmbox like Ubuntu?

Because this is a serious contender for a place on my desktop, I tested the full range of other applications too.
Linux Mint Menu + Gedit + Window Preview
Skype is included in the repositories. It is at version 2.2 while the latest version is 4.0, but that's OK because I feel that Skype 2.X for Linux is more stable anyway, and I'm not missing any features from version 4.0. It installed and worked just fine.
I was able to download and install the DEB file for Google Talk. That worked fine too.
I only needed to install one other dependency to be able to unpack and install the TAR file for Mupen64Plus 1.5. After that, I was able to use and configure the GUI for it just fine, and I was able to play all my games fine. Even better, the menu updated itself to reflect the installation of Mupen64Plus faster than I have seen anywhere else.
Redshift is also available in the repositories. It installed and worked fine too.
Finally, I tried to use SSH to login to the computing cluster that I use for my UROP. Although this did not work in the RC and did not work in a few other distributions like Sabayon 9 KDE (which is the only thing holding me back from am using the latter), it worked fine here, which is great.

Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce comes with the latest Compiz packages but no way to configure them. In any case, I added the PPA for pre-proposed Compiz packages by Mr. Daniel Van Vugt and updated the system. The installed Compiz packages are newer, so I was technically downgrading the installed packages to the versions in the PPA. This made the process a little more complicated: I had to uninstall all the Compiz packages, force their versions in the correct order to those in the PPA, and then install those. After that, I was able to configure and use Compiz just fine, and I am happy to report that the desktop cube works without any flashing or other artifacts. That said, the ability to set an image for the caps of the cube seems to have been removed; replacing it is the ability to set the caps to show a solid color, which is a little disappointing but not a huge deal by any means. Anyway, what this means is that I would have to lock the versions of Compiz installed to prevent automatic upgrades; this is not a huge deal because I don't anticipate too many dependencies being adversely affected by this, and more importantly, I don't think Compiz has too many dependencies in the first place that I would worry about.

But wait, there's more! If you've noticed, I haven't mentioned Emerald here at all. That's because ironically, the GNOME compatibility plugin in Compiz seems to work better with Xfce than with MATE. I was able to use the GTK Window Decorator and not get the ugly default decorations by installing GConf-Editor and setting the window decoration to be the Metacity theme of my choice. In fact, I specifically downloaded my customized EHomosapien Metacity theme and used it here. Just to complete the look, I downloaded and used the "Greybird" GTK+ and Elementary icon themes and changed the wallpaper to one of those from the "Caledonia" theme suite in KDE. Now I am no longer restricted to Emerald and can customize the look of my desktop almost as easily as in GNOME 2; plus, the GTK Window Decorator is less resource-intensive than Emerald, and I don't have to simultaneously run the Compiz Fusion Icon.

There were a few other modifications I made. I enabled Redshift and its GTK+ icon to start upon logging in. I configured Mozilla Firefox to my liking. I changed the format of the clock in the panel. I added some separators and the weather applet and replaced the Xfce menu and Thunar shortcut with, respectively, the Linux Mint Menu and a workspace switcher. I have to say that I like the look of the Xfce weather applet much more than that of the one in GNOME 2 and MATE; that said, they both don't look as nice as the ones in GNOME 3 or KDE. Anyway, the only issue with this was that the panel button for the Linux Mint Menu reflected the default GTK+ theme rather than the custom one that I had selected; this was easy to change by right-clicking the button, clicking "Preferences", clicking on the "Theme" tab, and selecting the current GTK+ theme using the given drop-down menu. While this means that changing the GTK+ theme each time necessitates manually changing the theme for the Linux Mint Menu, that isn't a huge issue because I don't anticipate changing the GTK+ theme much at all. The same things go for the Metacity theme for the GTK Window Decorator in Compiz, which can only be changed through GConf-Editor.

Thunar + Eye Of GNOME + Desktop Cube
With Compiz and Redshift running in the background and with the other changes that I had made, Linux Mint with Xfce used about 490 MB of RAM at idle. While this is quite a bit for Xfce, it's by and large reflective of what I see in my installed GNOME 2 system. Plus, given that Linux Mint has explicitly said that the Xfce edition should not be considered lightweight in any way, I'm not too worried about this. Also, as expected, Xfce was quite stable; more importantly, though, using Compiz in conjunction with Xfce did not cause any stability issues like the ones that appeared in the MATE edition.

