Today I want to introduce you to one of my all-time favourite Linux desktop distros: Linux Mint. There are a lot of great desktop distros that work fantastic right out of the box, but I think this one edges out the competition. It’s a great option if you are new to working with Linux based systems. You have a lot of customization options available but it’s not overwhelming or easy to break. Let’s get into it!
Quick Overview of Linux Mint
One of the best things about Linux Mint is that will work right away from install. Yes that does include full multimedia support without you needing to install any additional packages. It’s an open-source project (duh!) and freely available to use to the public. Currently number of users ranges in the millions. It’s also community driven, so if you notice any bugs or would like a feature added into a future version let them know!
The Linux Mint system is based on Debian and Ubuntu. It boasts an impressive 30,000 packages! My personal favourite feature is it’s software update manager. You also won’t need to spend much time on security, you don’t need to install anti-spyware or antivirus.
Current Desktop Editions
Right now there are four editions of Linux Mint available, which one you choose depends on your needs. The two most common are Cinnamon and MATE, and then there is also KDE and Xfce. Essentially they are just different versions of the desktop view but there are some important software differences as well. If you’re feeling unsure about which to choose, the developers recommend that you go with the MATE edition as it has more options for hardware specifications.
Personally, I go with the Cinnamon desktop environment and to be honest I find it more user-friendly for newbies. I’ve never had a problem installing anything, it looks great, and it’s easy to use. I should note that it’s pretty easy to switch between desktop environments. So you can always dabble in one and then if you don’t like it you can switch to another. Either Cinnamon or MATE will work great for both individual users and companies.
Installing Linux Mint
First things first, make sure you download the ISO from the official Linux Mint Website. Then, before you go running off all excited to install your new software, verify that ISO! It’s unlikely, but it can happen that unethical humans will intercept your transaction and send you a bogus version of the software. It’s easy to do, you’ll just need to run a sha256sum checksum program. If you’re already running a version of Linux that will be accessible from the command line. If you are on a Windows machine then you can download the program from here.
Once you’ve verified the ISO you will need to burn it to a disk. If you’re on a Linux box this can be done from the terminal with the following command (make sure you are in the same directory that you downloaded the ISO to):
cdrecord -v -dao dev=1,0,0 linuxmint.iso
If you’re on Windows then there are a number of programs that you could use, I’d suggest Nero. Take caution to burn the ISO image to the disk, not the file! If you’ve done it correctly you should see file folders on the disk, not the ISO file.
Once you have that burned installation is very straightforward! Insert the disc into the disc drive and restart the computer, the Linux Mint install wizard should appear on start-up. You’ll need to enter a couple of details, let it do it’s thing, and then you’ll have a beautiful new Linux Mint desktop!
Customizing Linux Mint
To be honest, Linux Mint works great straight out of the box and outside of aesthetic changes I don’t really change much. Changing the desktop background is very simple, right click anywhere on the desktop and then select Change Desktop Background. You can select from the pre-existing library of images or you can upload one of your own by clicking on the plus sign near the bottom of the window.
You can adjust the panel as well, which is the bar along the bottom of the screen that will show your program icons. Right click on the panel and select Panel Settings from the menu that pops up. You are able to change the size of the panel itself, as well as the icons. In addition, you can set the panel to display at all times, or only when you hover your mouse near the bottom of the screen. It all depends on how much screen real estate you typically need.
Beyond that you can add yourself some Applets and Desklets. These are small programs that typically just handle one simple function like a calculator or a calendar, for example. Some people like to have them available and ready to use at all times on the screen.
Installing Additional Software
If you’re a newbie to Linux, the easiest way to install software is to use the Software Manager. You can find this in the main menu. It has a graphical interface as well as a search function, so you can look for ‘Steam’ for example, and install it with the click of a button. Super simple!
If you’re looking to be a little more efficient and want to learn commands or are already familiar with the Terminal then you can do it that way as well. This is also a way that you can install software that may not be available through the Software Manager. The Software Manager is using the APT system in the background, but you can access APT directly from the Terminal. Again, let’s say that you want to install Steam. All you gotta do is open Terminal and type in:
apt install steam
Pretty easy, right? Just take note that because Software Manager uses APT, you have to make sure that is closed first before trying to access it from the command line. You can’t run it in two places at once.
There is also another graphic software installer called Synaptic, which you can use to install software that is not available via the Software Manger if you don’t want to use the Terminal.
Need more help?
One of the best features of Linux Mint is it’s super-engaged user community. If you need support, posting on the forums is a great way to get help. They do have an IRC chat as well, however I find the forums to be a better way to connect with other users. Also keep in mind that the Linux Mint system is built with Ubuntu repositories so most tutorials for Ubuntu will also apply to Linux Mint.