Linux Mint is one of the most popular desktop Linux distributions of the last decade, and there’s a lot of writing about it on the internet. But what is Linux Mint and why is it so well known in the Linux community?
By the end, you will have a thorough understanding of the specs, history, editions, and key features that make Linux Mint stand out from the crowd.
Basic information and specifications
What is a distribution, but a combination of open-source components? The table below includes relevant specs to help you compare Linux Mint to other Linux distributions.
|Base||Ubuntu LTS*, Debian|
|Desk||Cinnamon*, MATE, XFCE|
|file system||ext4*, ZFS|
|Packages||DEB*, AppImage, Flatpak|
|Release cycle||Six months|
|Last version||21 “Vanessa”|
Unlike its Ubuntu base, Linux Mint does not support Canonical’s Snap packages out of the box, nor does it use Wayland.
History of Linux Mint
Created in 2006 by lead developer Clement Lefebvre (aka “Clem”), Linux Mint is one of the oldest and most successful Ubuntu derivatives.
What started out as a Kubuntu clone, Mint quickly made its mark by offering support for proprietary drivers and codecs.
At the time of the disastrous upgrade from KDE 3 to KDE 4, the distribution switched to an Ubuntu base. Mint introduced a series of out-of-the-box customizations that made GNOME 2 look and behave similar to Windows XP.
When Ubuntu moved from GNOME 2 to Unity, Mint briefly used GNOME 3, but soon launched Cinnamon and added the MATE edition to its lineup.
The final release of the original KDE edition of Mint was in 2018. Today, the Plasma desktop is surprisingly absent among the distribution’s spins, much like GNOME.
Linux Mint editions
Like many distributions, Linux Mint offers a flagship edition, as well as several alternatives with different desktop environments.
Naturally, the flagship edition of Linux Mint contains the distro’s own in-house desktop environment, Cinnamon. Originally a fork of GNOME modified to look and behave like Windows XP, Cinnamon has evolved into a unique desktop environment. Today it is even used by distributions other than Mint.
Linux Mint’s MATE edition is a blast from the past. This GNOME 2 fork has become a paradise for users who would not accept the drastic changes introduced in GNOME 3, nor the switch from Ubuntu to Unity. Mint’s customizations closely overshadow the look and feel of the Cinnamon Edition, if not a bit more Windows XP-esque.
Curiously, XFCE is the only member of the “big three” Linux desktop environments offered by Linux Mint. While Cinnamon and MATE are already considered mid-weight desktops, XFCE offers an even slimmer performance profile. Like MATE, Mint’s XFCE customizations stay somewhat faithful to the flagship Cinnamon Edition.
Besides editions based on different desktop environments, Mint also offers “Edge”. It’s the same as the flagship edition of Cinnamon, just with a newer version of the Linux kernel to support newer hardware. Edge is generally only offered for dot builds.
LMDE, short for Linux Mint Debian Edition, was launched as an alternative to the main Ubuntu-based version. The rationale for its creation was to ensure that Mint could continue if Ubuntu ever failed.
Like Edge, LMDE is only available with the Cinnamon desktop.
Highlights of Linux Mint
Ironically, one of the things that makes Linux Mint unique is that it doesn’t try to be. By mimicking the beloved latest version of Windows rather than offering something different, Mint has led the charge when it comes to converting Windows users to Linux. An introductory drug, if you will.
To further help new users get to grips with the Linux experience, Mint provides a ton of graphical tools to accomplish basic system tasks.
Tools for backup, desktop icon configuration, device driver management, software management, localization, domain blocking, system information, software source configuration, live USB creation, update management and download management are all included.
And we can’t forget the most cutting-edge of them all, the Mint menu (Mint’s interpretation of the Start menu) and the distro’s famous welcome screen, which has since been copied by other distros ad nauseam.
Linux Mint has obscured the Windows interface layout since its inception, but the creation of the Cinnamon desktop cemented the distro’s leanings into the code. The current iteration of Cinnamon is reminiscent of Windows 7, with no trace of Microsoft’s tiled missteps in Windows 8 and 10.
Although it lacks the flash and pizzazz of KDE Plasma and GNOME, the Cinnamon desktop is both familiar and capable. Anyone who has used Windows over the last quarter century will experience almost no learning curve in navigating Cinnamon’s user interface.
At the same time, Cinnamon is highly customizable, with an ecosystem of add-ons called “Spices” and support for theming.
Like many distros that use an internal desktop environment, Linux Mint also offers a set of proprietary applications.
Called XApps, they include a text editor, image viewer, media player, document viewer, photo organizer, and Bluetooth tool Blueberry.
Popular backup tool Timeshift is the newest and most prestigious addition to Mint’s XApps lineup.
Being based on Ubuntu LTS, with only minor point releases in between, Linux Mint is incredibly stable. In the event of a problem, several backup utilities are at your disposal. In addition to being included in the welcome screen’s first steps checklist, you’ll also find system notifications constantly reminding you to set up Timeshift.
Who is Linux Mint for?
Linux Mint is a fantastic distro for anyone who wants a stable and functional desktop operating system. Linux newcomers, older users, and people who lack the elegant simplicity of Windows 95-7 will all love Linux Mint.
The familiar Windows-like interface, numerous graphical tools, proprietary codecs and drivers, proprietary applications, and rock-solid stability make Mint one of the best Linux distros ever and one of the easiest to recommend. Linux users often compare Linux Mint to Ubuntu and Debian, the two distributions on which Mint is based.