There are only two other minor issues I have with the desktop as I have customized it. The first is that the clicking on the clock applet in the panel is supposed to bring up a calendar sitting just above the panel; however, enabling Compiz makes "sitting just above" become "hovering many tens of pixels above". The second is that with Xfce 4.10, Thunar appears to have dropped navigation buttons in favor of breadcrumbs; while that is generally OK with me, my problem is that when the size of the Thunar window is smaller as is the default setting and when I have clicked through a bunch of folders and I try to navigate back, sometimes the arrow buttons to show breadcrumbs forward and backward don't work correctly, so I have to expand the size of the Thunar window just to complete the navigation. This becomes especially problematic when a folder name is large, as this makes the breadcrumb quite long and unwieldy; this happens when accessing a mounted volume which Linux labels with a weird long string of letters and numbers.

That is where my time with Linux Mint ended. Well, folks, this could be it. Especially when compared to the MATE edition, Xfce as packaged by Linux Mint does an absolutely superb job of replicating my preferred GNOME 2 setup in every way. I'm not going to install it just yet because I want to see how it performs in a long-term review on my UROP desktop, but I have a feeling it will go well. Also, Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE is on the verge of seeing its final release as well, and given the good experiences I have had with KDE so far on my UROP desktop, I want to try that too as the subject of both a regular and a long-term review. That said, given how good the Xfce edition seems to be, the KDE edition will have to work hard to match that. In any case, I can give Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce my highest recommendation. It's interesting because although the MATE and Cinnamon editions are the official replacements of the GNOME 2 edition of Linux Mint, I believe that the Xfce edition is the real spiritual successor here. And I guess with that, I'm going with the current choice of Mr. Linus Torvalds himself!
This edition has not been officially released at the time of this writing, but you can watch for it here.

27 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. I quite enjoyed Xubuntu (ever since 12.04 beta was out), only there were a few programs and panel items that would crash every once in a while. This Mint has yet to cough.
      I had upgraded Xfce 4.8 to version 4.10 in Xubuntu and thought that was the culprit behind the crashes, but they kept happening even on some fresh 4.8 installs on other machines. Either way, I'm a huge fan of these 2 Xfce-based distros and give the edge to Mint for a slightly smoother, presently-crash-free experience. Good to know Linus Torvalds made it his own choice, as well.

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  2. I agree with you regarding MATE and Cinnamon. I wonder why it is necessary to create them when LXDE and XFCE already exist in a stable state.
    I am using Lubuntu + Ubuntu Studio (xfce). I add Gnome-fallback and Enlightenment to have some alternatives to boot into and try out, and they don't seem to fight too much or use too many resources. I like Nautilus for its double-pane but since that is on the way out, I may be done with all gnome bits. Good riddance, gnome.
    Lxde and Xfce are my favorites, and I rarely notice that I am no longer using gnome. In gnome or unity, I cannot really function anymore. I am also not accustomed to using KDE. Enlightenment E17 would be my third choice after xfce and lxde (tied).
    I have tried Mint a few times but see no advantages and some disadvantages to the *buntus. I wonder also if you don't think a *buntu has a better upgrade (and sidegrade?) path than Mint. In fact, even on Distrowatch, Mint has not yet reached the level of Ubuntu+Lubuntu+Xubuntu+Kubuntu+Ubuntu-Studio. Mint just seems like Ubuntu done right, and I do hate almost all of the decisions made at the head Ubuntu office, but the spinoffs that are still in the Ubuntu family seem to get it right, too.

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  3. @Bernard Victor: I have briefly played around with Xubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin", and I do like what I see. That said, I probably would still take Linux Mint with Xfce over that because Linux Mint comes with all of the nice characteristic enhancements, and it comes with 5 years of support rather than 3.

    @Anonymous: It's good that you've been able to use Xfce and LXDE without issue. With regard to upgrades, if you're referring to upgrading packages in the OS, I feel like Linux Mint does a better job because it tells the user which packages are safe and which are not, whereas Ubuntu simply puts everything out there, and it is honestly difficult to mark or unmark every single package in a list of hundreds to be upgraded. If you're referring to upgrading the OS itself, I haven't heard much about the reliability of the upgrade process for recent versions of Ubuntu. That said, in past versions, the Ubuntu upgrade process was horribly unreliable, so I'm actually glad that Linux Mint asks the user to do a fresh installation. Now, that recommendation may seem a little dated if the upgrade process in Ubuntu has indeed become much more reliable, so I can't say much more about that. Also, out of curiosity, what were the other disadvantages of Linux Mint that you refer to?

