It has been a long time since I did a full review of a Linux distribution but there is no better place to start than Linux Mint 19, the latest in the long line of strong and consistent releases from the Linux Mint team.
Linux Mint 19 is the go to Linux version for anybody thinking of using Linux for the first time after years of Windows abuse and also for Linux veterans like myself.
I am not a hardcore developer writing Linux software and I’m not a sysadmin with years of experience behind me. I am however a long time Linux convert who has been using Linux on my desktop and laptop machines for about 15 years.
If you want a modern looking operating system which provides a great user interface, is easy to install and easy to use then you can’t really go far wrong with Linux Mint.
In this guide I will show you what you need to do to get Linux Mint, provide links for creating a USB drive and installing Linux Mint, how to verify that your download is valid, give an overview of the features of Linux Mint 19 and take you through some of the setup challenges that I faced and some of the great new features coming your way.
How To Get Linux Mint 19
Linux Mint 19 can be downloaded from https://linuxmint.com/download.php.
You can buy USB drives or DVDs with Linux Mint already installed as a live image which you can use for test purposes or to install the full system using the guide above.
About Linux Mint 19
Linux Mint 19 is a long term support release meaning that you get a full 5 years worth of support before you need to upgrade. It is based on the latest Ubuntu 18.04 long term support release.
There are a number of different versions available each with different desktop environments including Cinnamon, Mate and Xfce. In this review I will be looking at the flagship Cinnamon version as this shows Linux Mint off in the best way possible.
Cinnamon is a slick desktop environment with great visuals, great styling and is accompanied by a strong selection of software. If you have a half decent computer you should be using this version.
For those of you not wanting to wade through the whole article here are the latest features available within Linux Mint.
You know how Windows has had the rollback feature that allows you to set system restore points so that if something happens you can get back to your current state quickly and easily? Linux Mint now has that capability as well.
I will show off this feature more fully as part of this guide and in depth in a later article.
Update Manager no longer promotes vigilance and selective updates, instead you are encouraged to install all updates. The idea behind this is that if you set a restore point using Timeshift and an update fails you have a restore point to fall back to.
Welcome Page and Documentation
Linux Mint 19 has a new Welcome screen and work has gone in to improve the documentation including an installation guide although you don’t need that as you can just follow my guide above.
Within the Software Manager you can install both Flatpak packages and apt packages. This isn’t new to Linux Mint 19 but improvements have been made to the way this works to make it more seamless.
The Cinnamon desktop has been improved so that it performs much better than it did before.
You can now set the maximum volume for within the sound settings.
Within the Nemo File Manager you will find searching for files works snappier and better than it did before.
The notifications have been improved so that they are now easier to get rid of and you aren’t spammed by multiple notifications from the same source again and again.
For more information
For more information about the new features in Linux Mint 19 click here for the release notes.
The Linux Mint 19 splash image is just brilliant isn’t it. The theming and styling for Linux Mint 19 is also incredible.
When you first boot in to Linux Mint you will see the new Welcome screen. It has been split into 5 sections:
- First steps
The welcome page simply describes the application. The first steps page however is not to be taken lightly.
If you have booted Linux Mint 19 for the first time and it looks good then you know you have done everything right thus far. However the first steps allow you to set up your system so that it works in a better way.
Essentially you are encouraged to set your first system snapshot so that you have a restore point should things go wrong, you can install the drivers for your hardware such as your Nvidia graphics cards, run updates to bring your system up to date, tweak systems settings so that Linux Mint behaves the way you want it to and visit the software manager so that you can install any applications that you may need.
The documentation tab links you to the official Linux Mint documentation, highlights new features and links you to the release notes.
The help tab links you to the official Linux Mint forums and chat rooms and these should be your first port of call if you need help.
Finally the contribute page links to the Linux Mint – get involved page on their website where you can contribute financially, provide bug reports or if you fancy yourself as a developer contribute to the project itself.
It is highly likely that you won’t want to see this screen every time you boot your computer so uncheck the “show this dialogue at startup”. You can make it appear again by clicking on the menu icon and search for “welcome”.
The Linux Mint menu will be joy to those of you coming from Windows who ark back to a more Windows 7 style. All applications are sorted into categories but you can easily search by simply typing into the search box at the top of the window.
On the left side of the menu there are some commonly used items such as the software manager, file manager, lock screen and the ability to log out.
The bar at the bottom of the screen which for Windows users would be the task bar or for Linux users, known as the panel has a set of quick launch icons. My screen image above shows how I have customised it to have far more than the default set which generally consists of a file manager, web browser and terminal. You can add items to this quick launch bar simply by finding the application in the menu and dragging it into position.
At the bottom right of the screen is a system tray with options for installing updates, bluetooth settings, user settings, network settings, power management and the clock.
