Linux Mint: what it is and how to select the right flavour for you

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When you seek an alternative for Windows 8.x or 10, then Linux Mint is definitely an excellent choice!

Linux Mint is derived from Ubuntu Linux (Ubuntu is being used as raw material) and is squarely aimed at the home user. Ease of use is first and foremost. It's just as easy to operate as Windows 7, and a lot easier than Windows 8.x or even 10.

You can play your music and movies right away, you don't need to install anything extra for that.

Linux Mint is also entirely free of cost: Linux Mint doesn't generate any direct sort of income. It's funded only by advertising on its website and support forum, by sponsoring and by donations.

You can install Linux Mint as many times as you want, on as many computers as you want. No restrictions, no costs.

Information for advanced Linux users: nowadays, Linux Mint is exclusively built on the Ubuntu versions with the highest quality. Namely the LTS versions.


1. Below you see three screenshots of Linux Mint 18.2 (code name: Sonya), with the desktop environments Cinnamon, Mate and Xfce.

The beautiful and elegant desktop of the flagship: main edition Cinnamon, with expanded menu (click on the image below to enlarge it):

The attractive traditional desktop of Mate, with expanded menu (click on the image below to enlarge it):

The nice clean desktop of lightweight Xfce, with expanded menu (click on the image below to enlarge it):

Pick your flavour: Cinnamon, Mate, Xfce or KDE

2. Mint's own desktop environment comes in the two major flavours Cinnamon and Mate, and in the minor flavours KDE and Xfce.

Cinnamon is the most advanced and modern desktop of Mint, and is rightly considered to be its flagship. It's easy to use, yet fast, sophisticated and slick.

Cinnamon is based on the modern Gnome 3 and it's (when running without too many three-dimensional visual effects) stable and reliable: it has been improved a lot in the last couple of years.

Cinnamon is relatively heavy on the system resources, especially when many visual effects have been enabled (by default, only a few are enabled). Big advantage: it's definitely the best-looking of the Mint desktops!

My advice is: when in doubt, select Cinnamon.

Mate (pronunciation: mahtay, because it's named after the South American beverage Maté) is a successful attempt to continue the former Gnome 2 desktop. This makes Mate simple and intuitive to operate. Furthermore, Mate is fast, stable and reliable.

It may look a bit old-fashioned and less sleek in comparison with Cinnamon, but that's intentional and stems from the wish to keep the "old" Gnome 2 desktop alive. The developers are working on a transition to a modern code base, so Mate will probably have a long-term future as well.

Interesting detail: the file manager is called Caja, but under the hood it's actually a fork of Nautilus, the file manager of Gnome. The text editor is called Xed, but it's actually a fork of the ordinary Gedit.

Xfce: the Xfce edition is much more lightweight than both Mate and Cinnamon. Therefore it's very suitable for older computers.

KDE: the KDE edition is of interest to advanced and experienced users, who like tons of configuration options in the menus. The sheer amount of configuration options in KDE, can be bewildering for beginners with Linux.

System requirements

3. The system requirements below, are based on my own experience, and deviate from the "official" minimal system requirements.

The official system requirements for Linux Mint are rather optimistic. You don't have much use for those, if you want to be able to work pleasantly with Mint. For the record: Mint with the desktop environment Mate (more about that later) is noticeably lighter than Ubuntu with the pretty heavy default desktop environment Unity.

"My" minimal system requirements for Mint are as follows, split into reasonable performance (usable) and smooth performance.

Reasonable performance

Memory (RAM): 2 GB (lightweight Xfce: 1 GB)
Video card: 128 MB dedicated memory
Hard disk space: 10 GB

Smooth performance

Memory (RAM): 3 GB (lightweight Xfce: 2 GB)
Video card: 256 MB dedicated memory
Hard disk space: 20 GB

32-bit or 64-bit?

4. Nowadays, 64-bit is the new norm. 32-bit is disappearing; support for 32-bit is crumbling everywhere.

Some important Linux distributions don't even make a 32-bit edition anymore. This is happening with applications as well: for example, the makers of web browser Google Chrome have also stopped making a 32-bit edition for Linux.

Furthermore, 64-bit is more secure than 32-bit: software built for 64-bit processors can benefit from several improvements that make it harder for attackers to exploit security vulnerabilities (improved Address space layout randomization, compulsory support for the NX bit).

So I advise to choose 64-bit whenever reasonably possible, because that's the future and it unleashes the full power of your hardware.

Important exception: computers with less than 1 GB RAM.

In a 64-bit system, applications use more RAM than the same applications in a 32-bit system. So if you have a computer with relatively little RAM (less than 1 GB), then 32-bit is still the better choice. For with less than 1 GB RAM you'll even notice the performance difference during simple, "light" home usage.

Computers with a pre-installed Windows 8.x or 10: for those, always select 64-bit Mint and not 32-bit. A computer with Windows 8 or 10 with UEFI, needs a 64-bit operating system.

Processor without PAE support?

5. Does your computer have an old processor without PAE support? For many non-PAE processors from the Intel Pentium M series and Intel Celeron M series, PAE support can be forced. Which makes them fit for Linux Mint 18.2 after all.

You can force PAE upon such a Pentium M processor by selecting Start with PAE forced in the boot menu from the Mint DVD. You can make that boot menu visible by interrupting the automatic boot, by hitting the space bar during the countdown.

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An older version (Mint 17.1) or the latest version (Mint 18.2)?

6. In short: do you have a computer that was sold with a pre-installed Windows XP or Windows Vista? Then Linux Mint 17.1 is sometimes your best choice. Preferably the lightweight Xfce edition.

