Monday, 9 March 2015

Linux Mint Editions (Flavors) Explained


So you've decided to switch to Linux Mint 17.1, and have headed over to the website to download your copy. Before you go about downloading your copy of Linux, you need to understand the various different editions available on the page. The download page can be intimidating for a user who isn't familiar with Linux environments.

Note: Although this guide was written for Linux Mint 17.1, it is applicable to all versions of Linux Mint.

Linux environments are simply user interfaces which you will be interacting with when using your PC. If you are familiar with Android, imagine a Samsung phone against say a Sony or HTC phone. They all use similar versions of Android but have a different interface and feel to them. This is exactly what these different editions of Linux Mint are. The basic system remains the same; what changes is your way of interacting with it. 

There are 4 major editions of Linux Mint 17.1:
  1. Cinnamon
  2. Mate
  3. KDE
  4. Xfce
All are available in two versions:
  1. 32-bit
  2. 64-bit
We'll take a look at all these editions, and which edition should you choose for your system.

32-bit or 64-bit? 

Before we go talk about the various different editions available on the page, let's clear out some basics first. Deciding between 32-bit or 64-bit can be difficult for all PC users. Linux as well as Windows offer both options. Unfortunately, there is no rule which can determine which version works best for you. So, to make the decision process easier, here are some simple guidelines you can follow.
  • Does your processor support 64-bit instructions? 
    • If you're using a Pentium D (not Pentium 4 or lower), or anything later than that, your processor supports 64-bit. Intel Core 2 Duo/Quad/Extreme, Intel Core i3/i5/i7 all support 64-bit.
    • Amongst AMD processors, if you are using an AMD Athlon 64, or anything later, your processor supports 64-bit. If you are using any AMD processor released after 2007, it most definitely supports 64-bit.
    • If your processor does not support 64-bit instructions, you CANNOT install a 64-bit operating system on your PC. Once we have this out of the way, we can move on to the next point.
  • How much RAM does your system have?
    • Rule of thumb is, if you have 4GB or more RAM, you should opt for a 64-bit operating system.
    • Although 64-bit systems run fine with just 2GB of RAM, your system won't exactly be able to take advantage of the features of 64-bit instructions. 64-bit systems aren't necessarily faster than 32-bit systems, but they manage large resources more efficiently.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon comes in 3 versions:
  1. Cinnamon
  2. Cinnamon No codecs
  3. Cinnamon OEM
Cinnamon is the default, recommended edition of Linux Mint 17.1. Most users can safely download the 64-bit version of Cinnamon and use it without any problems. It features a customisable desktop which behaves quite like Windows. Plenty of visual effects are provided, which can be tweaked to your liking.

Cinnamon No codecs: This version is only if you wish to commercially distribute Linux Mint 17.1 along with a magazine, software bundles, etc. Support for multimedia is added to Linux via codecs, which may violate copyrights if distributed commercially. To avoid any copyright infringement, this version does not contain the codecs by default, but offers you the option to download them during installation.

Cinnamon OEM: This edition is for PC builders and distributors, who wish to allow end-users to customise settings like username, password, language, location on first use. This edition also allows manufacturers to install custom software on the PC before it is sent to the end-user.

If you're in doubt, select Cinnamon.
 

Mate

Mate also comes in 3 variations:
  1. Mate
  2. Mate No codecs
  3. Mate OEM
The versions of Mate follow the same pattern as Cinnamon described above.
Mate is the more lightweight edition of Linux Mint 17.1. It uses an older desktop environment known as Gnome 2. If you don't know what that means, it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that Mate edition is generally lighter on your system and consumes fewer resources. If at all you feel that Cinnamon is too sluggish on your computer, or you own an older computer, you could use Mate.

When it comes down to actual usage, there aren't too many major differences between Mate and Cinnamon. You might find fewer visual effects and a more dated interface. But that doesn't stop it from being intuitive and highly usable. It's about as customisable as Cinnamon.

KDE

KDE is another popular Linux desktop environment which is used in various other Linux operating systems. Those who have used a KDE based operating system before, should feel right at home here. The first thing you notice about a KDE environment is the abundance of pretty visual effects. The interface is beautiful, functional, and really worth showing off. All this comes at a price though. KDE is also the most resource hungry environment you'll find for Linux.

If you have a powerful system and want something worth showing off, you'll enjoy using KDE. You'll find a lot of apps specifically designed to work well within a KDE environment. You could try KDE if you want to flaunt your rig. Otherwise, Cinnamon is a lighter option.

Xfce

This is the lightest environment of the lot. It looks and feels a bit more like Windows XP. It's simple, efficient and gets your work done while consuming the least amount of resources amongst all the other editions of Linux Mint 17.1. It's quite simple to use, and uses minimal visual effects to keep your system running smooth and fast.

If you have a fairly old system, or you're using a low power laptop/netbook, then Xfce is the best option for you. It may not have the pretty effects offered by Cinnamon or KDE, but it's just as functional and usable as either of them. You should be able to use it comfortably with as little as 1GB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive.

Conclusion:

Which edition to choose, and which one would be best suited to you is a matter of personal taste. Albeit, Cinnamon is the most recommended of the lot. It provides everything you will need for a solid Linux experience. If you need something lightweight, you could try Mate or Xfce.  

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