Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon & MATE: A hands-on review

What’s new and exciting in the latest releases of Linux Mint 17.1.

linux mint desktop

Linux Mint is the top operating system on the DistroWatch, having risen to stardom after the debacle of Unity and Gnome 3 Shell. It offered the time tested, good old WIMP paradigm, which made it popular among those users who don’t want to learn new tricks to do the same old things.

The Linux Mint team, lead by Clement Lefebvre, created two different desktop environments - MATE and Cinnamon catering to two different audiences. Cinnamon, based on Gnome 3, created an interface similar to that of KDE (early editions of Linux Mint were based on Kubuntu) or Windows. MATE, on the other hand, was a continuation of the good old Gnome 2 desktop, where developers are replacing the old packages with modern ones. The team announced the release of Linux Mint 17.1 this past Saturday, and I spent some time with both desktops to see what was new.

[ Related reading: Ready to give Linux a try? These are the 5 distros you need to consider ]

What’s spicing up the Cinnamon desktop?

I always had qualms about Cinnamon as few things were quirky with the desktop - the menu used to be the most flaky component. I noticed it has improved quite a lot in 17.1, and it now it offers an extremely polished and clean interface. A Windows user (coming from XP or 7) will have no problem with Linux Mint.

linux mint cinnamon

Cinnamon's interface is similar to that of Windows XP and 7.

In this release Cinnamon has improved hardware support for touchpads, which are used on MacBooks. You can easily configure 2-finger and 3-finder clicks on supported devices.

linuxmint background

Linux Mint's settings options.

The team has made many changes to the settings tools. Theme and Background settings pages are totally redefined. In the Cinnamon Settings option they have added ‘Privacy’ and ‘Notifications’ management options.

linuxmint privacy

New Privacy settings in Linux Mint.

The Linux Mint team forked the Gnome file manager Nautilus and called it Nemo. LM’s file manager not only re-introduced most of the useful features of old Nautilus, but also continued to add more. In 17.1 users can customize the look and feel of individual folders within Nemo by right-clicking and using the desired color scheme.

MATE in heaven

MATE is an excellent lightweight desktop that breathes new life into older hardware. Linux Mint 17.1 MATE comes pre-installed with two windows managers: Macro, MATE's own WM, and Compiz, the good old WM where you can do cool things like rotating cubes that became the signature of Linux desktops. Linux Mint developers have made it extremely easy to switch between the two WMs from the 'Desktop Settings' option.

linuxmint mate

Linux Mint MATE edition.

Features shared between MATE and Cinnamon

Both editions of Linux Mint see significant improvements in core areas, most notably in the system management section.

Instead of listing single packages for software like LibreOffice, it now groups all those packages so you can install them with one click. This change makes the life of developers and users easy when it comes to managing the system.

linuxmint update1

Packages are now grouped in update manager.

Clement explains on the Linux Mint blog:

When a developer fixes a bug or writes new features, the source code is modified and all packages which are related to it become available under a new version. It is therefore futile and sometimes dangerous to apply some package updates and not others within the same source package. By grouping these updates the Update Manager prevents you from applying incomplete updates while making it easier for you to review them (updates make more sense and there's far less than before to review).

In layman’s terms, the new approach makes the entire system more stable and secure.

An average user may not concern themselves too much with Kernel updates, but it does affect performance. Improvements made by the team enable users to make educated decisions whether or not to update the system to the latest kernel. Linux Mint 17.1 offers a review for each kernel update, giving a description of the change log and regression in the update manager window.

The look and feel segment also received a major facelift. Linux Mint now uses Noto family as the default fonts for both desktops.

While Ubuntu doesn't have many customization options, Linux Mint excels in this area and allows users to fully personalize their computers. The default Linux Mint theme, Mint-X, now comes in various color schemes including Aqua, Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, Sand and Teal.

linuxmint themes

More themes for Linux Mint Cinnamon.

Another interesting feature of Linux Mint is that the login screen now shows a slide show instead of static wallpaper.

linuxmint mate login

Why Linux Mint?

Both MATE and Cinnamon in Linux Mint 17.1 are extremely polished and responsive. Obviously MATE is much faster than Cinnamon on older hardware. Linux Mint, like openSUSE, offers a very well integrated experience with the chosen desktop environment. Everything is in place; everything can be personalized.

Linux Mint is one of the most highly recommended desktops for new Linux users. You can download Linux Mint MATE 17.1 or Linux Mint Cinnamon and choose the one that suites your needs the best. If you have older hardware or if you want to keep most of the resources to yourself instead of being consumed by the DE, I recommend Linux Mint MATE.

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