Linux Mint is one of the most popular desktop Linux distributions of the past decade, and there’s a lot written about it on the internet. But what is Linux Mint and why is it so well-known among the Linux community?
By the end, you’ll have a deep understanding of the specifications, history, editions, and key features that make Linux Mint stand out from the crowd.
Basic Info and Specifications
What is any distro, but a combination of open-source parts? The table below includes relevant specifications to help you compare Linux Mint to other Linux distributions.
|Base||Ubuntu LTS*, Debian|
|Desktop||Cinnamon*, MATE, XFCE|
|File system||ext4*, ZFS|
|Packages||DEB*, AppImage, Flatpak|
|Release cycle||Six months|
|Latest version||21 “Vanessa”|
Differing from 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
Established in 2006 by lead developer Clement Lefebvre (AKA “Clem”), Linux Mint is one of the oldest and most successful Ubuntu derivatives.
What started as a clone of Kubuntu, Mint quickly set itself apart by offering support for proprietary drivers and codecs.
Around the time of the disastrous update from KDE 3 to KDE 4, the distribution switched to an Ubuntu base. Mint featured a series of out-of-the-box customizations that made GNOME 2 look and behave similarly to Windows XP.
When Ubuntu switched 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 Mint’s original KDE edition was in 2018. Today the Plasma desktop is shockingly absent among the distribution’s spins, as is GNOME.
Linux Mint Editions
Like many distributions, Linux Mint offers a flagship edition, plus several alternatives with different desktop environments.
Naturally, the flagship edition of Linux Mint carries the distro’s own in-house desktop environment, Cinnamon. Originally a fork of GNOME modified to look and behave like Windows XP, Cinnamon has grown into a unique desktop environment. Today it’s even used by other distributions besides Mint.
The MATE edition of Linux Mint is a blast from the past. This GNOME 2 fork became a haven for users who would not accept the drastic changes introduced in GNOME 3, nor Ubuntu’s change to Unity. Mint’s customizations closely shadow the look and feel of the Cinnamon edition, if not a little more Windows XP-esque.
Oddly, XFCE is the lone member of the “big three” Linux desktop environments that Linux Mint offers. While Cinnamon and MATE are already considered mid-weight desktops, XFCE provides an even slimmer performance profile. Like MATE, Mint’s XFCE customizations remain somewhat true to the flagship Cinnamon edition.
Besides the editions based on different desktop environments, Mint also offers “Edge”. This is the same as the flagship Cinnamon edition, simply with a newer version of the Linux kernel to support more recent hardware. Edge is typically only offered for dot releases.
LMDE, short for Linux Mint Debian Edition, was launched as an alternative to the Ubuntu-based mainline version. The reasoning for its creation was to make sure that Mint could continue if Ubuntu should ever fail.
Like Edge, LMDE is only available with the Cinnamon desktop.
Linux Mint Key Highlights
Ironically, one of the things that make Linux Mint unique is that it’s not trying to be. By mimicking the last beloved version of Windows rather than coming up with something different, Mint has been leading the charge when it comes to converting users from Windows to Linux. A gateway drug, if you will.
To further help new users ease into 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 sources configuration, live USB creation, update management, and upload management are all included.
And we can’t forget the most forward-facing of all, the Mint Menu (Mint’s rendition of the Start Menu) and the distro’s famous Welcome Screen, which has since been copied by other distros ad nauseam.
Linux Mint has shadowed Windows interface layout since its inception, but the creation of the Cinnamon desktop cemented the distribution’s leanings into code. The current iteration of Cinnamon is reminiscent of Windows 7, with absolutely 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 in the last quarter-century will experience almost no learning curve navigating the Cinnamon UI.
Like many distributions which utilize an in-house desktop environment, Linux Mint also offers a set of first-party apps.
Referred to as XApps, they include a text editor, image viewer, media player, document viewer, photo organizer, and the Bluetooth tool Blueberry.
Popular backup tool Timeshift is the most recent and highest profile addition to Mint’s XApps lineup.
Being based on Ubuntu LTS, with only minor dot releases in-between, Linux Mint is incredibly stable. If something should go wrong, there are multiple backup utilities at your disposal. Besides 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 distribution for anyone who wants a stable, functional desktop operating system. Linux newcomers, older users, and folks who miss the elegant simplicity of 95 through 7 era Windows will all love Linux Mint.
The familiar Windows-like interface, numerous graphical tools, proprietary codecs and drivers, first-party apps, 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 with Ubuntu and Debian, the two distributions Mint is based on.