We've known for some time now that Linux Mint would be embracing GNOME 3 in some fashion, but last month it sounded like the controversial desktop interface would appear only in a separate, dedicated version.
Now, however, it looks like GNOME 3 will be integrated into the upcoming Linux Mint 12 itself--but not as the only option.
“The future of Linux Mint is GNOME 3,” wrote Clement Lefebvre, Linux Mint founder and project leader, in a blog post on Friday. “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?'”
As an answer to those questions, the new operating system, code-named “Lisa,” will not only offer MATE--a GNOME 2.32 fork that preserves the familiar GNOME 2 functionality--but will also add a desktop layer on top of GNOME 3 that allows hesitant users to ease into the new interface one step at a time.
An Extra Desktop Layer
GNOME 3 changes the way people use their computers, Lefebvre acknowledged, and is application-centric rather than task-centric. It's also not very good at multitasking.
Aiming to help smooth the transition, Linux Mint's “MGSE” (Mint GNOME Shell Extensions) is a desktop layer on top of GNOME 3 that will make it possible to use GNOME 3 in a traditional way. Included in the extra layer are traditional desktop elements such as a bottom panel, application menu, and window list along with a task-centric desktop and visible system tray icons.
“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,” Lefebvre explained. “Of course you can also pick and only enable the components you like to design your own desktop.”
MGSE will also include additional extensions such as a media player indicator and numerous other enhancements to GNOME 3, he added.
The result, visible in the screenshot below, feels both like GNOME 3 and the traditional Linux Mint desktop, Lefebvre wrote: “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.”
A GNOME 2 Clone
Users who want to stick purely with the old GNOME 2 experience, meanwhile, will have Linux Mint 12's MATE fork of that traditional desktop, offering the look and feel longtime users have been accustomed to.
The project team chose MATE because the original GNOME 2.32 conflicts with GNOME 3, Lefebvre pointed out. Work is still under way to smooth out the fork's own rough edges when offered alongside GNOME 3, but Lefebvre said the team still hopes to include it on Linux Mint 12's live DVD.
Finally, so as to begin receiving a share of the search revenues generated by Mint users, Linux Mint “Lisa” will also include five commercial search engines rather than a custom one. Specifically, Ask.com, Google, Amazon, eBay, and the non-commercial Wikipedia will be incorporated into Linux Mint 12 and subsequent releases, Lefebvre said.
Now Top of the List in Popularity
Based on the new Ubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot,” Linux Mint 12 is due for release later this month, or as soon as the team feels it's ready.
Meanwhile, for several days now it has looked like Mint has usurped Ubuntu at No. 1 on DistroWatch's list of the most popular Linux distributions. At least part of that is surely because of increased migrations by users dissatisfied with other distributions' implementations of Unity and GNOME 3, Lefebvre said, noting that Mint actually recorded a 40 percent increase in a single month.
Are you one of the many concerned about the new generation of mobile-inspired interfaces like Unity and even Windows 8's Metro? If so, it's looking like Linux Mint is taking a gradual approach that promises to meet users halfway. For business users in particular, this could be a winning way to go.