It's a really good month for Linux distributions. First we got Fedora 16, then openSUSE 12.1, and now we have the preview release of Linux Mint 12. This release has the answer to the question: Just what is the Mint team going to do with the desktop?
With GNOME moving from the 2.x series to 3.x, the big question was whether Linux Mint would find a way to stick with the old school GNOME or move to 3.x. The answer appears to be "yes." Let me explain.
Basically, the Mint folks have decided to give users the best of both worlds. Despite the upstream (Ubuntu) move to Unity, the Mint developers decided that they wanted to continue offering GNOME 2.32. With Ubuntu 11.10, that job has gotten harder as many of the libraries upstream are changing. And GNOME 3.x is a major departure from GNOME 2.x, and one that's not necessarily well-received among Mint users. So what to do?
Rather than picking one or the other Mint will be shipping several options. Users will have the choice of a modified GNOME 3.2 desktop with "Mint GNOME Shell Extensions" (MGSE), a standard GNOME 3.2 desktop, or a "fork" of GNOME 2.32 called MATE.
MGSE attempts to bring a standard desktop experience to GNOME 3.x, essentially a "best of both worlds" approach. Or you can go and embrace the GNOME 3.x experience fully, or stick with the old-school GNOME. To give you an idea what's coming, I created a slideshow featuring shots of MGSE and MATE.
Mint 12 is not yet released, but the release candidate is available immediately. Note that there's still some bugs to work out, and I was unable to bring up the GNOME "Classic" interface on any of the systems I tried. (Three, in all.) Right now it seems to default to the "fallback" mode no matter what.
After Mint 12 is officially released, we'll have a full-blown review. Until then, take a gander at the gallery and download the RC to take it for a test drive. Remember, Mint 12 is offered on live DVD/CD media, so you can run it without installing. It'll be slower, but you can get a decent preview of the OS before installing.