Linux Mint Debian Edition has proven to be a popular release for the Linux Mint developers. It’s certainly at the top of my list of favorite distros. Linux Mint Debian edition uses the GNOME desktop and, as good as it is, it’s just not right for some folks (especially those on older or slower computers).
Enter Linux Mint 201104 Xfce version. Now you can get the benefits of a rolling Debian distro and the virtues of the lightweight Xfce desktop environment. Linux Mint Xfce runs on top of a Debian Testing base and makes use of the same repositories as regular Linux Mint Debian Edition.
For those aren’t familiar with rolling release distros here’s a brief bit of background:
In software development, a rolling release approach refers to a continuously developing software system, as opposed to one with versions that must be reinstalled over the previous versions. It is one of many types of software release life cycles. Rolling releases are typically seen in use by Linux distributions. A rolling release is typically implemented using small and frequent updates. However, simply having updates does not automatically mean that a piece of software is using a rolling release cycle; to qualify as a rolling release, the philosophy of developers must be to work with one code branch, as opposed to discrete versions. Updates are typically delivered to users using a package manager and a software repository accessed through the internet. Not all distributions based on rolling release distros are themselves rolling. Conversely, there are rolling release distributions that are based on development branches of non-rolling distros; there are also (partial) rolling release distributions based on stable branches of non-rolling distros.
And if you aren’t familiar with Xfce, here’s a bit more background to bring you up to speed:
Xfce is a lightweight desktop environment for UNIX-like operating systems. It aims to be fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user friendly. Xfce embodies the traditional UNIX philosophy of modularity and re-usability. It consists of a number of components that provide the full functionality one can expect of a modern desktop environment. They are packaged separately and you can pick among the available packages to create the optimal personal working environment. Another priority of Xfce is adhereance to standards, specifically those defined at freedesktop.org. Xfce can be installed on several UNIX platforms. It is known to compile on Linux, NetBSD, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, Solaris, Cygwin and MacOS X, on x86, PPC, Sparc, Alpha…
What’s New In This Release
Since this is a rolling release, there really wasn’t a coherent list of new features for this section of the review. However, you can browse the release announcement to gain some additional insight into the virtues of Linux Mint Xfce. I found it interesting that the other version of Linux Mint Debian Edition will eventually be called Linux Mint GNOME Debian or something like that.
Here are some of the highlights from the release notes:
Better software selection
Here are the figures from the Linux Mint blog regarding the performance boost:
- Mint Xfce: 114 MB RAM (Mint 9 Xfce: 153 MB RAM)
- Mint Xfce + Writer + Calc + Firefox: 177 MB RAM (Mint 9 Xfce + Writer + Calc + Firefox: 212 MB RAM)
- Mint Xfce + Writer + Calc + Firefox + Thunderbird + VLC + Rhythmbox: 220 MB RAM (Mint 9 Xfce + Writer + Calc + Firefox + Thunderbird + Gnome MPlayer + Exaile: 256 MB RAM)
The big thing here obviously is the performance boost. I have not verified this but the figures presented seem quite reasonable and if they are true then I think users should be quite happy indeed with this release! That said, it’s not like running any Xfce version of Linux Mint was ever slow or pokey. It’s probably one of the most responsive, least bloated desktop environments you can pick to run. But if the Linux Mint developers can make it even better, I’m all for it.
The software selection basically puts it on par as the GNOME version including adding VLC and replacing Exaile with Rhythmbox. These are good moves and should add value for most users. Of course these programs were available for download but if they come installed by default now, so much the better especially for new users that might not have come across them before.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
As far as I can tell the requirements to run the Debian version have not changed from the Ubuntu version. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:
x86 processor (for both 32 & 64-bit versions)
x86_64 compatible processor (for the 64-bit version)
512 MB of system memory (RAM)
3 GB of disk space for installation
Graphics card capable of 800×600 resolution
CD-ROM drive or USB port
The Linux Mint 201104 Xfce ISO file is about 1 GB. Bear in mind that this is a Live DVD so you can simply boot into it to test it. You do not need to actually do an install unless you find it compelling enough to want it on your system. This is perfect for those new to the idea of a rolling release distro or who have no experience with the Xfce desktop environment. You can try before you buy, so to speak (no need to actually buy anything since this distro is completely free but you get the idea).
The install routine is slightly less slick than the Ubuntu version of Linux Mint. You’ll need to be able to partition your hard disk using the tool included with this distro. It’s not difficult but I want to note it here for the folks who are used to installers that do a bit more hand holding.
The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end.
Booting & Login
Here’s what the booting and login screens look like:
The Linux Mint 201104 Xfce desktop won’t wow you with extravagant wallpaper or sizzling eye-candy. Instead it’s all about speed and functionality, and in that sense it delivers the goods.
When you first boot into the desktop you’ll see the welcome menu. If you are new to this distro or to Linux Mint in general, I highly recommend spending a moment or two looking at the welcome menu. There are a lot of very helpful choices on it that will help get you started with Linux Mint. The welcome menu is a nice touch and goes a long way toward welcoming new users to Linux mint.
