Ubuntu is dominating the mindshare for desktop distros, but there’s still a place for rivals – even those built on the Ubuntu foundation – to take things in different directions. Mint attempts to create a more polished desktop with a focus on usability and elegance. The core version, like Ubuntu, is based on Gnome, but is accompanied by packages based on other environments – in this case, KDE. But the big question is, can a KDE flavoured Mint do better than Kubuntu? Read on to find out.
Part of the project’s ethos is to have all your hardware work out-of-the-box with no configuration. In most cases, that’s what happens. We had some installation issues, but a search of the web didn’t find anyone else having the same trouble, so we think this was an isolated problem.
The basic theme in Mint is very clean, making it easy to deal with a screen full of applications and utilities. The theme covers apps as well as the main system.
The KDE desktop is clean, blue-green and minimal, with just the desktop folder Plasmoid displayed, and a single panel at the base of the screen. Additional Plasmoids and panels can be added using the icon in the top-right.
It’s all very smart and the theme’s carried across other apps, including Firefox, ensuring consistency. There is, of course, the myriad options for customisation that KDE offers as well.
Mint isn’t just about elegant looks. It includes applications that make day-to-day tasks such as backup and software management a smoother experience.
In the main, these are good choices, especially the Backup Tool, which can deal with both files and applications (including their settings), so upgrading is less traumatic. We liked the idea of backporting the tool to previous versions to enable simple upgrades to version 9. While useful, the Backup Tool demands a little too much attention and could do with automation and scheduling options to be truly effective.
Similarly, the software manager gives access to a mass of software, but its reliance on breadcrumbs for navigation makes it less intuitive than Ubuntu’s Software Centre and Synaptic combination. There’s also a serious lack of screenshots on the app install screens, even for common ones such as AbiWord and KWrite.
A useful tool enables you to mirror your system, complete with applications and files, on to a bootable USB drive, making it a great alternative to lugging around a laptop for access to a familiar desktop.
In addition to the standard documentation, the Mint community has written tutorials on Mint-specific options. These are a great place to pick up tips on the daily use of the software.
Mint is a smart and sleek desktop that puts powerful tools at your fingertips. The default system is usable from the start and looks great. Having such an active community developing and using the system means help’s never far away, though we’d appreciate integrated help in Minted applications, even just links to relevant web assets.
However, our main issues are the well-rehearsed arguments about KDE’s complexity. Launching software involves too much menu navigation, defining screen-edge panels is confusing and the tools that pop up everywhere under the mouse are annoying.
Despite this, Mint is up there with Kubuntu as a coherent KDE desktop. If you’ve used Gnome Mint, but fancy lots of apps with a capitalised K in the name, this is the logical choice.
Our verdict: A good alternative to Kubuntu, but those seeking a simple life may prefer the Gnome version of Mint. 6/10
Features at a glance
Software Manager: The software manager gives quick access to lots of apps, but is less intuitive than Ubuntu's.
Easy backups: Use Mint's Backup Tool to protect your programs and data from potential upgrade problems.
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