Linux Mint 8 Helena Review

Posted in Linux Mint by jwilliams on January 30, 2010

Today I testdrived Linux Mint 8 Helena, an Ubuntu-based distribution led by Clem Lefebvre and his team. This Mint edition is based off Ubuntu 9.10, they usually release a Mint version some months after an Ubuntu release so they can fix bugs and customize the distro as much as they can, usually turning up quite polished and stable.

I must say Linux Mint has a very good reputation in the Linux world, personally I find it astonishing how big this community based distribution has become, coming close to the point of dethroning his own father Ubuntu. Just take a look at the current Distrowatch ranking:

1      Ubuntu          2280
2     Fedora            1730
3     Mint               1552
4     openSUSE     1389
5     Mandriva       1155
6     Debian             998
7     Sabayon          835
8     Arch                  835
9     Puppy               816
10   PCLinuxOS     799


The installation is the typical Ubuntu installation and it went just fine as expected. I must say I would like to see the option to switch the introductory messages it displays or at least they should loop until the installation is finished, they stop too early in the installation, I know that is an Ubuntu thing but still.

First Looks

I like the looks on the boot screen and the login screen. The chosen wallpaper is awesome although the wallpapers included are not that good, plus they insist on putting the mint logo on every one of them, I think the should grab some of the unbranded wallpapers that come with gnome, some of them are quite nice, or get some other nice royalty free images as wallpapers. The theme used overall the system is quite nice, they sure know how to use green properly. The Home folder includes some folders by default, but that’s ok, they’re empty and doesn’t look bloated, plus the icons they chose are nice.

Desktop Layout

I’ve never been a big fan of Mint’s desktop layout, there are some things that have always bothered me. First I don’t like the tomboy applet between the Menu and the Show Desktop applets, I feel it just doesn’t look right. I would prefer the tomboy applet on the left of the clock to somehow make it look like part of the rest of the “notification area”. Plus why use tomboy when gnote does the same job perfectly and it doesn’t use mono? Also I would prefer to have the Show Desktop applet on the right corner of the panel for easy access. Kudos for not putting the Trash on the panel, I hate that.

Desktop Icons

I don’t know why distros insist on showing the drives on the desktop, it’s really not necessary and it looks ugly. One of the first things I do when installing a gnome system is disabling that option in gconf-editor, I really think it should come disabled by default as well as the Computer and Home folders. You can access them easily with the menu, it simply ruins the desktop harmony.

The Menu

This is one of the things I never liked about Mint. The Mint Menu is a customized menu made for Mint and I’ll give them credit for that, not every distro builds their own menu, plus it appears to be popular among users, but I don’t like it, it makes me dizzy. First of all I think it’s huge, it takes almost 1/4 of screen space when opened and since I’m more of a minimalist type of guy it bothers me. I don’t feel the Favorites and All applications sections look different enough to quickly know what you are looking at, especially since it remembers which one you used last, instead of always showing Favorites when opened or always showing All applications, couldn’t find an option for that. I would set it to always show Favorites. Then there are a lot of options on the left side, fortunately they can be disabled on the preferences. Why have Software Manager and Package Manager? They serve practically the same function, it’s confusing, I guess Software Manager does not deal with individual packages. Now Mint Menu has something that’s really amazing, when you search for a program and it’s not installed it shows options like Search Portal, Search Repositories, Show Package, Install Package, so if you look for emesene and it is not installed, you can simply click Install package emesene, put the password, confirm, done. Awesomeness. I think though, that they have too many options, I would leave just the Install package option and ditch the rest. Another nice function is right clicking an icon and having the option to make it show in the Favorites, to launch at login or to uninstall. Btw I found a bug, when right clicking a program and the clicking the menu again, the menu won’t disappear when clicking outside of it, like it should. The menu is very powerful yet I don’t like it, I just don’t feel comfortable with it because of the way it’s arranged.