Because Mint 17.1 has a kernel from an older series (3.13) and also an older graphics stack, which some older hardware needs (noticeably some older Nvidia video cards). Many old computers run fine on Linux Mint 18.2 Xfce, but most old computers run well on Linux Mint 17.1 Xfce.

Do you have a modern computer that was sold with a pre-installed Windows 8.x or 10? Then Linux Mint 18.2 is definitely the best option for you. Because Mint 18.2 is optimally suited for modern hardware.

Linux Mint 17.1 Xfce is still supported until May, 2019.
You can get it here:  64-bit edition    32-bit edition

Linux Mint Debian Edition: not for beginners and not for production machines

7. Mint also has an edition that's not based on Ubuntu: Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE).

This side project has something special: LMDE is based on Debian Stable, unlike the main Mint edition which is based on Ubuntu LTS. Its goal is to offer roughly the same features as the main Mint edition, while offering 100 % compatibility with Debian.

In itself LMDE is a good product. But LMDE is less mainstream than Linux Mint, it has a much smaller user base, it's not compatible with Launchpad PPAs, and it lacks a few features. That makes it somewhat harder to use and harder to find help for, so it's not recommended for novice users.

Furthermore, the focus of the efforts of the Mint developers is of course on the main Mint edition. LMDE is therefore not advisable for machines that need to function well at all times. For those machines Mint's main edition is more suitable.

Need a lightweight Mint? Pick Linux Mint Xfce

8. Do you need a lightweight version of Linux Mint, for example for an older computer? Then choose the edition with the Xfce desktop environment.

Download Linux Mint

9. Click on a button to download Mint for free:

Linux Mint 18.2 64-bit with Cinnamon (bèta, the best):

Linux Mint 18.2 64-bit with Mate (bèta, the alternative):

Linux Mint 18.2 64-bit with Xfce (bèta, lightweight for older computers):

You can get the 32-bit editions of Linux Mint 18.2 by clicking the links below:

32-bit Linux Mint 18.2 with Cinnamon (bèta)

32-bit Linux Mint 18.2 with Mate (bèta)

32-bit Linux Mint 18.2 with Xfce (bèta)

You can check the integrity of the iso that you've downloaded, in the following manner.

Burn the downloaded iso in the right way

10. You have to burn the downloaded iso to a DVD in a special way.

How to install Linux Mint alongside Windows (dual boot)

11. Installing Linux Mint alongside Windows, in other words creating a dual boot system, is easy. That way you can always choose which operating system to boot, each time you power on your computer. This is how you create a dual boot.

What to do right after installation

12. Out of the box, Linux Mint is very complete. Yet there are some things that you can do right after installation, which will make it even better.

I have divided the actions into three categories:
- the absolutely essential ones (part 1);
- the recommended ones (not essential, part 2);
- the maybe useful (part 3).

You can find the to-do lists here:

a. To-do list for Linux Mint 18.2 Cinnamon

b. To-do list for Linux Mint 18.2 Mate

c. To-do list for Linux Mint 18.2 Xfce

d. To-do list for the older Linux Mint 17.1 Xfce

Biggest differences between Linux Mint and Ubuntu

13. The main differences between Ubuntu and Linux Mint are the following:

a. Mint has some tools of its own, which are sometimes very useful.

b. Multimedia support in Linux Mint is a bit easier to complete.

c. Mint puts even more emphasis on stability and reliability than Ubuntu does: Mint classifies its updates, so that not all available updates are installed by default. This means that Mint is by default a little bit more stable than Ubuntu, but also a little bit less secure.

However, these differences in stability and security are small, so there's no need to let them influence your choice! Both Mint and Ubuntu are by default very stable and secure, and both offer enterprise grade safety and reliability.

d. Most importantly: the main edition of Mint has its very own desktop environment (Cinnamon). This looks somewhat like the desktop and menu of Windows 7. This is also true for two other Mint editions: Mate and Xfce.

e. Mint releases only LTS versions which get updates for up to five years; Ubuntu releases both LTS versions and short-lived intermediate versions.

Not five years, but three years

14. The five years support period for Linux Mint isn't quite correct. The full five years support with security updates, is only valid for the software that comes from the company that produces Ubuntu (Canonical) and from Mint itself.

For the experienced Linux users: this means the software from the repositories (software sources) "Main" and from the one that carries the name of your Mint version (e.g. "Sonya"). Besides the operating system as such, these contain applications like Firefox and Libre Office.

Although "Main" and the Mint repository contain most of the software of the default installation of Ubuntu or Mint, they don't contain all of it. A smaller part of the default software comes from the repositories (software sources) "Universe" and "Multiverse", and those are being maintained by the Ubuntu community. Not by the company Canonical nor by Mint.

Those community repositories contain several popular applications and essential things like multimedia support.

What's in "Universe" and "Multiverse", is sometimes supported for less than five years. If shorter, then usually three years at most. That's why the most cautious approach is to use a Mint series (e.g. 17.x) for "only" three years maximum.

Before those three years are up, you can upgrade to a new Mint series (e.g. 18.x), because every two years a new Mint series is being released. The safest upgrade moment is the release of the first point version of the new Mint series ("Service Pack 1"), for example 18.1. Because by then the inevitable teething troubles of the new Mint series will probably have been fixed.

Get help

15. You can get quick and friendly help on the official Linux Mint forum.

Want more tips?

16. Do you want even more tips and tweaks for Linux Mint? There's a lot more of them on this website!

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