I subscribe to Linux Format (thanks to my wife!) -- the premier Linux magazine, produced in Great Britain. The most recent issue included a DVD of Linux Mint. Linux Mint is a "distribution," originally based on Ubuntu, but with a lot of elegant little tweaks that try to make it a little more cutting edge, and at the same time, more user friendly, especially in the area of media. The current version, that I'm using as I write this, is "Daryna." (The names move up the letters of the alphabet.)
The disc is a Live DVD, which means I can play with it without having to install it -- making sure that it works with my hardware, and seeing if it's better than PCLinuxOS.
The first test of any distribution for me, at home, is to see if it will detect my encrypted wireless network, then let me log into it. Linux Mint did, through the nice little network application on the bottom panel.
My next test is to set the screen to the right video resolution. Linux Mint actually set mine high -- but it wasn't difficult to roll it back to the 1280X1024 that looks best on my LCD monitor.
My next test is to see if it will let me watch the video trailers at www.apple.com/trailers. Linux Mint did not do that -- largely because of the United States' patent restriction on the various video codecs. It isn't hard to install them from Linux Mint, though -- but you have to install the distro to your hard drive first.
The same is true for the next test: installation of the Nvidia graphics driver that allows the cool "Compiz" effects -- eye candy like drop shadows, spinning cubes, wobbly windows, and other gee whiz screen effects. In Linux Mint, like Ubuntu, you use a program called Envy to install the enhanced video driver -- but it failed. I assume that it, too, waits until I've installed the distribution on my hard drive.
The other distinguishing characteristic of Linux Mint is that everything is on the bottom panel, even though it uses the Gnome desktop generally. It also uses a version of (I think) the SUSE menu system, in which everything is navigated from one spot, instead of the three Gnome menus. Mint, by default, only offers one window, too. The effect, I'm sure, is to make it feel a lot more like Windows, only prettier, and more stable.
I did find one oddity: the Google search bar in Firefox doesn't work. No biggie.
Ultimately, though, I'm not sure that I see a compelling advantage to replacing PCLOS. I've customized my PCLOS setup so it suits me, and find the change of pace about right. But it's good to see what the competition is up to. Linux Mint has been moving steadily up the DistroWatch rankings. I can see why.