    Thanks for the comments!

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    1. I HAVE had good luck upgrading Ubuntu and Xubuntu since around 8.10 to the current12.04. In some cases I left 10.04 in place for almost 2 years (I didn't upgrade to it right away). My ASUS EEE701(?) "little sucker" never had any problems upgrading Ubuntu/Xubuntu from the install on the SSD, an SD card, or a USB. My ASUS EEE 1000HE also always upgraded smoothly -- altho it was on 10.04 for ages. Where I DID usually have problems was upgrading Ubuntu on a Mac mini. I see your point about the package safety ratings in Mint but I don't think I need that feature. I was under the impression Ubuntu upgraded better and could change window managers (sort of a side-grade) more easily, while having more software packages and customization options (not in unity or gnome) but I could be mistaken since my time using Mint has been a week or so at a time.

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    2. @Anonymous: If you don't need the safety rating feature in Linux Mint, you don't need to use it. Also, I don't think Ubuntu actually upgrades significantly better than Linux Mint, although it may upgrade marginally better because while it is possible to use the Ubuntu upgrade method in Linux Mint, the customizations that Linux Mint makes to the Ubuntu base may not be upgraded properly at every step. In any case, the experiences that you have with Ubuntu regarding upgrading would probably carry over to Linux Mint as well. Thanks for the comment!

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    3. Thanks! I didn't know those things. May give Mint another try. I'm interested in adding Mint repositories to an existing *buntu (test bed) system to see what happens... as seen here: http://www.ubuntubuzz.com/2011/11/install-linux-mint-12-application-in.html best of both worlds? or an unstable mess? btw, Have you posted anything on adding or subtracting repositories to transmogrify one distro into another distro?

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    4. @Anonymous: You can look through my archives, but I think the closest thing I have done to that is a how-to on transforming KDE into Unity; I think I may have done one or two other similar posts too. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. yes i really really think also that xfce mint is one of the best distro oute there for guys of old school...

    I cannot understand this unity thing (although it seems it is getting somewhere), gnome 3 is out of question while kde is stable now but i use too many gnome apps...What is going with linux DE??

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  5. I'm surprised that there's been little to no mention of PCLinuxOS Phoenix XFCE on this and other popular sites. I've been testing it myself over the last few days and it's brilliant.

    I'm also quite fond of VoyagerOS and Porteus, both XFCE and both I feel deserve more attention. Voyager is a bit more resource heavy but works nicely and Porteus is amazingly quick and responsive.

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  6. @Chris: Let's be clear, in that Linux is the kernel for the OS, and it isn't a DE. Did you mean to say, "what is going on with DEs in Linux"?

    @crabbos: To be honest, I haven't had particularly good experiences with PCLinuxOS, at least with regard to the KDE edition. I would be curious to know if anyone else like me has had bad experiences with the KDE edition of PCLinuxOS but has found the Xfce edition to be significantly better; if that is the case, then I might try it. Also, I probably will review the latest version of Porteus at some point; I haven't heard of VoyagerOS, but I may check it out.

    Thanks for the comments!

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    1. Voyager is well worth looking at: the prettiest version of XFCE that I have seen.

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    2. @Phil Mulley: Thanks for the tip!

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  7. 1. My experiences with the Phoenix edition weren't great-but I haven't tried it for a year.

    2. @ Anonymous-Actually, about 2 months ago I think Mint's results on DW totalled more than Ub+Lub+Xub+Kub+Ub Studio, but since then Mint has gone down a few hundred hits on average and Ubuntu has gone up.

    3. I thought I read a rant by Torvalds a couple of months ago in which he panned XFCE after having switched to it last year. I'm not finding it easily with a web search, though-did I imagine it?

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  8. How did you enable mintMenu? Doesn’t seem entirely obvious to me, I’m afraid…

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    1. Don't know if it's correct, but this is the way I did it:

      Open Software Manager, search for xfce4-xfapplet-plugin, install
      Then install mintmenu from Software Manager (if not already installed ?)

      Then right-click panel > Add new items > XfApplet > Add
      Right-click xfapplet in panel (at far right) > Properties > choose an applet > click mintmenu > click ok

      Can then delete default menu and move mintmenu to left.

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    2. In the final release, xfce4-xfapplet-plugin and mintmenu are already installed - so just right-click panel etc. as above.

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  9. PCLinuxOS XFCE has no maintainer right now and it is not considered an 'official edition' any longer. There is some political back story there from what I gather from reading their support forums. I briefly installed it a couple of weeks ago and ran into a few small bugs, like issues with numlock causing me to be locked out with my password after I updated it.

