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There’s been some fuss within the Linux communities about the direction Gnome and Ubuntu developers have taken, regarding the latest GUIs. Linux geeks no doubt find Ubuntu’s now default interface (Unity) too opaque and simplified, and with any simplified interface users have less control. That’s really a matter of preference, but many of us feel more at home with the older Linux GUIs, and the same is true for most users migrating from Windows 7 and XP. This is perhaps why Linux Mint has become one of the top distributions.
As I understand it, some developers decided to build and maintain an alternative around Gnome 2, giving us the new Cinnamon desktop environment. I decided to get the latest release of Linux Mint (13 Maya) and give it a try.

After installing the Cinnamon edition of Linux Mint 13 (Maya), almost everything worked pretty well, and as the screenshot shows, the desktop is much cleaner and sharper than Gnome 3. The panel is unintrusive enough that it doesn’t matter whether an application’s running in full screen. I’ve also noticed an improvement in overall efficiency, compared to the LXDE releases.

The Cinnamon Desktop

All the standard software that comes with a Gnome distro, including LibreOffice, GIMP, Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, etc. are present in Cinnamon. Of course, others can be added from the huge software repositories for Mint. The only real problem encountered was the limited functionality of Cinnamon Settings, but this should be ironed out over the next year or so.

Network Management
May useful network security, administration and diagnostic tools are included by default, and Network Tools is a graphical interface for the common ones that are normally launched in the command line.

Network Tools

This release also includes features that add a few extra layers of security to the local system:
* Home directory encryption
* Local firewall
* Gnome Seahorse
* Session privacy settings

Given that Mint is suited for netbook and laptop installations, many users will take advantage of the home directory encryption. This will, of course, protect most the data if the device is lost, or if someone booted the system from another OS.

Netbooks and laptops are also routinely connected to multiple untrusted networks, so the local firewall is another useful feature. It’s actually a GUI for Ubuntu’s highly configurable ufw (Uncomplicated Fire Wall), which makes it very easy to set up. The user selects default allow or default deny, and adds whatever rules from a series of drop-down menus.

The Firewall

Seahorse provides an encrypted repository for passwords, encryption keys, certificates, etc., and it’s the interface for the Gnome Keyring. Given it’s an open source encryption known to be pretty solid, it’s much safer than proprietary and browser-based key managers.

Users can delete session data and disable logging of certain activities with Mint’s session privacy application, even if they aren’t the sysadmin. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem for admins who could log from elsewhere on the network. Conversely, Mint also has a System Log Viewer, which provides a single interface for viewing a number of system log files.