All in all the Cinnamon desktop works exactly as you would expect it to, there are no hidden gotchas, just plain, simple and consistent.
Connecting To The Internet
If you are using a wired ethernet connection then you will automatically be connected to the internet but if you are using wireless then you can click on the network icon in the system tray:
A list of networks will appear and you can connect simply by choosing the network you wish to connect to. If the network is secure then you will be asked to provide the password. By default after selecting a network the next time you click on the network icon only your selected network will appear. To display the whole list click on the “rescan for wireless networks” link.
I have installed many more applications than the defaults but lets start with the standard set first:
Web browser – Firefox
File Manager – Nemo
Email Client – Thunderbird
Graphics Application – GIMP
Office Suite – LibreOffice
IRC Chat Client – Hexchat
BitTorrent Client – Transmission
Audio Player – Rhythmbox
Media Players – VLC and Media Player
Firefox is the default web browser and the version installed with Linux Mint 19 is Firefox Quantum 60.0.2. The latest version of Firefox is actually version 62 so Linux Mint is a couple of versions behind but this is the trade off between stable and bleeding edge.
Personally I prefer Google Chrome so installed it by going to the Chrome download page and clicking the download link. This downloads the 64 bit Debian version. You can click on the downloaded file and this will load in the Mint software manager where it can then be installed.
Nemo is a straight forward and easy to use file manager. The left pane provides a list of places such as your Home folder, the desktop, your documents folder, music, pictures, videos, the file system and network drives. You can search for files by clicking on the magnifying glass or you can navigate down the folder structure simply by double clicking on each folder. Most features such as copying, moving and deleting files and folders is done by right clicking and bringing up the context menu. You can also drag and drop files and folders. Basically everything you expect of a file manager.
The only thing I don’t know is whether Nemo was named after a small Disney Pixar fish or the Nightwish song.
I have to admit that I removed Thunderbird from my machine. I can never understand why this is the default email client all Linux distributions thrust upon us when there is a much better client called Evolution which can be installed from the software manager.
GIMP is an image editing suite along the lines of Photoshop. Personally I have the artistic skills of a dead frog although if you dipped the dead frog in red paint and threw it at a bit of paper its skills would probably be 10 times better than mine. However if you want to find more out about GIMP visit this page which has lots of tutorials.
The LibreOffice suite is installed and for those of you who don’t want to pay Microsoft a premium so that you can type up your CV or an angry letter then this is the best you are going to get. It has most of the features of Microsoft Office without any of the cost. Brilliant.
Hexchat is a decent IRC client and is useful if you need help as it will give you instant access to the Linux Mint IRC chat rooms:
I haven’t used a torrent client in quite some time but when I did used to use them BitTorrent was more than adequate for my needs.
Rhythmbox is one of the best audio players for Linux. As long as your audio files are stored in the Music folder Rhythmbox will pick it up and you can easily select albums to play or create playlists. You can also choose to listen to online radio stations, podcasts, Last.fm or Libre.fm.
Finally there are the media players VLC and Media Player. If you want to watch videos then you can pick from online streams or local files and they play seamlessly.
Installing Software With The Software Manager
The Linux Mint software manager is straight forward and easy to use. When you first start the software manager you are shown a list of categories and also some editor’s picks which lists the top applications such as Spotify and WhatsApp.
You can browse the repositories by clicking into the categories or if you already know what you want then you can use the search bar.
When you click on one of the software links you are given the option to install it. You can also see screenshots, read the description and read user’s comments.
The year is 2018 and I am aware that not everybody pays to download music anymore and not everybody has converted hundreds of CDs into MP3 format to listen to their favourite tunes. Luckily for all of the young-uns there is a Spotify client within Linux Mint and it works perfectly.
Simply login to your account and you can search for music, click on your playlists and choose to play one of the recommended daily mixes.
Steam is available from the software manager. When you run Steam for the first time it will download a fairly meaty update of around 200 megabytes and then you can log in.
If this is your first time logging into Steam on the device a security code will be sent to your email and you can then log in whereby you will be greeted with the Store. You can also visit your library of games and install them.
Some of you may have heard that you can’t run Windows games in Linux and to some extent this is true but to a greater extent this is boo-hockey. The Steam developers have been working with Codeweavers to create Steam Play which is like WINE on steroids and this allows you to play many Windows games without needing to install WINE, PlayOnLinux, Winetricks or a virtual machine.
Ok so the first game I installed was called Just Fishing which is a free to play game which lets you fish. Yes I am that exciting. The results of Just Fishing are as follows:
That didn’t really work out too well.
My next test was for one of my favourite games ever “Grand Theft Auto – Vice City”. Now Grand Theft Auto 5 is obviously the latest and greatest but I love the setting for Vice City and the 80s music. So how well did I fare with this one:
The game ran just fine and with no glitches. I am led to believe there may be save game issues with Steam in general for GTA but I haven’t stumbled across them yet. I have however encountered the odd exception when starting the game.
