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The Linux Mint Desktop

 A Desktop Tour Linux Mint LXDE 10

The Mint Graphical User Interface (GUI)

The Linux Mint distro is based on Ubuntu, so you may have flashes of deja vu if you have switched to the former from the latter! That said, the Mint desktop bears more of a resemblance to the older Gnome 2.0 desktop rather than the current Unity one that it's sibling has recently adopted.

One of the huge plus points of Mint over it's rivals .. is the amount of software that it comes pre-installed with

Unity is currently a contentious point in the Ubuntu community, with many long-time users execrating it when it was introduced in the 11.04 release. As a result, we may see more users switching to Mint - as it has many of the advantages of Ubuntu (-notably, virtually all the packages available for Ubuntu will work on Mint without changes) but with a more traditional approach to the desktop.

However, if you are new to Linux, then which desktop (-and therefore which distro) you choose will depend purely on personal taste: all GUIs do the job adequately - but some may suit your needs better than others.

Default Applications

One of the huge plus points of Mint over it's rivals for the Linux newbie is the amount of software that it comes pre-installed with - meaning that you can start using it straight out of the box. Here is a taster of some of the applications the latest release 11 (LXDE version) is currently shipping with:

ApplicationPackage Used
Word Processor abiword
Image EditorGIMP
Email ClientThunderbird
Media PlayersGnome MPlayer, VLC and Exaile
Internet BrowserFirefox
ChatPidgin and XChat IRC
CD/DVD WriterXfBurn
Web SupportJava 6 / Adobe Flash Support

In addition, it comes with all the Ubuntu system tools, plus a few extra of it's own - as well as the ability to fully customize the look and feel should you so desire.

Note that even if an application is not in the default installation, it can be easily downloaded using the Mint Software Manager within minutes.

The downside is that the Mint distro is larger than most others, so it will not fit on a CD - and will require more disc space. Also, should you prefer different applications to those supplied, you are going to have to remove the unwanted apps and install the desired ones anyway, so the pre-install might not give you anything!

In summary, Mint is gaining wide popularity - with claims that it may have overtaken Fedora in popularity of late. Old hands at Linux have yet to be convinced that it has anything to offer over Ubuntu or Fedora - but Linux newcomers may find it is right up their street! In use, it is slick - and if you have a grudge against Ubuntu or are not experienced enough to throw your lot in with Fedora - it is definitely worth a try!

The Mint Desktop

Note: the screenshots in this section were taken from Linux Mint 11 LXDE (-also known as "Katya"). LXDE is a fully-featured, lightweight GUI desktop, based on the X-Windows subsystem.

When you boot Mint, the desktop will display:

The Mint Desktop

As you can see, the default desktop is a fairly spartan one - with just two icons (-both invoking the file manager) and the bottom panel. The desktop background can be customized as desired, using options under the "Preferences" heading in the Mint Main Menu.

Open windows and applications display in the main desktop area.

Mint allows files and shortcuts to be saved to the desktop, by simply dragging the desired file to the "Desktop" heading in the left hand pane of the file manager window. An icon will then appear on the desktop, which can be dragged around or renamed / deleted as desired.

The Mint Bottom Panel

The bulk of your desktop interaction with Mint will be through the panel at the bottom of the desktop:

Mint Bottom Panel

This can be divided into four parts:

  • Clicking on the cog wheel icon in the bottom left hand corner of the screen (The Mint Menu Menu Icon) displays the Main Menu, which allows the user access to all the Mint functions. This can be likened to the "Start" menu in Windows:

    The Mint Main Menu

    Many Main Menu options will, in turn, have sub-menus off them:

    The Mint Main Menu Sub Menu

    From here you can access functions such as:

    AccessoriesPrograms to help you achieve common desktop tasks
    GraphicsList programs for dealing with images
    InternetList programs for accessing the internet
    OfficeList any applications commonly used for business purposes
    Sound & VideoList programs for dealing with sound and video files
    System ToolsClick this icon to access various system administration tools
    PreferencesClick this icon to customize your system
    Software ManagerClick this to install or remove applications
    TerminalClick this to open a command line window
    RunClick this to open a dialogue to run a program or script without dropping to the Terminal window
    LogoutOptions to close the current session, power off, restart, etc
  • The icon immediately to the right of the Main Menu cog is the "Iconify" icon: click this icon to quickly minimize all open windows on the desktop:

    Mint Iconify Icon

  • In the middle part of the toolbar, the thumbnails of all open applications are listed: click on these to jump directly to that window -or to restore it to it's former size if it was previously minimized (iconified):

    Mint Windows Iconified

  • On the right hand side of the toolbar is the system tray: this allows you to interact with any system program and processes (daemons) running in the background. What appears here depends on what you are doing and what it running on your system, but in the case above, the icons are as follows:

    Mint Network IconNetwork ConnectivityClick this icon to configure/check/change your network settings:

    Network Connectivity

    Mint Bluetooth IconBluetooth ConnectivityClick this icon to configure/check/change your Bluetooth connections

    Bluetooth  Connectivity

    Mint Update Mgr IconUpdate ManagerClick this icon to check/install any patches to Mint and any installed Applications. Note:this icon will not display if there are no pending patches for your system
    Mint Volume IconVolume ControlClick this icon to adjust the audio levels:

    Mint Audio Volume Level Slider

    Mint Calendar DisplayDate / Time / CalendarClick the time/date in the bottom panel to view the calendar for the current month; click the time in the bottom panel a second time to hide it again:

    Mint Calendar

The Mint File Manager

The Mint File Manager works very much like that of it's Ubuntu counterpart upon which it is based, with only superficial differences (-mainly the general look and feel).

The two default icons on the desktop both open the File Manager, albeit placing you in different directories (/home/<user> or / respectively):

Mint File Manager

It is also accessible from the Mint Main Menu (-under the "Accessories" option).

Exiting Mint

When you have finished with Mint, select the "Logout" option in the Mint Main Menu:

Mint Logout  Option

A dialogue box will display listing several options, such as:

  • Shutdown : shutdown the PC (power down)
  • Reboot : power down and power back on
  • Suspend : spin down the discs and put the computer into power save mode
  • Hibernate : save the current state to disc and power down
  • Switch User : log in as a different user whilst retaining the current user session
  • Logout : quit this user session and return to the logon menu
  • Cancel : quit this dialogue and return to the desktop

Simply choose the desired option in order to carry it out.

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