I would like to apologize to the community, the media, and the journalists who wrote to us to know more about our upcoming release. We’ve been extremely secretive and 3 weeks past the Ubuntu release it’s still unclear for most people exactly what the next Linux Mint will look like. The reason we’ve been so silent is because we didn’t want to promise something we could not guarantee. Today we’re finally ready to give you an in-depth preview of Linux Mint 12, codename “Lisa”. I hope you’ll enjoy it and I look forward to reading your feedback.
Gnome 2 vs new desktops
In Linux Mint 11 we made the decision to keep Gnome 2.32. The traditional Gnome desktop, although it’s not actively developed by the Gnome development team anymore, is still by far the most popular desktop within the Linux community. As other distributions adopted new desktops such as Unity and Gnome 3, many users felt alienated and consequently migrated to Linux Mint. We recorded a 40% increase in a single month and we’re now quickly catching up with Ubuntu for the number #1 spot within the Linux desktop market.
As much as we’d like to keep Gnome 2.32 a little while longer we need to look forward and embrace new technologies. This doesn’t mean we need to change the way people use their desktops, not at all, it means we need to try and do our best for people to feel at home again, but on top of a brand new base, a new layer of technology, one that is actively supported upstream and that can be maintained properly going forward.
From a technological point of view, Gnome 3 is a fantastic desktop, and it’s getting better with every new release. It will take time for Linux Mint to develop a Gnome 3 desktop that is on-par with what we had with Gnome 2, but eventually we’ll be able to do much more with it than was possible with the traditional desktop.
With this in mind, the future of Linux Mint is Gnome 3, the present of Linux Mint is a simple question: “How do we make people like Gnome 3? And what do we provide as an alternative to those who still do not want to change?”.
Gnome 3 and MGSE
Gnome 3 is shiny, elegant and modern looking. It’s a sleek desktop but it comes with a few problems:
- It changes the way people use their computer
- It’s application-centric, not task-centric (you switch between applications, not windows)
- It doesn’t do multi-tasking well (you can’t see opened windows, system tray icons, etc..)
We’ve been using application menus, window lists and other traditional desktop features for as far as I can remember. It looked different in KDE, Xfce, or even Windows and Mac OS, but it was similar. Gnome 3 is changing all that and is developing a better way for us to interact with our computer. From our point of view here at Linux Mint, we’re not sure they’re right, and we’re not sure they’re wrong either. What we’re sure of, is that if people aren’t given the choice they will be frustrated and our vision of an Operating System is that your computer should work for you and make you feel comfortable. So with this in mind, Gnome 3 in Linux Mint 12 needs to let you interact with your computer in two different ways: the traditional way, and the new way, and it’s up to you to decide which way you want to use.
For this, we developed “MGSE” (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions), which is a desktop layer on top of Gnome 3 that makes it possible for you to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way. You can disable all components within MGSE to get a pure Gnome 3 experience, or you can enable all of them to get a Gnome 3 desktop that is similar to what you’ve been using before. Of course you can also pick and only enable the components you like to design your own desktop.
The main features in MGSE are:
- The bottom panel
- The application menu
- The window list
- A task-centric desktop (i.e. you switch between windows, not applications)
- Visible system tray icons
MGSE also includes additional extensions such as a media player indicator, and multiple enhancements to Gnome 3.
Here is what it looks like (click on the screenshot to make it bigger):
As you can see it’s a mix of old and new. It’s a brand new desktop but with traditional components. We’re excited about the new technology but it’s important everyone feels at home. So a Mint desktop looks and behaves like a Mint desktop and this one feels both like Gnome 3 and the traditional Linux Mint desktops that preceded it. You can launch applications from the top left, easily switch between applications and workspaces using the window list or keyboard shortcuts, keep an eye on your notifications at the top and access Gnome 3 features like “activities” from the top-left corner.
The Fallback Mode
Gnome 3 requires video acceleration and that is something most systems have. In Linux Mint 12 we also made sure you could run Gnome 3 within Virtualbox, so if you enable 3D acceleration within your virtual machine, you should be able to enjoy Gnome 3 and MGSE without any additional drivers.
If you’re unlucky though, you’ll land into the “Fallback Mode”.
Do not be mistaken about the “Fallback Mode”, despite its looks, it has nothing to do with Gnome 2! It’s a Gnome 3 component and it’s completely incompatible with technologies such as Bonobo panel applets. It’s named appropriately as the “Fallback Mode” and it’s set to disappear eventually as Gnome 3 will gain more and more hardware compatibility.
MATE is a fork of Gnome 2.32, it looks and behaves exactly as Gnome 2.
The problem with Gnome 2.32 is that it conflicts with Gnome 3. It creates a lot of problems within the repositories and it would not be possible for users to run both Gnome 2 and Gnome 3. MATE on the other hand is supposed to be compatible with it. So you could have both MATE and Gnome 3 installed on your computer and be able to switch between desktops from the login screen.
In practice, MATE is a brand new project and it does conflict with Gnome 3 in many areas. We’re currently working hard in collaboration with the MATE developers to identify and fix these conflicts so that we can have both Gnome 3 and MATE installed by default on the DVD edition of Linux Mint 12.
Another issue with MATE is that, to be compatible with Gnome (3), it had to rename most of itself, and as a consequence, applications and themes that were developed for Gnome 2 need to be migrated towards MATE to become compatible with it.
Conflicts with Gnome and the migrations of applications and themes are easy to fix. So if MATE makes it to our liveDVD, it’s likely to come with some rough edges but with your feedback we’ll be able to solve most problems very quickly.
Going forward, we won’t be using a custom search engine anymore. Linux Mint is the 4th most popular desktop OS in the World, with millions of users, and possibly outgrowing Ubuntu this year. The revenue Mint users generate when they see and click on ads within search engines is quite significant. So far this revenue’s entirely gone towards search engines and browsers. Our goal is to give users a good search experience while funding ourselves by receiving a share of this income. Search engines who do not share the income generated by our users, are removed from Linux Mint and might get their ads blocked.
In Linux Mint 12 and upcoming releases we’re hoping to provide users with the following commercial search engines: Ask.com, Google, Amazon, eBay, and the non-commercial Wikipedia.
It won’t only be down to donations and sponsorships anymore, your activity on the web, every search query you make and product you buy will help fund our project.
Traditionally, we release at the end of November, usually around the 20th. With that said, quality matters more than the time-frame and so until we’re happy with what we have, we won’t release it. We release “when ready” and so I can’t tell you for sure when that will be. I can tell you however how ready we are at the moment.
Our Gnome 3 desktop is fully ready and fully functional. We identified 10 bugs but they’re all minor and could get fixed either prior or post-RC.
We compiled and installed MATE alongside Gnome 3 on a test Ubuntu 11.10 machine before and were successful in running both desktops. We’re now packaging and building MATE differently and we’re progressing slowly but surely. We’re not 100% sure MATE will make it in time for the RC though and we do expect rough edges with it if it does.
Negotiations with browsers and search engines are still ongoing so the RC might miss a few search engines that could be added later on in the stable release.