When I started exploring the modern Linux distributions and interfaces, I was drawn pretty strongly to Linux Mint. I like the combination of a free and very stable operating system base with an appealing and well-designed user interface. All other things being equal, I could be quite happy using Linux Mint for my computing needs. However, all other things are not equal, and several of these issues add up to the fact that I can’t use Linux Mint–at least not on a regular basis.
Linux Mint is based on the Ubuntu Linux distribution. Ubuntu is, in turn, based on the public Debian distribution, but Ubuntu adds refinements by a fairly large set of developers. These developers include a substantial team that works for Canonical, a commercial integrator that makes money from providing support for commercial Ubuntu users. Canonical’s support of Ubuntu has resulted in stability and steady quality improvements. The underlying software that makes up Linux Mint is solid!
At the moment, Ubuntu and Linux Mint are quite up-to-date with respect to other Linux distributions. In April, 2016, Ubuntu released Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. The LTS stands for “Long Term Support,” and it means that the release is expected to be supported for six years. It will be another two years before Ubuntu’s next LTS release, and Linux Mint isn’t likely to use Ubuntu releases that happen before the next LTS release. What this means is that Linux Mint is mostly “frozen” in time for the next two years with respect to significant hardware support. So any new hardware that comes out in the next two years likely won’t be supported by Mint until the next Ubuntu LTS release. All of my current devices are supported very well! But if I buy a new device next year with a new graphics driver, touch device, or other peripheral, it may not be supported.
So this is the first significant issue I have with Linux Mint. I like to try new devices with innovative hardware features, and having to wait up to two years (worst case) for hardware support is too long for me. I had to wait several months for Linux Mint to support the Intel Skylake graphics in my Dell 2-in-1 laptop/tablet, and that was a deal-breaker for me. Fedora was much quicker to include the necessary kernel and driver updates.
Stepping back a moment, the most significant feature that Linux Mint provides over standard Ubuntu is the user interface. Linux Mint is based on the Cinnamon desktop interface and a set of carefully designed themes: colors, fonts, widgets, and interface tweaks that provide a final layer of polish to an already mature overall design. Cinnamon and the Mint themes look and feel very nice, and represent a very solid understanding of the design principles for a desktop interface.
Cinnamon is a descendant of MATE, which in turn is a descendant of GNOME 2. GNOME 2 preceded both the current GNOME 3 desktop interface used by Fedora and the Unity desktop interface used by mainstream Ubuntu. The change from GNOME 2 to GNOME 3 was significant because it was when the GNOME team began incorporating mobile user interface design (including touchscreen interfaces) into GNOME. GNOME 3 departed from the traditional desktop interface in ways that many long-time computer users were uncomfortable with. It also introduced new elements that hadn’t yet stood the test of time. By tackling mobile and touch interfaces, GNOME 3 set off into unfamiliar territory, where the consensus on how to solve typical user interface problems has yet to be formed.
Cinnamon represents the best of the pre-mobile desktop interface., which is why it’s so appealing to long-time computer users like me. I find a great deal of comfort and familiarity in it. I recognize the use of patterns that I know are successful.
If the world had stood still and mobile computing had never happened, I would be happy to use Cinnamon+Mint on a stable Ubuntu software base. But the world hasn’t stood still, and mobile computing is here, like it or not. And I happen to like it a lot!
What Cinnamon and Mint don’t have is the ability to work well with mobile devices and touchscreens. Oh, they work, of course! But they don’t take advantage of the new interface opportunities offered by touch, smaller physical screens, and one-handed interaction. They’ll never be natural interfaces for mobile and touchscreen devices.
Although I use GNOME 3 (3.20, to be precise) on a variety of devices, none of them (yet) are truly mobile. Nevertheless, all of my devices are inevitably moving in the touch+mobile direction. Even on my pure desktop systems, I prefer a touch pad (with multi-touch gesture support) over a mouse. The closest to mobile that I use currently is a Dell 2-in-one laptop/tablet with touch screen that can be used as either a laptop (with keyboard, touch pad, and touch screen) or a tablet (touch screen only). It uses an internal accelerometer to change the screen orientation (landscape/portrait) depending on how the device is being held.
I’ve tried Linux Mint on all of these devices and, of course, it looks beautiful! It works pretty well with touch pads, even on a laptop with tiny touch pad. Touch screen, however, doesn’t work well because the interface isn’t big enough, or laid out properly, for touch.
So here’s the second significant issue that prevents me from using Linux Mint. I don’t want to get stuck in a pre-mobile universe. I need GNOME 3 and its derivatives, even if they aren’t yet at the pinnacle of stability or design. Cinnamon, MATE, and GNOME 2 are truly excellent solutions for a world that no longer exists, at least for me.
So there you have it: two reasons I can’t use Linux Mint on a regular basis.
- It takes too long for support to arrive for new hardware (especially novel hardware).
- Linux Mint isn’t adapting to mobile devices or mobile computing.