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  10. That's a shame about PCLOS, it's working very well for me. Regardless of that I really would like to see some feedback on VoyagerOS.

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  11. @Anonymous 1: I appreciate the clarifications. Also, Linus Torvalds has praised Xfce, and I think you may be confusing that rant with a rant that he did actually write about bugs in X/11 and security flaws in openSUSE.

    @Anonymous 2: Look at the comments below.

    @Anonymous 3: That was only necessary for the RC.

    @Anonymous 4: That is indeed the way to do it!

    @Anonymous 5: I feel like in general, although PCLinuxOS has a very tight-knit community, its development as a whole has been quite turbulent of late.

    @crabbos: I've briefly glanced at the webpage for Voyager OS, and it seems to be in French; does it have an edition in English as well?

    Thanks for the comments!

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  12. I agree with your experience. The Xfce version of Mint is a winner. I like you did some tweaking of the windows and did a theme change and it works like a charm! I did not mess with Compiz as I have no real use for it. All I wanted was a nice simple easy to use interface and this is it. I did install the Mint Menu although to be truthful the standard Xfce menu is simpler, much less complex and I am tempted to go back to it.

    I think the Mint has made a real contribution here. I am sad with Gnome's demise it was once a very satisfying interface. But given the direction they have taken it feels like a very bad kludge. For now Mint Xfce will become my mainline desktop.

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  13. @PV The website is in French but the default installation is in English.

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  14. @Anonymous: I personally use Compiz not just for the effects (though that's part of it) but because it's the only WM other than KWin that has a working reliable feature to assign applications to open on specific workspaces. If you don't need it, though, then your Xfce setup will probably be even lighter and faster.

    @crabbos: I appreciate the clarification.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  15. Currently using Linux mint XFCE Maya on my Aspire ONE. It was manufactured three years ago and feels like something Fred Flintstone would use. On my Laptops and desktops that have anywhere between 6 and 16 GB's of RAM I am using Ubuntu 12.04 with the Unity desktop and I really do like it at this point. I have been a Linux user since 2000. I only boot Windows when I need to interface with an MP3 player or any other hardware that is proprietary. I also buy Photoshop every couple of years only because it feels familiar to me at this point. I have spent more time learning to Gimp since it's 2.8 release and the single window mode option. The gimp is easily on par with Photoshop Elements at this point. If you have the choice between the two and you are just starting to edit digital photos, start to use the Gimp and you will probably be farther ahead in the long run and have an extra hundred dollars in your pocket. Photoshop CS is an entirely different animal from Elements in my opinion.
    Back to Linux. Linux Mint 13 with XFCE is easily better than Ubuntu 12.04 on a low power machine like a netbook. As much as I like Ubuntu 12.04 and Unity it just doesn't work on my netbook as well as a distro that is designed for a netbook / tablet should. Mint chose to go with Ubuntu LTS release this cycle and everyone who tries it will benefit from their efforts. I am probably rambling at this point but I would like to say that I love Linux mint XFCE on my netbook. It has a classic feel after removing the mint theme and it is amazing fast. This netbook came with XP installed and it is much more useful with Mint installed. I would like to thank everyone involved in the development of Linux Mint Maya for giving me a distro to keep my old netbook alive. I think I will buy a new battery for it and use it as a portable storage device that can convert files and save photos in the field.
    I had a friend bring a flashdrive over that Windows 7 would not recognize or mount. It would give an error box suggesting that the drive needs to be formatted. The thing is Windows 7 would attempt to format the drive and could not. The disk utility in Ubuntu 12.04 formatted the drive with a Fat 32 file system and saved the flashdrive. Linux is beyond amazing for a free operating system and deserves more recognition for it's contribution to computing history.
    The bottom line is that you should give Linux a fair trial on your computer. If you need to dual boot so be it, but I think you'll find that you only load Windows when you need access to third party commercial software. As far as everyday use is concerned the only thing holding Linux back is people's unwillingness to learn new things.
    I love Linux and I chose to rant tonight.
    1:23 A.M. 08/17/2012

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    1. @J W: It's great that Linux Mint has worked so well for you. Thanks for the comment!

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  16. How did you enable the mint menu on maya xfce?

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    1. @Anonymous: Add the "XfApplet" applet to the panel, then edit its properties to enable the Linux Mint Menu; in Linux Mint, that option will be [the only one] available. Thanks for the comment!

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