Choosing the Right Version of Linux Mint

Linux Mint, including the newest version 20.1 Ulyssa, is available in three similar but different versions. Choosing which flavour is right for you depends on what you want to be able to do with Linux, and how comfortable you are working in a less Windows-like environment.

The three different versions of Linux Mint; Cinnamon, MATE and Xfce, offer different features as well as a different desktop environment.

Each version is simply a different desktop environment, the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that you use to interact with the operating system. Each of the desktop environments uses different apps to access or use the system, such as the file manager to browse the operating system’s file structure or the way it launches other apps. Again though, the core available productivity, video and graphic suites are the same, and function in the same way.

Linux Mint Cinnamon

The most popular version of Linux Mint is the Cinnamon edition. Cinnamon is primarily developed for and by Linux Mint. It is slick, beautiful, and full of new features. If you are new to Linux Mint and Linux in general, and have come from a background of using Windows or macOS, Cinnamon is probably the best place to start.

It performs excellently on more modern systems but is a lot more stable than it used to be, and not quite the resource hog it once was. Therefore, don’t be put off Cinnamon if you’re using an older computer to install and test Linux Mint.

Cinnamon features configurable Hot Corners, where each corner of the desktop can be clicked to perform a certain task, such as display the Workspaces, Show all Windows or Run a Command. The Hot Corners are an excellent way to switch between different views and help make the desktop a more efficient environment.

Web Apps – Cinnamon allows you to turn any website into a desktop applications using the new Web Apps Manager.

Hypnotix – Another new application available in Mint 20.1 running Cinnamon is Hypnotix, an IPTV player for M3U playlists. It supports live TV, Movies and TV series.

Favourites – Up until Linux Mint 20.1, finding and accessing files would require the file manager, bookmarking their containing folder, cluttering the desktop with direct links, etc. Cinnamon allowsd you to quickly and easily add any file to Favourites instead.

Mint 20.1 improvements include:

– Better Flatpak support
– Percentage in the sound volume OSD
– The option to always show the panel when the menu is open
– Scrolling in the window-quick-list applet
– Configurable scrolling direction in the workspace-switcher-applet
– The ability to assign a keybinding to mute the microphone
– Zstd support in nemo-fileroller
– Tiff support and PDF page numbers in nemo-media-columns
– Thumbnails for files up to 64GB in nemo


Linux Mint MATE

Linux Mint is also involved in the development of MATE, a classic desktop environment which is the continuation of GNOME 2, Linux Mint’s default desktop between 2006 and 2011. Although it misses a few features and its development is slower than Cinnamon’s, MATE runs faster, uses less resources and is more stable than Cinnamon.

MATE, just like Cinnamon, allows you to turn any website into a desktop applications using the new Web Apps Manager. Another new application available in Mint 20.1 running MATE is Hypnotix, an IPTV player for M3U playlists. It supports live TV, Movies and TV series.

MATE is an excellent desktop environment for older computers. It works better with a larger number of hardware components that Cinnamon generally does but is also just as capable of delivering a great looking desktop as well as advanced customisations.

Due to its highly configurable nature, MATE can be customised to a fine degree. There are plenty of options available to the user who demands a little more from their desktop environment, including Compiz Settings, where you’re able to configure all manner of desktop effects, even a 3D desktop cube.

Mint 20.1 improvements include:

– Hardware video acceleration is now enabled by default in Celluloid. On most computers this results in smoother playback, better performance and reduced CPU usage.

– The driver manager was migrated to PackageKit. It features a stronger resolution of package dependencies and its user interface was improved.

– Some projects such as mintsystem and mintdrivers are now backported to earlier releases and contain their own translations.

– Chromium was added to the repository.

– The upload manager, mintupload, features better a looking user interface and a better drop zone.


Linux Mint Xfce

Xfce is a very lightweight desktop environment. It doesn’t support as many features as Cinnamon or MATE, but it’s extremely stable and very light on resource usage. Xfce also allows you to use the new Web Apps and Hypnotix applications, but overall it is a much simpler interface and looks the least up-to-date of the three versions.

Just because it’s quick and lightweight doesn’t mean Linux Mint Xfce isn’t a complete desktop operating system. Just like the other environments on offer, you get the latest Firefox, Libreoffice, VLC, Gimp, chat apps and even a bit torrent client.


Which Version to Choose?

Why bother then with a different desktop environment? Simply put, it’s down to personal taste. Some users prefer MATE, as MATE is a fork of the classic GNOME 2 environment and is a little more menu-centric and performs well on older computers. Others prefer Cinnamon, which is a more modern environment that works better on recent hardware and features some cutting edge desktop code. Xfce, on the other hand, is a lightweight desktop environment that works well on older hardware due to its extremely low use of the available system resources.

We suggest you start with Cinnamon, especially if you are very new to Linux. But once you have installed the Cinnamon version you will see just how easy it is to complete the process. This means you can certainly install each of the versions to see which suits you best.


What is Linux Mint?

Linux Mint is one of the most popular desktop Linux distributions and used by millions of people. Some of the reasons for the success of Linux Mint are:

  • It works out of the box, with full multimedia support and is extremely easy to use.
  • It’s both free of cost and open source.
  • It’s community-driven. Users are encouraged to send feedback to the project so that their ideas can be used to improve Linux Mint.
  • Based on Debian and Ubuntu, it provides about 30,000 packages and one of the best software managers.
  • It’s safe and reliable. Thanks to a conservative approach to software updates, a unique Update Manager and the robustness of its Linux architecture, Linux Mint requires very little maintenance (no regressions, no antivirus, no anti-spyware…etc).

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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