Mint Update

Another thing I dislike. I don’t like the whole idea of separating the updates in levels, if it’s going to select 1,2 and 3 by default anyway it might as well just hide that level information from the end user and show the updates. The levels should be an internal thing that can be set in the preferences but not the main interface. But that’s not what actually bothers me about Mint Update, what really get on my nerves are icons it uses. It actually uses 4 different icons, icons to show “Busy”, “System up-to-date”, “Updates available”, “Error”. You almost need to take a tutorial to understand this. The error icon is plain stupid, I hate watching that broken lock with the red X every time I use synaptic or I’m disconnected from the network, everytime I see it I think my system is having a seizure. For some reason an open lock means Updates Available, well it makes sense, your system is outdated so it’s open to threats, ok. But then you have a closed lock that means busy, and a closed lock with a green check that means everything is ok. I don’t know why the close lock means it’s busy, a close lock gives me the feeling the system is up to date, the system up to date icon is just unnecessary. Bottom line is, it should use just 2 icons, an open lock and a closed lock, open means outdated, closed means updated. If they want to show the updater is working they can make it blink a bit, or use an animated gear or something.


Apart from the typical applications included in Ubuntu it has some nice additions I
find quite useful, like Xchat (instant win), giver, some Mint applications like MintUploader and 2 front ends of mplayer, I don’t know why they have done this, along with Totem it has 3 media players + rhythmbox. They included Pidgin instead of Empathy, they must have their reasons. As a recommendation, I would say including Cheese would be a good idea, and maybe Audacity too.

Software Manager

It appears to be some kind of synaptic-like package manager but with some nice additions. It shows the score for the applications, reviews, average rating, number of views ….wait a minute, score and average rating, what’s the difference? I don’t know really. One thing I really liked is that it shows a snapshot of the application when it is selected. One thing I didn’t like, in order to select an applications to be installed, it has to be selected first and then click the button Install, there’s no other way, like a simple and intuitive double click for example, instead a double click shows a more detailed description of the applications, which is good but it can be selected from a right click menu or on a tab underneath. It has Featured Applications section with some applications that Mint thinks you might like, including VLC, Virtualbox, Opera, F-Spot, aMule, Amarok, Adobe Acrobat Reader ……. why would they recommend a closed source pdf viewer is beyond me, evince can read pdf’s perfectly. Too bad they don’t recommend Gnome-Do, Banshee or Songbird.

Firefox and bookmarks

I just want to say I don’t like when distros flood web browsers with bookmarks, and Mint
just loves to do that. The default Firefox shows a bookmark toolbar filled with Linux Mint links to different sections of their site, apparently making the linux mint website the home page was not enough.

Suspend + Hibernate
Worked perfectly, although I felt the hibernate process a bit unpleasant, I don’t know why hibernate still exists anyway.

The integrated video card from the laptop I used was successfully detected and compositing
was automatically enabled, providing me with nice compiz effects, just the necessary to make it look good, not the full blown effects, just like I like it. The network, sound and video worked perfectly out of the box.

Final Thoughts

Linux Mint is indeed a very nice distribution, a very stable one. It really just works out of the box and is perfect for people who don’t want to mess with their computer to make it work or for people who don’t like to customize it a lot. The menu and mint updater can be annoying, at least for me, but it does what it promises and looking sexy while at it. I perceive a very positive response from people about the distro and I feel it may actually become the most popular home Linux distro one day, which would only show that small communities with good ideas and dedication can yield a better product than sponsored or corporative distributions.

31 Responses

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  1. originalindonesia said, on January 30, 2010 at 5:27 am

    nice share

  2. littlebear said, on January 30, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    Wow, nice review, I might wanna add that mint uses Ubuntu which is debian for their packages. The google search is hampered with linuxmint logo with the default browser engine.

  3. Marcelo Motta said, on February 2, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Ainda Não Usei Esta Verão DO Mint. a QUE EU Usei Antes, NO Live4 CD Falhava Quando Eu Tentava Reiniciar O CPD. Espero Que este4 BUG esteja consertado.

  4. wbmj said, on February 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Finally….I was beginning to believe I was the only one who didn’t like the menu.

    • nkspro said, on February 4, 2010 at 9:51 am

      Well, you are not alone. The functionality of menu that the devs have thought of is good, but it need more work in layout, design and efficient browsing sections.

