Linux Mint 14: Why can’t Ubuntu do that? (Using Mint part 1)

A fresh Linux Mint desktop with Cinnamon. I’ve popped the notification tray open here. Notifications in Cinnamon are excellent.

First, I have to admit that I’m biased. I was curious about Linux Mint 14, but I didn’t really want to like it. I had flings with Julia, Katya, and a brief and tumultuous run with Maya (the Euro babe nicknames of Mints 10, 11 and 13) but my feeling about the popular distro was always a big healthy who cares?

I never saw the point. At first, Mint was really little more than a skinned Ubuntu with a nice menu and codecs. By 13, it was a buggy mess for me. There was a concept I liked in Cinnamon, but it failed to deliver a consistent user experience. I also like Canonical and think what they’ve done with Ubuntu is phenomenal. Using Mint seemed treasonous.

But his week, prompted by some really high praise around the web (and a happy accident in which I nuked the grub file of a perfectly awesome Xubuntu install) I decided to give it a try. Guess what? It’s really, really nice. All of my prior gripes about Cinnamon appear to have disappeared in version 1.6. Mint 14 is outstanding.

But instead of a simple review, I want to begin with a different approach here. What I find most vexing about Mint is the way it points out what I think are glaring issues with Ubuntu in general. When I use Mint I continue to exclaim to myself: “Why can’t Ubuntu do this?” I think that is especially true if you consider ease of use for newbies or those who don’t have the time to set things up. Mint makes a lot of things easy that Ubuntu should look into.

Look and feel: It’s about choice.

The Nemo file manager, a Nautilus fork, provides good looks and better function. Ubuntu could use it.

Design is a matter of taste, I get that. I think Ubuntu (talking main edition here with Unity) is very well designed. I don’t even mind that color scheme. To me, Mint is a lot nicer, from theme to icon choices. But the great thing about Mint is that it’s very easy to change the theme. And a fresh install of mint includes 29 (!) different themes to choose from. That’s an incredible amount of choice. Ubuntu now only includes two real choices.

Next is flexibility. Mint allows you to move your panel (there are presets for top, bottom or classic, with two panels, top and bottom, emulating the old GNOME 2 desktop). Also, it’s incredibly easy to move applets in the panel. There are additional applets. Want to add a workspace switcher to the panel? It’s there. Want to move it to the left? Go for it. It is not now as do-anything flexible as XFCE or KDE for that matter, but it’s a world of options compared to GNOME shell and Unity.

One of the biggest complaints about Unity was the lack of customization options available. I can’t understand why a small team like Mint can essentially develop a stable, customizable desktop in half the time Unity has been in development. I understand that Unity is probably more complex, but Canonical must have a much bigger team working on Unity.

Applications: Less is not more

Haggling over applications with a Linux distro is kind of silly. If you don’t like it, just swap it out. I’ve never felt a want for anything.

I have read complaints that Linux Mint includes too much software. And perhaps there really isn’t a need for so many media players. But today, when most of the main distros no longer fit on a CD, I don’t see the harm in stocking up apps. I like that Mint includes GIMP, Synaptic Package Manager and other tools. I’d like to see Dropbox and Chromium included, too (who doesn’t use more than one browser?).

But back to “Why can’t Ubuntu do this?” Mint 14 comes with the new fork of Nautilus, Nemo. It looks great and is way more functional than Nautilus. It includes easy access buttons for list and icon views. It has tabs, extra panes and a toggle for a path bar. Again, Mint pulled this off in 6 months. It would be great if Ubuntu could do the same or better for its users.

Finally in this point, notifications in Cinnamon are great. They’re easy to see, clickable (meaning a click on a notification will take you to the application or file in question) and they collect in a notification tray so you can be sure not to miss them. This is a great feature that Ubuntu really needs.

The bottom line: Ubuntu should borrow from Mint

I could go on, but I realize the attention span of a blog reader is not cut out for more than 1,000 words. My point is this: Mint has become popular, I think, not just because it is traditional. I’m not a big fan of traditional. In fact there’s a lot I like about Unity and even Gnome Shell.

What Mint got right is that they seem to be the one modern GNOME interface that really gives users an easy to use and configure desktop and does so with a polish that really doesn’t seem to have any equal.

I certainly don’t want to get into a which distro is better debate. Ubuntu is awesome and without it, there’d be no Mint. I would love, however, to see Ubuntu take Mint into account, though, and realize what the small, open Mint team has managed to do. For starters, they should really look at helping with Nemo. It’s the real deal. I’m almost willing to say that Nemo is nearly reason in and of itself to go for Mint.

And finally, instead of working hard to bring poorly implemented web applications that give me a far inferior experience to an open browser window, I’d like to see Ubuntu make Unity more customizable and more responsive. I want the dash to open in 1 second. Not 3 or 4.

In other words, make Unity really great, Ubuntu. I think the Mint guys are definitely beating you right now.

I’m going to continue using Mint and I’ll report back on the experience vs. Ubuntu. I’m going to see how it fares on an application by application level, look at it’s update system and just how it handles daily use. Let me know what you think.

Linux Mint 14: Why can’t Ubuntu do that? (Using Mint part 1)
User Rating: 4.7 (2 votes)
  • shadowguy14

    I always think that to! Since I started out with Mint 12 and didn’t need to install everything, but when I put Xubuntu on my older computer, I was so confused because it came with nothing I thought I did something wrong, but then I found out about Ubuntu and the way they work -_-

  • http://www.linuxrants.com Linux Rants

    Sounds like it’s safe to say you like it.

  • http://cerebrofucker.blogspot.com Darko

    Don’t like Cinnamon. Really buggy. I stay with Ubuntu.

  • Zac

    That’s exactly how I felt. I tried it a few times in the past and for various reasons always went back to Ubuntu a few days later. Having said that I never liked Unity, so I always used installed XFCE on top of Ubuntu. But having now experimented with Mint 14 when I set up a new laptop for my sister, I’ve realised how much better it is and how great Cinnamon is. I’ll be putting Mint 14 on my current Laptop when my new HDD arrives.

    • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

      Why not just install Cinnamon on Ubuntu?

  • http://twitter.com/explodingwalrus Carl Draper

    All these points you make are about the desktop, Unity versus Cinnamon, why not just install Cinnamon on Ubuntu? Almost all my machines have Ubuntu 12.04 LTS with Cinnammon desktop.

  • azh

    I have Mint 14 Cinnamon, but can’t figure how to have both a top and bottom panel. Right now stuck with only a bottom panel, any help would be really appreciated.

    • http://www.refugeeks.com/ Kev Quirk

      You can’t have both panels natively. You could use something like dockbarx to create a second panel though.

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