4 reasons to give Linux Mint 10 a try

Based on Ubuntu 10.10, the next Mint version may just represent the cutting edge in usability.

Canonical's newly released Ubuntu 10.10 -- or "Maverick Meerkat" -- may still be dominating the headlines in the Linux world these days, but it's by no means the only excellent distribution of the open source operating system. Following just behind Ubuntu on DistroWatch's list of popularity, in fact, is not just Fedora, at No. 2, but also -- of particular interest this week -- Linux Mint.

In addition to being the third most popular Linux distribution out there, Mint is of considerable interest right now because the release candidate (RC) version of Linux Mint 10 was just released. That means the next stable release is just around the corner. Also known as "Julia," the new version is based on Ubuntu 10.10 and offers a correspondingly improved level of user friendliness.

Even before this latest release, in fact, many people have found Linux Mint even easier to use than Ubuntu, thanks in part to a series of graphical tools for enhanced usability. New improvements in "Julia," however, appear to be making Mint even better.

Whether you're considering trying out Linux for your business for the first time or just interested in experiencing for yourself the cutting edge in Linux usability, Linux Mint 10 is well worth a look. Here are some of the enhancements you can expect in this new version.

1. System Improvements

Along with Ubuntu 10.10, Linux Mint 10 RC is based on version 2.6.35 of the Linux kernel along with version 2.32 of the GNOME desktop environment and X.org 7.5. All of these bring with them a raft of security and other improvements.

Also incorporated in Julia is the latest Adobe Flash "Square" running in full 32-bit or 64-bit native mode, depending on which Linux Mint edition you choose. This plug-in is faster than its predecessor, especially in full-screen mode, according to the Mint development team.

A new package in Julia, meanwhile, points to the non-open source version of Oracle's VirtualBox virtualization software and provides USB support.

2. Compatibility

Linux Mint has long enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for excellent compatibility since it has included a variety of proprietary multimedia codecs that are often absent from larger distributions. With support for media codecs, Flash and Java, for example, it can play just about anything you ask it to.

Now, with version 10, Mint has added a way for users installing the operating system from any medium to upgrade to the DVD edition right from the Welcome Screen, including the ability to install any missing multimedia codecs.

3. An Improved Menu

The Linux Mint menu in version 10 reflects a number of enhancements, including support for GTK themes and bookmarks, and direct access to search capabilities. The menu is also now aware of what's available in your repositories, so you can search for software and install packages without even having to open the Software Manager.

That Software Manager, meanwhile, has also been updated for better categorization. Other changes make it easier to find newly installed applications and to customize the menu's appearance.

4. A New Look and Feel

After three releases with the beautiful green-and-dark Shiki theme, Linux Mint Julia reflects a return to the distribution's traditional light theme and dark background. This time, however, it's giving the theme a metallic look called Mint-X. A number of artist-created backgrounds are also available, and the desktop menu and welcome screen were both given the appearance of brushed metal.

Mint also features a nice Update Manager that lets you control which of your applications get automatically updated. And, like Ubuntu, it includes a raft of excellent bundled software including OpenOffice and Firefox.

Of course, as a release candidate, the current version of Linux Mint 10 is aimed primarily at developers and others who want to help find and correct bugs; there are a few known problems, so it's not yet recommended for production environments. Still, it is a nice way to see what's next for the user-friendly distribution, and more generally to give Linux a try.

The latest current stable release of Linux Mint is version 9, which is based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS. The stable release of Linux Mint 10 is expected next month and will be supported until April 2012.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk.

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