  5. Bob said, on February 2, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Most of your criticisms of Linux Mint are what I’d consider cosmetic. The key thing is that it all “works” right out of the box with little fuss. I’ve also used the XFCE version on an older slower PIII machine and found that it also worked quite well.

    I’m now pretty much recommending Linux Mint to anyone who is a “newbie” to using GNU/Linux.

  6. Eddie Wilson said, on February 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    It’s a good distro for new users but I too don’t really like the MintMenu. MintUpdate and Synaptic works but Synaptic will want you to do all the updates. MintUpdate will not update the linux kernel. All in all a good distro if you want an easy stable system.

  7. Sean R said, on February 2, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Being a Mint lover, I disagree with your cosmetic opinions, but I am happy to hear that everything worked for you. You can’t say that about all the other distros.

  8. Sean R said, on February 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Of course, if you don’t like the menu, you can remove it and put the default Gnome menu back. And you will still have a rock solid system.

  9. heero2007 said, on February 2, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    I also think your problems are cosmetic;)
    Good Review

  10. Nestor said, on February 2, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Hi. I agree with some things and disagree with some others.
    Anyway, great review!

  11. […] Linux Mint 8 Helena Review Linux Mint is indeed a very nice distribution, a very stable one. It really just works out of the box and is perfect for people who don’t want to mess with their computer to make it work or for people who don’t like to customize it a lot. The menu and mint updater can be annoying, at least for me, but it does what it promises and looking sexy while at it. I perceive a very positive response from people about the distro and I feel it may actually become the most popular home Linux distro one day, which would only show that small communities with good ideas and dedication can yield a better product than sponsored or corporative distributions. […]

  12. fourcultures said, on February 3, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Thanks for the review. Nicely opinionated. More ‘balanced’ would have been less useful. Just one question: Hibernate. I used to use it in Windows xp because I wanted the computer to start everything up again just as I had left it. That seemed pretty worthwhile. Is there a way of doing that in Linux without using hibernate? I appreciate a less than 10 second shutdown time on Ubuntu 9.10, but it doesn’t then re-open everything from last session. I’d like that. You can tell I’m clueless. Help me out.

    • julian said, on February 4, 2010 at 9:51 am

      fourcultures: Not sure about Mint, but in the Ubuntu menu (System, Preferences, Startup Applications) -> Options tab, you can define the applications you want to run at startup, and there is an option to “remember” the applications that were running when you shutdown. Check that option and you will get pretty much what you wanted.

    • bronstein said, on February 6, 2010 at 9:14 am

      personally I think hibernate is useful for those times when you want to shut off but know you want to return to what you were doing. suspend for me is a waste of time.

  13. dontcry said, on February 3, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    I bet you complain about everything else in your life as well. I don’t use Mint so am unbiased. I bet at night while you make love, you say i don’t like the shape of your breasts and why do you have 2 nipples when one would do. The way you interface with my privates confuses me. Why can’t we just do one position. Mint volunteers most likely put a lot of their unpaid time into developing the menu and package installer and you complain over a few icons. I think you were looking for the usual things like non working codecs etc that reviewers normally pick on and found a operating system that worked and needed something else to fill your review. OH yea I still love you. xoxoxo

    • vescha said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:03 pm

      Im sorry you were bored by the way I express myself. If you were looking for the typical “I tried an mp3 and it worked outtathebox!” review you can find tons on google. I will continue to point out, complain or admire in my own way, thank you.

  14. Aaron said, on February 3, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    I have to agree with dontcry…I don’t think I’ve ever read a review where someone bitches so much about a product that in the end they recommend.

    Every cosmetic thing that you complained about can be changes in seconds, that is the beauty of Linux, if you don’t like the look of the desktop…change it.

    I use Mint, I don’t like the default desktop, so I changed it…took me under 5 minutes. In the meantime I did not have to go searching for drivers or on forums looking for solutions…Mint just works strait up which is more than all other distros (with the exception of Mandriva) that I have tried.