After you close the welcome menu, you can begin to poke around on the desktop. It’s got the usual Home, File System, etc. on it. The panel at the bottom contains controls for volume, updates, music player, the time and it also contains the applications menu button on the far left. Clicking that brings up the application categories, settings, help and other useful items.
The focus of the Xfce desktop really is speed and simplicity. It’s not going to take you forever to find things in this distro. The desktop menus are all set up very well to get you using your system with a minimum of fuss and headaches. This is in sharp contrast to other desktop environments that suck up system resources with unnecessary bloat and eye-candy. Xfce is pretty much the direct opposite of that and it’s one of the reasons why I like this distro so much.
If the default style doesn’t appeal to you, check the appearance menu in the Xfce 4 Settings Manager to change it to something you like better. There are a fair amount of choices available, and you can change icons and fonts as well.
As I noted, the default wallpaper is subdued and some might think it rather bland. If you look in the Desktop settings tools you’ll find a good selection of much brighter Linux Mint alternatives.
Admin Tools & Preferences
These screen shots show you what you can use to customize and manage your system.
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
There are no games installed by default. However, there are more than a thousand of them available in the Software Manager.
There are two ways to manage software in this distro: Synaptic or the Software Manager. I highly recommend using the Software Manager instead of Synaptic. The Software Manager provides user ratings & reviews as well as a much nicer interface than Synaptic. You can get by with Synaptic for sure, but the Software Manager provides a far superior overall experience on a day-to-day basis. I know that there are some hard-core synaptic junkies out there though and if it works for you then great. It’s nice to have choices.
The screenshots below show you what the Software Manager looks like and there’s also one of Synaptic so you can compare the interfaces a bit.
Adding & Removing Software
It’s very easy to add or remove software in the Software Manager. To install an application in Synaptic just find the application and click the check box next to its name. Then choose Mark for Installation then click the Apply button. Removing software works about the same so it’s quite painless for the most part.
Sound and Multimedia
YouTube & Flash
I had no problem running flash based content in Linux Mint 201104 Xfce. Flash is installed in Firefox by default.
The default selection of multimedia applications is quite respectable. VLC, Brasero, GNOME MPlayer, Movie Player, Rhythmbox and MPlayer are all included. There are also an additional 259 applications available in the Sound and Video category in Software Manager. So you’ll have plenty of multimedia tools to choose from if you go with this distribution.
Problems & Headaches
One minor problem I ran into was that Software Manager would not start at one point after I had been running Synaptic. I closed Synaptic and then tried to start Software Manager but nothing happened. Not sure what happened there but I did a restart and tried to repeat the problem. But Software Manager opened without a problem after closing Synaptic. Weird. There must have been a burp somewhere the first time it happened.
That aside, I did not run into any other noticeable performance problems or bugs. Everything pretty much just worked and worked very well. This is a speedy distro and you won’t spend a lot of time waiting for your system to boot or your desktop to load. That’s one of the nicest things about Xfce’s lightweight environment; stuff happens quickly even if you aren’t running cutting-edge hardware.
Where To Get Help
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Final Thoughts & Who Should Use It
Linux Mint 201104 Xfce is a great fit for users on slower or older hardware that craves Debian with all of the Linux Mint tools and goodies. It’s also an excellent choice for those who are minimalists and prefer a lightweight but fully functional desktop environment. Both kinds of users should get many hours of enjoyment and productivity from this distribution.
But what about Ubuntu users who dislike Unity? I’m sure there are some out there who are still searching for an alternative distribution. I’m happy to say that Linux Mint 201104 Xfce is great for you guys too. In fact, once you get used to Xfce you may find that going back to GNOME or KDE is simply unnecessary unless you crave eye-candy and a bit of bloat in your desktop environment.
Bear in mind that I tend to be more of a minimalist at heart. I have been around a long while and have seen a lot of things added to desktop computing environments that take up a lot of system resources but don’t provide a whole heck of a lot more real utility value. So I lean toward Xfce and other minimalist environments.
Your mileage may vary considerably as might your work habits. If that’s the case then no problem. There are plenty of distros out there that can give you the coolness that you seek. But I recommend giving this distro a spin even if you are an eye-candy junkie. It never hurts to have some experience with alternative environments so grab a copy of Linux Mint 201104 Xfce and check it out.
This distro is arguably best for intermediate or advanced users. Beginners can use it as a Live DVD to get a taste for it. Beginners who are familiar with disk partitioning or who are willing to learn might want to consider giving it an install.
|Product:||Linux Mint 201104 Xfce|
|Pros:||Provides a fast, lightweight Xfce environment on top of Debian Testing. Default software selection now matches the GNOME version of Linux Mint Debian Edition.|
|Cons:||Xfce might not appeal to desktop eye-candy junkies. Linux newbies could stumble over disk partitioning when installing this distro.|
|Suitable For:||Intermediate & advanced users. Beginners familiar with disk partitioning or who are willing to learn might want to consider it as well.|