For the Unity-averse, a peek ahead at Linux Mint 11

A traditional GNOME 2.32 desktop will star in the next version of this free, Ubuntu-based operating system.

Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal" has been out for about a week now, and it's become clear that opinions are divided on Unity, its new desktop shell.

One of the best things about Linux, however, is that choices abound. Those who don't like Unity can always replace it with something else, for instance, while still keeping the rest of Natty Narwhal. Alternatively, they can also look to one of the numerous other Linux distributions available out there.

Linux Mint, in fact, is a winning alternative, as I've noted before. Not only is it based on Ubuntu, but it's the No. 2 distribution in terms of popularity on DistroWatch--behind only Ubuntu itself--and is widely known for its excellent usability.

Not coincidentally, the Linux Mint project on Thursday offered a sneak preview of Linux Mint 11, or "Katya," which is due to be released later this month. Here, then, are some key features we can expect in this free and open source operating system.

1. GNOME 2.32

Yes, that's right -- for all those who were worrying, the next Linux Mint will not, in fact, adopt Unity, despite the fact that it is based on Ubuntu 11.04.

It will sport GNOME, but--contrary to earlier reports--not the new, and also somewhat controversial, GNOME 3. Rather, GNOME 2.32 is the version featured along with "the traditional Linux Mint desktop layout, mintMenu and the same desktop elements featured in previous releases," the project team said.

Compiz is also installed by default in Linux Mint 11, as is "fusion-icon," a feature that lets users switch easily between Compiz and Metacity.

"With the upstream changes in Unity and GNOME 3, some of the big Linux Mint projects (netdiscovery, restoration snapshots) were postponed and more time was given to ensure this release would feature a functional yet traditional desktop," the project team wrote. "In many ways, Linux Mint 11 feels like a more modern and more polished version of Linux Mint 10. In contrast with the many distributions adopting new interfaces, Linux Mint 11 will feature the best Gnome '2' desktop you've ever got to see."

2. Bundled Software

Along with most of the other major Linux distributions, Linux Mint has now abandoned OpenOffice.org in favor of the new LibreOffice productivity software alternative.

As in Natty Narwhal, Banshee has replaced Rhythmbox as the default music player, but rather than Shotwell for photos, Linux Mint 11 uses gThumb instead. Gwibber, meanwhile, is no longer installed by default.

3. Widespread Improvements

Linux Mint 11's software manager now loads "marginally faster," the project team said, and also features refined templates and a splash screen. In addition, it has been upgraded to show exactly how much data will be involved in a download, how much space is required on the hard drive and which packages will have to be installed and/or removed.

Other tidbits about Linux Mint 11 include the fact that the update manager is faster than before and that the software's desktop settings tool is now desktop-agnostic, offering both generic settings and those specific to particular desktops, such as KDE and Xfce.

A release candidate for Linux Mint 11 is due by the middle of this month, with the final stable version coming out by the end of May. Particularly if you're looking for a Unity-free alternative, this will be one to check out.

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