    • Neb said, on February 4, 2010 at 10:11 pm

      Sorry to but in…I can understand where you’re coming from but at the same time – “but to try to help it to improve with my opinions on what could be improved” – that is just your opinion and to be honest we must acknowledge that there are as many opinions as there are people…One way is great for some and worst for others. That is why I would always welcome a distro that gives me many options to change things and make it to my liking. Mint does just that and I love it for it. Those couple of Icons can be changed or ignored and if they still pose such hate then they can be removed. I played with many and I chose Mint – great friendly distro. Cheers!

  15. funnykangaro said, on February 4, 2010 at 1:16 am

    i use mint and i also agree with the problem of the giant menu
    and good review

  16. mobil88 said, on February 4, 2010 at 4:39 am

    nice blog, more success

  17. nkspro said, on February 4, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I can agree on some of the things: Big Mint Menu – yes it is very big but functional, atleast for a new user. Software and Package Manager – I think Package Manager should not be done away with but should be disbaled for new users. I read somewhere on their website that they would be doing away with Package Manager once they have almost all softwares in the Software Manager. Other things that you have mentioned/complained about are pretty much your perception of looking at this OS. Eg. the Mint Update Icon, you want only two – change them to use only two icons. Same goes for everything else that you have complained – they could be changed too easily, a new user can also take hold of such thing after a while.

  18. bronstein said, on February 6, 2010 at 9:12 am

    cosmetically there are a couple of minute things that are not to my taste -only the menu is the thing that I dont really use, but not a problem since I have in seconds just added a toolbar at the top which with the custom dropdown. beauty of mint is that anything can be done in seconds a bit like ubuntu, but it is not bloated like ubuntu. over the years i’ve tried redhat, slackware, debian, oracle enterprise, suse to name but a few but there has always always been something getting in the way e.g redhat rpm hell, slackware problems getting video to work properly, debian too restrictive, ubuntu too bloated etc etc but mint is absolutely great and ive had very little problems. i have tried and tried to find something to replace win xp and really get into linux and finally mint did that. i now currently use only 1 windows pc out of 5 (which those run mostly mint) and as an ex microsoft employee and sql dba that is a pretty good achievement!

    mint rocks!

    • nkspro said, on February 6, 2010 at 11:14 am

      Very same thought…. and yes Mint rocks whatever anyone say +ve or -ve. It has all important elements to convert a windows user to linux – all functions out of the box plus no security threats – a godly OS.

  19. Linux Mint 8 KDE released | Kanth.co.in said, on February 8, 2010 at 4:07 am

    […] released its KDE based distribution and again they have done marvelous job with it. According to DistroWatch there has been ever increasing rise in popularity of this distro and it beats Debian, Mandriva and […]

  20. Embedded said, on February 9, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Hibernate is for laptops and people who might actually care if power goes away.

    Suspend depends on power being available and DRAM being tickled to keep it’s state.

    So Hibernate is necessary if you even think power will go. Also Hibernate typically works better since a great deal of peripheral setup goes on for it that does not happen in suspend. People have problems with non-free binaries ie. Nvidia video drivers which should need a certain amount of re-setup to return them to high power mode and naturally suspend may miss some of this non-free API.

  21. fix runtime error 91 said, on February 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm

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  22. Noctvm said, on February 22, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    I didn’t find the update icon confusing one bit, sure, the first time I saw them I didn’t know what they were, but when I hovered my mouse over them it clearly said what they meant.

    I think it’s pretty easy to understand, the broken one means it can’t connect to the server, the open lock one means there are updates for the system and the one with the checkmark means the system is up to date. The only icon I think needs improvement is the “busy” one, but it’s not that confusing anyway.

  23. Orlando said, on May 13, 2010 at 6:10 am

    I love Mint Helena but I had to remove the default gnome mplayer because it wouldn’t let me listen to some of my favorite radio shows that need real player and windows media player. I switched to totem movie player instead and that works great. I made the switch to Ubuntu 9.10 and Linux Mint Helena from Windows 7 because Windows 7 doesn’t play full screen online movies smoothly and Windows 7 would also slow down dramatically at times for some unknown reason. No such problems anymore, not that Linux is perfect. It fits my needs better than Windows. I’ve also tried Ubuntu 10.04 but after my mouse cursor kept turning invisible when coming out of Suspend I switched back to 9.10 and Helena.

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