Some things are hard to let go – like operating systems. According to NetMarketShare, Windows XP still has an impressive 9.7 percent share of the OS the market. That’s more than both Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. When you finally do decide to move on, it’s nice to know you’ve got options. And the most compelling option of all may exist outside the Microsoft universe. Geeks abound are buzzing over the official release of Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon, codename Sarah.
Mint has been one of the most popular distros in the Linux world for years. Recent data from Distro Watch highlights it as the leading distribution over the past 12 months. Linux Mint is beating out long-time Linux favorites such as Debian, Ubuntu, and Fedora. The Mint website claims its software is the third most widely used home-based system behind Windows and Mac OS X.
Some reviewers say the latest flavor of Cinnamon is the best desktop OS on the market today. With that kind of praise, I couldn’t help being curious so I took it for a spin myself.
Getting Some Mint Cinnamon In Your Life
Windows users can try Linux Mint 18 in risk-free fashion. Taking it for a test drive is as simple as 1-2-3:
- download the installation file from the official site;
- port to a piece of bootable media;
- run the live installation on your machine.
With the exception of write privileges, a live version comes with all the key features unlocked. So your free trial is essentially a fully functioning operating system.
There’s no need to completely abandon your existing system. By taking advantage of the dual boot feature, a Linux staple, you can run Mint beside your current copy of Windows and use either system at your leisure. This luxury comes in handy when you need those commercial apps that only run smoothly in a Windows environment.
The Linux Mint 18 Desktop Interface
After getting the system up and running, I was greeted with basic beauty on first glance. The Linux Mint 18 desktop environment is as clean as can be. You might say it’s reminiscent of XP with a simplistic background and Start Menu-inspired tab at the bottom-left of the screen. A quick click of the menu reveals application categories such as “Accessories”, “Graphics”, and “Internet”. This simplified setup is quite refreshing in comparison to the cluster bleep of an interface the later versions of Windows force on you.
Flexibility has always been a calling card of Unix-like systems. An admin who knows their way around the terminal environment can do just about anything from the command line. Unfortunately, those who lack such knowledge usually have a tough time commanding the system at all. Linux Mint prides itself on being a user-friendly alternative, and Sarah expands on that simplicity with some nice enhancements in the system administration department.
The System Settings console lets you customize the finer aspects of your OS. You can tweak everything from themes and extensions to startup applications and workspaces. Linux distros are built with a bulletproof design, but those migrating from Windows will appreciate the fact that security features like a built-in firewall exist. It’s a basic firewall with basic customization options, but you can’t undersell the value of peace of mind.
Improved Update Manager
Another feature system admins will find interesting is the new and improved Update Manager. This is where you go to control how Mint handles updates for your software and the system itself. The new Update Manager gives you the following options:
Don’t break my computer!: Recommended for the novice, choose this option to receive updates that (likely) won’t hinder the safety or stability of your the system.
Optimize stability and security: Most users will choose this option, which delivers updates that are known to be safe and stable, yet also lets you select security and kernel updates that could possibly impact stability.
Always update everything: Recommended for advanced users, this option is designed to keep your system fully up to date with the understanding that not all updates are safe and if something goes wrong, it’s on you to fix it.
I personally think the Update Manager in Linux Mint 18 is more flexible than anything Windows has ever given users access to. Know your role, play it smart, and these simple settings will further bolster the out of the box security Linux is so well known for.
Super Sweet Software!
I’d argue that the application experience is the heart of any operating system. Linux Mint 18 comes ready to roll with some cool apps. But the real awesome sauce lies in the Software Manager. Known as the Software Center in other distros, this version is like night and day compared to what I had to work with in LXLE. The Software Manager here is more intuitively designed with more categories and best of all, more software! According to my installation, there are currently 83,172 software packages available.
Each preview displays a quick description of the app, along with features and reviews towards the bottom of the page. Installation is a one-click process that for me, was literally done in two minutes tops.
On another positive note, popular third-party applications such as Dropbox, Spotify, and Skype can be installed from the Featured tab in the Software Manager. No more scouring the web for compatible versions or dinking around the command line. Yeah!
Multimedia Note: Needs Codecs
One of the first things you’ll notice upon installing Linux Mint 18 is the following note: “Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, Flash, MP3 and other media.” Apparently this has to do with copyright issues pertaining to some of the proprietary software pre-installed on the system. Me being slow to catch on to just about everything, I ignored it and proceeded with the installation. It wasn’t until I was suddenly in the mood for some Beatles that I realized the plugins needed to fire up my MP3s were missing. But all hope wasn’t lost.
After some digging, I learned that I could track down and install what I needed by typing “Codecs” in the Menu search field. Problem solved and hello Beatles!
Linux Mint 18 Performance Monitor
Before migrating from Windows a year or so ago, I’d heard all about how Linux was this bad mama jama that could turn the most average hardware into a high-performance workhorse. Sarah zipped right along following the installation, but the only way to truly gauge performance is to put the system under duress. So that’s what I did before heading over to the System Monitor.
The image below is a snapshot of the multitasking madness I put my system through on a regular basis. These specific processes were the result of running multiple windows on FireFox and Chrome, playing the Beatles in VLC Media Player, and using my writing software among other apps. Hey, I’m a busy dude. Even with all that activity, the System Monitor, which actually commanded the most resources, never took my CPU usage higher than 30 percent. Considering that my laptop runs a modest 1.10GHz dual-core processor and still pushed on with no problems, I’d say that’s pretty darn impressive.
Moving on from older versions of Windows isn’t necessarily a matter of product quality. Even XP is still a very useful system. It’s a matter of support – or lack thereof. Despite being released just a few short years ago, Microsoft has already pulled the plug on Windows 8 as mainstream support ended on January 12, 2016. Linux Mint will receive long-term support with updates and security fixes coming until 2021. Few open source products get this special treatment, and even veteran Linux fanatics can appreciate that.
So is Linux Mint 18 Cinnamon the best desktop OS in the world? I guess we’ll see. If I come to feel that way I’ll surely tell you about it in future posts. For now I’m so impressed that I’ve decided to crown as it as my main system. The apps, the performance, and the simplicity that allowed me to find my way around much easier than LXLE totally won me over. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Microsoft products. But I think even the most loyal Windows fan would come to embrace this baby in no time.
If you’re thinking of moving over to Linux, checkout our Windows to Linux migration checklist, for a seamless move.