These days, the desktop OSes grabbing headlines have, for the most part, left the traditional desktop behind in favor of what’s often referred to as a “shell.” Typically, such an arrangement offers a search-based interface. In the Linux world, the GNOME project and Ubuntu’s Unity desktop interfaces both take this approach.
This is not a sea change that’s limited to Linux, however. For example, the upheaval of the desktop is also happening in Windows land. Windows 8 departed from the traditional desktop UI, and Windows 10 looks like it will continue that rethinking of the desktop, albeit with a few familiar elements retained. Whether it’s driven by, in Ubuntu’s case, a vision of “convergence” between desktop and mobile or perhaps just the need for something new (which seems to be the case for GNOME 3.x), developers would have you believe that these mobile-friendly, search-based desktops are the future of, well, everything.
There are, however, some holdouts. These desktops defiantly stick with the traditional task bar and start menu-style interface. Apple’s OS X has thus far been surprisingly conservative about changing its basic metaphors, but then the company has iOS to tantalize developers.
In the Linux world, holdouts including both KDE and Xfce continue to be more or less what they have always been. The word “solid” comes to mind. They’re both solid options, but the words “fun” or “exciting” don’t exactly spring to mind.
Linux Mint on the other hand has managed to do something a bit different, particularly with its Cinnamon desktop. The Mint project recently released Mint 17.2, a significant upgrade for the Ubuntu-based distro that has become one of Linux’s most popular. And while Mint overall manages to be among the last holdouts of the traditional desktop computing paradigm, this iteration manages to feel both familiar and modern at the same time.
In general, Mint is Ubuntu for people who don’t like the Unity desktop. If you essentially want Ubuntu and all the good that comes with it (like an extensive up-to-date set of packages, great documentation, and a Web full of tutorials and helpful users) and not Unity and its baggage (like query-logging search “features” some have called spyware), Linux Mint is likely the distro for you. From my experience, most things that work in Ubuntu will also work in Mint. So all those tutorials and .deb files will in most cases (not all though) serve a Mint user just fine.
Of course, Mint is also notable because of its dual homegrown desktops, Cinnamon and MATE. Both are the rare desktops that both offer task bars, system trays, docks, and other familiar metaphors for interacting with and managing your applications and files. And while Linux Mint 17.2 does have that of-note Cinnamon offering we mentioned, those looking for alternatives to Unity and GNOME 3 will continue to find everything they love about Ubuntu without the Unity Desktop.
If you head over to the Linux Mint website, you’ll find two different downloads available, one for the Cinnamon desktop and one for the MATE desktop. Opt for the former and you’ll get Linux Mint 17.2 with Cinnamon 2.6.