Reflection: Linux Mint GNOME

I have been using Linux Mint for exactly one year (as of this day). I thought it would be good to reflect on this year of use.
I was preparing for AP exams for the days before. It was a Friday evening, and I was getting a little tired of studying, and the more I thought about it, the more sick I was of Windows. I had been meaning to install Ubuntu for a while but had never gotten the time (or willpower, for that matter) until that day. Also, a few weeks before, one of my friends mentioned Linux Mint as a much cooler alternative to (and based off of) Ubuntu, so I thought of installing Linux Mint instead. That day, I was finally disgusted enough with Windows to dive in and try Linux Mint (at that time version 6 "Felicia" GNOME); also, it was a nice diversion from all of that studying.
Follow the jump to read more about how that has turned out.

I searched "linux mint" on Google and found the website. I pored over the installation/usage manual (which, incidentally, is very well put together and very thorough - a must-read for those new to Linux) so that I could know exactly what to do. I downloaded InfraRecorder to burn the ISO image to a CD. I kept the CD in the tray and restarted my computer. I picked the default menu entry in the boot menu: this didn't work, so I tried again and tried "compatibility mode" - this worked. I waited for the system to automatically log me in, and I was bedazzled by what I saw! Everything just seemed so fresh and "minty" compared to Windows XP. I was also pleased to see that YouTube and other such sites worked out of the box. I decided to go ahead and install it. I was happy to see the installation was so simple, as I had never really used Linux before. All I needed to do was drag the slider to make room for Linux Mint.
(I later found out that I installed Linux Mint 6 "Felicia" on my secondary hard disk. Oh well. It didn't cause any issues.)
That said, I never really tweaked my system - I just used it for web browsing, online chatting, and document creation, which worked perfectly for me.
As I look back, I probably should have waited a little longer before installing, as version 7 "Gloria" GNOME came out just a few weeks later. I decided to install that; the process was the same (and I was blown away by the much nicer aesthetics) as before, but this time, I installed it on the primary hard disk.
The first picture shows the default look of both versions' desktops. I have since then tweaked Linux Mint 7 quite a bit. Following this is a picture of what it looks like now.
As you can see, I moved the bottom bar to the top. I swapped out the Mint menu for the GNOME menu. I installed the GNOME global menu panel applet and put it on - it gives the universal window menu on the top, conserving screen space, which I like. I have a few other random panel applets there too. On the bottom, instead of a regular window switcher, I have a dock, as it saves screen space (by only showing icons and not full application names) and has some other cool applets too. For that, I will say that Apple really got the GUI right for Mac OS X.
One thing that I wasn't too happy about was the inability to use desktop effects. I found out that the graphics driver used was the generic "vesa" driver, which provides basic functionality for pretty much any card but no 3D-acceleration (which is required for desktop effects). This also meant that I couldn't run programs like Project64 for my Nintendo-64 games on the computer. However, as of 2 days ago, this changed: I installed the "ati" driver, which allows for full 3D-acceleration. Hence, I went overboard with effects in joy (and now I can play Project64 too!). Following this are the desktop cube, unfolded desktop cube, desktop fire, Expo, window flip, transparent window borders, and deformed desktop cube effects, respectively.

After having used Linux Mint for a year, I can only give it my absolute highest recommendation. It comes with a whole host of software out of the box (even in the live CD), and works with a whole lot of hardware (even hardware that in some cases Windows can't work with). While it certainly won't be perfect for everuone, it is a great operating system for anyone needing an operating system free of charge, wanting to experience Linux or the benefits of free software, or wanting to get out of the Microsoft ecosystem. I will soon be getting a new laptop, and I intend to install the next version of Linux Mint GNOME (version 9 "Isadora") on it at once.