The Cinnamon graphical environment

As you can see, the Cinnamon graphical user interface is very intuitive. When you click on the menu at the bottom left corner of the screen, you'll find the most important programs and settings listed there for your convenience. At the bottom right there is the sound controller, the time and the calendar, the indicator of battery power status (if you are on a laptop), Bluetooth and wi-fi icons (both turned on by default, you may prefer to turn them off).

Flip through to menu items to have a look at what programs are part of this distribution. You'll find some graphics manipulation programs, the Firefox web browser, the Thunderbird mail client, some chat programs, programs to play music and video files, the very mature and feature-rich LibreOffice suite (I haven't been using nearly anything else to work with office file formats since I started using Mint two years ago), as well as a multitude of smaller programs and utilities, ranging from several note-taking applications to the USB stick formatter.

The collection of settings under System settings lets you easily perform various alterations to the appearance and functionality of your system from a single place. Date and time, languages and keyboard layouts, user names and passwords, visual effects, colour schemes, the sizes and shapes of icons and windows, background images, screen-savers, accessibility features, and network settings, to name just a few.

How then is this different from the proprietary system I am already using, you might rightfully be asking at this point.

Well, the Linux Mint developers have done a great job at making the system as accessible as possible to the very beginner with no previous experience with Linux whatsoever. To ease the learning curve, they have made the graphics more prominent and kept the very essence of Linux - the fact that it is essentially a collection of text files manipulated with through a sophisticated system of text-based commands that are surprisingly linear in nature - hidden. I will introduce the command line interface in the following article.

While still in the graphical environment, let's have a look at how new programs are added (and removed) on a Linux system. The program that is going to interest us is the Synaptic package manager. Open it and you will find a list of program names, some of them marked green - those are the ones that are part of the current system, the Linux distribution you are previewing. Whenever you want to add a new program from the software repositories that the system recognises as safe or approved, you will find it on the list. Mark it and click install/update and it will be added to your installation. This action can be much more conveniently performed in the command line, as I will show you next time.

Mint is not the only flavour of Linux that uses the package system. Other Linux distributions, such as Fedora or SUSE, use a very similar system. The extension of package names differs (it's .deb on Debian and its derivatives) and packages with different extensions need to be converted. The package system is very convenient from the developer standpoint as well, since programmers do not have to invent the wheel all the time and can re-use code from other packages which are then marked as dependencies. This saves space and the end user only needs to be cautious when deleting components, as erasing some important dependency can break the functionality of several software packages at the same time.

copy left Johanka Piskovská, 2020