Linux Mint is an elegant Linux-distro based on Ubuntu, which is in turn based on Debian. Its release usually follows Ubuntu releases. However, the release of Linux Mint 12 (following Ubuntu Oneiric) has been delayed and people have been left clueless because of no communication from the Linux Mint team. Finally, the Mint blog broke the secrecy yesterday, and has given a preview of what is to come.
I would like to apologize to the community, the media, and the journalists who wrote to us to know more about our upcoming release. We have been extremely secretive and 3 weeks past the Ubuntu release, it is still unclear for most people exactly what the next Linux Mint will look like. The reason we have been so silent is because we did not want to promise something we could not guarantee.
The story so far
Linux Mint has recorded an impressive 40% increase in market share in a month. We can easily guess that these are disgruntled Ubuntu users disappointed at the poor usability factor of Unity. The Mint team deserves credit for doing it right. Sticking to an older version of Gnome was not an option, as it would have lost support very soon. Linux Mint has rightfully decided to go with Gnome 3, but with their customization on top. Their main concern has always been:
How do we make people like Gnome 3? And what do we provide as an alternative to those who still do not want to change?
Gnome 3 is facing the same struggle as any change. It is facing resistance and Linux Mint aims to make Gnome more usable. They have addressed it with elegance and have presented Gnome 3, modified into a more usable version- MGSE.
MGSE and Gnome 3
MGSE improves on the problems that Gnome 3 faces.
- It changes the way people use their computer
- It’s application-centric, not task-centric (you switch between applications, not windows)
- It doesn’t do multi-tasking well (you can’t see opened windows, system tray icons, etc..)
While Linux Mint makes extensive use of application menus, window lists and other traditional desktop features, Gnome 3 tries to do away with all that and introduce a new method of interaction. While the Mint team appreciates the efforts of Gnome 3, they do not see it as a preferable way of interacting with the computer for desktop users. This inspired them to create Mint Gnome Shell Extensions or MGSE.
Mint Gnome Shell Extensions is a layer on top of Gnome 3. It does away with the idiosyncrasies of Gnome 3 and makes it usable. MGSE supports extensive customization. Therefore, if you require a feature in particular and do not want another feature, you can tweak MGSE to suit these needs. Turning off MGSE completely gives you the default Gnome 3.
MGSE makes the desktop environment of Gnome 3 more task-centric, than plain Gnome 3 which is more application-centric. The main features in MGSE are,
- The bottom panel
- The application menu
- The window list
- A task-centric desktop (i.e. you switch between windows, not applications)
- Visible system tray icons
- Media Player indicator
However, MGSE has not compromised on any of the features of Gnome 3 like hotspots on Window corners.
A Mint desktop looks and behaves like a Mint desktop and this one feels both like Gnome 3 and the traditional Linux Mint desktops that preceded it. You can launch applications from the top left, easily switch between applications and workspaces using the window list or keyboard shortcuts, keep an eye on your notifications at the top and access Gnome 3 features like activitiesfrom the top-left corner.
The fallback mode is present in Gnome 3 because it requires hardware acceleration, and Gnome 3 is not compatible with all hardware yet. In fallback mode, you will still run Gnome 3, just without the looks. It is like a stripped-down version of Gnome 3, designed to run on generic hardware of all type.
Gnome 2.32 is there too!
Mint 12 is coming with Gnome 3 all right, but they have plans to include Gnome 2 as well. A big challenge in this was the inclusion of Gnome 2.32, which is incompatible with Gnome 3. Open Source software brings along a flexibility and this gave the Mint team MATE which is a fork of Gnome 2.32. The good news is, MATE is compatible with Gnome 3 and there is a chance that it will be included in the Mint 12 Live CD.
Linux Mint claims to be the fourth most popular OS in the world and this makes it a potential revenue stream. The Mint team has decided not to include search engines that do not share their revenue and will work with selected search engines, namely Ask.com, Google, Amazon and eBay.
This will give them a considerable amount of funding. Their reliance has been on donations and sponsorships and the Mint team is looking beyond those revenue streams now.
Great. So, when is the release?
Linux Mint 12 has planned to release the RC version by November 11 and the final stable version by November 20. However, these are only tentative dates and they mention clearly in their blog that the deadline can be compromised for better quality.
The Linux Mint team says that their Gnome 3 desktop is ready and MATE runs successfully beside Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 11.10. Even though some search engines may not appear in the RC release, they will make it once deals are finalized before the final release of the stable version.
What struck me was the honesty with which the Linux Mint team accepts things. This makes them all the more elegant.
We have been using Gnome 2 since 2006 and regarded by many as the best Gnome desktop available. With Gnome 3, we want to do the same again and let people decide on the experience they want to get, whether they want a pure Gnome 3 desktop, an MGSE one whether they want to stay with MATE. We are dealing with three brand new technologies, in many ways we are starting from scratch again.
You are awaited Linux Mint 12 Lisa.