So Steam Play isn’t perfect and they have an approved set of games which are available for it, so you can feel free to experiment with games you already own or pick from the approved list.
This is a strange subject for a distribution review but I have dealt with music, entertainment, art, gaming and now I am on to the business subjects. I need to use Citrix when I work from home to connect to my office.
Citrix on Linux in general is a bit hit and miss. You can download either the web client or full application by clicking this link.
There are a few hoops to jump through even after installing the application however as you will likely be greeted with certificate errors which can be fixed by following the instructions on this page.
Even then on some distributions this isn’t the only fix because the latest version of Citrix brings up all sorts of errors. The fix? Go back to a previous version of Citrix Receiver (see here).
Now I know most of your aren’t going to be using Citrix but for those of you who do need it, it is worth knowing that there maybe some hoops to jump through.
What about Windows?
Some of you may be thinking, why bother, why not just stick with Windows? Think about the 80/20 rules. Linux will provide you with at least 80% of what you get with Windows and you might have to do a few tweaks for the other 20%. What that means is, the majority of what you do now you can do in Linux.
Think of it this way, if you had been using Linux all of your life would you really switch to Windows with the archaic way it uses to install updates, forcing you to reboot and wait… and wait…. and wait… and wait until it feels that it has wasted enough of your time. Would you give up Linux to waste precious processing power wasted on Anti-virus software continuously battering your CPU? Would you give up a whole load more disk space because Windows can’t clean up after itself.
I still need some Windows applications for work because I am at the end of the day a software developer and my workplace uses the Microsoft stack. To get around this I run Windows in a virtual machine. Obviously you will need a machine which has a decent amount of memory and CPU in order to do this and lets face it, if you are running Windows to do work then you will need this anyway.
To run Windows in a virtual machine I have installed Virtualbox and then created a Windows 10 virtual machine. I then installed the Virtualbox extensions and guest additions which gives me full access to my hardware from my virtual machine including graphics drivers and USB drives.
The process is easy enough to perform and in a future guide I will show you how to do it.
Timeshift And System Restores
One of the key new features of Linux Mint 19 is the ability to make restore points.
The initial setup for Timeshift asks you whether you want to use RSYNC or BTRFS. You are then asked to choose which disk you want to store the restore points on and how often you wish to create restore points and how many you wish to keep.
You are then presented with this screen which allows you to create restore points, restore from restore points and delete restore points.
A full restore point on my system takes about 4 minutes to make. Well worth the time to prevent lost time should the worst happen.
Keep it up to date
Whilst we are on the subject of maintaining your system you can use the update manager to keep your system up to date.
The interface is very straight forward to use and as easy as clicking “Install Updates” for the most part.
Look and feel
You can adjust everything about the way Linux Mint from the desktop backgrounds to the menus and themes. Simply search for system settings in the menu or right click on the desktop and choose “desktop settings”.
There are a number of Linux Mint background alternatives (although I think the default is excellent). You can also choose from a number of images supplied under the Tara folder.
Linux has come along way in the past 10 years and now hardware support is as good for Linux as it is for Windows, if not better.
You can add the drivers for your graphics cards using the driver manager and your graphics card should be automatically detected. The recommended driver will be displayed and you can select to use the official driver or the open source version.
Printers can be configured using the printer manager. It found my Epson WF2630 printer without fuss and I can print and scan using Linux Mint. (Ironically Windows always has issues trying to connect to the printer. I can be less than a metre away and Windows will say that it can’t connect even though it is on the same network).
Well, there you have it. I have covered everything that I can think of in this review.
Installation is as straight forward as downloading an ISO image, copying it to a USB and then navigating a few installation screens.
The Cinnamon user interface is first class. It looks incredibly stylish and is very easy to use.
The default software with Linux Mint is perfect for most purposes although I would always go with Chrome over Firefox and Evolution over Thunderbird but they are personal preferences.
The software manager makes it easy to find new software and you can install either flatpak packages or debian format packages.
Steam is available for playing games and you can now play Windows games without installing WINE but it isn’t yet 100% perfect.
If you need Citrix then I have covered the fact that it works but there are a few pitfalls. These are not unique to Linux Mint and are generally the same on every distribution.
I have shown that it is possible to run Windows 10 in a virtual machine meaning you can use Linux Mint for most tasks and swap into a virtual machine for everything else. No need to waste disk space dual booting.
Timeshift is a great new tool for adding system restore points and there are various tools for keeping your system up to date, changing the look and feel of your system and for setting up hardware such as graphics cards and printers.
It is easy to see why Linux Mint is so popular. It is straight forward, easy to use and consistent.