Background: I'm a few days into using Mint 13 with the Mate desktop, having come from years of Ubuntu, including the less-than-pleasant Unity transition. Ultimately, I got used to Unity because I'm big on keyboard equivalents and could bypass the UI. That said, it's impossible to miss its current inflexibility, which I trust will be resolved in time. I was never keen on having all of the menu'ing at the top of the screen -- one of the reasons I don't enjoy a Mac -- but I was open to giving it a try. A lot of the times, it wasn't a problem -- again, because I use lots of keyboard shortcuts -- but it becomes quite inconvenient with mutli-window programs like GIMP (when an action in one window affects another, and it's necessary to then explicitly click in that other window, usually towards the bottom of the screen, in order to click a menu back at the top). Ultimately, what drove me from Ubuntu wasn't the UI; it was the reliability. On one occasion, after I changed my system password, it was no longer able to read an encrypted disk (problems with the key ring) and, most recently, after one of their updates my system could no longer boot into the UI (stopping on the not-so-helpful "mountall: Plymouth" message). Since my Windows days, a lifetime back, I try to follow a "4 Hour Rule". If the system is going to take longer than four hours to fix, it's faster to reload and start from scratch. And this time, as long as I was reloading, I decided to give Mint a try.
A Few First impressions:
-- The installation was a breeze. I wanted to keep my /home directory on a separate partition: something which, in my humble opinion, should be the default of all installers.
-- The wallpaper graphic is stunning. I agree that it's seemingly minor, but it sets the tone for a clean-feeling interface.
-- After the faultless installation, despite what could be considered a /home directory complication, the second thing I noticed was the new main menu. My heart sank for a moment, contemplating going back to this sort of approach, but I quickly discovered it wasn't what I thought. In fact, I can't say enough good things about it. It's so efficient, clean and fast, all I can say is wow. In my attempt to reduce clutter, I removed all of the excess, re-categorized the menus, changed various titles, and removed the descriptions. At first, I was concerned about the All menu, but I was pleased to see that it automatically limited its content to my reduced set of menu items. Kudos to the people who came up with this design. Comparing it to Classic Gnome, Gnome 3 and Unity, it's my hands-down favorite. I had only a single disappointment, which was discovering that the menu dialog has the same bug as it did years ago. Specifically, when dragging menu items into new menus, and changing menu item details, there's a fifty-fifty chance that the menu dialog won't be updated and, on occasion, neither will the actual menu. I repeatedly needed to close and reopen the window and needed to log out of my session to see the effects of my edits. As I said, this behavior has been around for years and, for me, is the only thing that mars an otherwise excellent implementation.
-- Overall, the Mint desktop, and the ability to create panels and customize, gave me a feeling of control that I miss with Unity. Actually, I didn't realize how much I missed it until using Mint. I understand the goal of the latest Ubuntu approach. I just don't think it's there yet, and I think it was pushed out a little too soon. That said, I think it's great to see new designs and approaches, and it's cool that users have more than one option. I certainly wouldn't say that one approach is better than the other -- that's left to everyone's personal preference -- but I believe it is reasonable to note the quality of execution.
-- I really I like Mint's Control Center. Ubuntu's Settings Panel appears to be simpler but there are settings that aren't accessible, thus making it more of an illusion of simplicity. And even though I can understand how someone might think that keeping the user in a single window (as does Ubuntu) is simpler than opening a second window (as the Control Center does), I find the Control Center approach easier to follow because it doesn't take me for an unpleasant ride of being pulled in and out of various settings. It's just a personal preference and, for me, the Control Center hits the mark perfectly.
-- As my tone might suggest, I definitely like Mint. Unlike some unfortunate souls, I didn't run into any sound problems. Actually, I started with no sound, which I quickly researched online, but eventually discovered that I had accidentally unplugged my sound system. I don't think I can blame Mint for that, although one might make the case that Ubuntu caused me to be less stupid and careless. I did have to load the proprietary AMD video driver; and I did have to track down why my image was under-scanned; and I still haven't figured out why I can't access the Catalyst admin; but I do have the image that I want. I think most of the problems are with the packages. Nautilus is still Nautilus, even if its moniker has changed. I have yet to figure out why it's unable to open up directories on remote FTP sites (something that worked fine in Ubuntu). So far, I haven't seen the problems that I frequently encountered on Ubuntu (such as icons losing their graphics and file associations getting scrambled). I had to reboot U-boot-2 (and 3 and 4) way too many times in the past year. Prior to Unity, I could go weeks without ever rebooting. I tried Cinnamon but the moment I click on the menu, the screen flickers and the bottom bar disappears. I'm not technically competent enough to know what causes what (e.g., where Compiz' responsibility begins and ends, etc.), but I assume that's true for a lot of Mint users (no slight intended to all of you who know much more). All we want is for everything to work (something seemingly more simple in our heads than in reality).
Last, but not least: The friendliness of the Mint forum is very refreshing. I trust that when I get around to posting the issues mentioned above, that there are people interested in providing a helping hand. They're a comment on all of the dedicated folks who design, implement, test, and support Mint. In closing, like I said up top, I don't know if this was the proper forum for expressing these views, or if anyone was interested, but thanks to anyone who bothered to give it a read.