Linux Mint,

which is an Ubuntu-based Linux distribution that aims to further simplify Ubuntu, faced a conundrum when it released its previous Linux Mint 11 version. Linux Mint 11 was to be based on Ubuntu 11.04, however that was also the first Ubuntu version to ship with Unity. So Linux Mint could either adopt Unity from Ubuntu 11.04 (on which it is based) or adopt Gnome 3, which was the latest Gnome release, or stick to the old, and soon to be outdated Gnome 2.32. Switching to either Unity or Gnome 3 would be a big shift in the user experience of Linux Mint, and make it difficult for old Linux Mint users to adapt easily. Those familiar Linux Mint will know that it decided to stick with Gnome 2.32 for Linux Mint 11, but that approach could only last so long.

Now with the release of Linux Mint 12 around the corner, people were waiting to see what the developers of Linux Mint would do about this situation. Now they have a response, and it should please users of Gnome 2, and Gnome 3 alike.

With their 3.0 release Gnome completely changed the way Gnome users could interact with their system in an attempt to simplify computing. For people who are already used to interacting with computers in a certain way though, this meant a huge change in the way Gnome functions. The lack of configurability meant that old Gnome users would have to adapt to the way Gnome 3 works, rather than it adapting to their requirements. While I feel that Gnome 3 is a great shell for users willing to rethink the way they interact with the computer, or those just getting into computers, not everyone can spare the time or go through the effort of readapting to the way their desktop environment works. They have to get work done.

Linux Mint developers have decided to “look forward and embrace new technology” but in such a way as to not alienate their old user base still used to Gnome 2-like interfaces. Linux Mint 12 will use Gnome 3, but will include what they call MGSE (Mint Gnome Shell Extensions), which are addons for Gnome 3 that bring a number of Gnome 2 features to Gnome 3. By disabling all these extensions one can get a pure Gnome 3 desktop, or users can pick and choose the extensions they like to get an experience somewhere between Gnome 2 and 3.

Here are the features that MGSE enables in Gnome 3 to make it closer to Gnome 2:

  • 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

Additional extension by Linux Mint developers will also be available with Linux Mint 12.

That isn’t all, for those with older systems incapable of running Gnome 3, which requires hardware acceleration, there is MATE. The MATE desktop is a fork of Gnome 2.32 intended to support the Gnome 2 interface for those who still want to use it. In the absence of hardware accelerating Linux Mint will fall back to MATE.


It seems Linux Mint developers have managed come up with a solution that works for everyone without seeming line a compromise. Rather it seems like a solution that other distro developers might adopt as well. There is no reason why the Mint Gnome Shell Extensions should be restricted only to Linux Mint, if nothing else, they will be open source.


A release candidate of Linux Mint 12 should be available in a few days (November 11), so you can try this out for yourself.