Review and Comparisons Between Linux Mint XFCE, Cinnamon, and Mate



Review and Comparisons Between Linux Mint XFCE, Cinnamon, Mate, Windows 8.1, and Windows XP


Linux Mint XFCE

Linux Mint XFCE (CC0 wallpaper by Magdalena Smolnicka)

Copyright ©2024 July 02, 2024 — Larry Neal Gowdy



Quick Overview

Everyone has different tastes, different preferences, and different needs, and it is sometimes interesting to see which operating system each person chooses. For myself, I began with Commodore® 64 computers, and then progressed through DOS and most all versions of Windows® from 3.1 to 8.1. My filing cabinet has a tall CD spindle filled with Windows software CDs, and yet my four computers (which use the same APU and motherboard series) currently all have Linux Mint on them. More interesting is that three of the computers have a different version of Mint.

PC #1 - Mint Mate is used in the living room for streaming foreign videos, viewing television stations that are not aired locally, for playing MP4s, and for playing DVDs that are too old of formatting to play on a modern DVD player. The Mate version is 19.1, it's about five years old, it has not yet been updated, and not once has it ever had a glitch.

PC #2 - Mint Xfce is used for the primary online computer which is devoted to online stuff like emails, business accounts, downloading music, and general online research.

PC #3 - Mint Xfce is setup for use as the offline computer for file maintenance.

PC #4 - The fourth computer is occasionally used as a test computer, for testing various distributions and software prior to installation on a primary computer. It has Mint Xfce on an old 250gb SATA2 hard drive, and Mint Cinnamon on a 500gb solid state drive.

Of the hundreds of distros and versions that I have tested over the past ~20 years, Mint continues to edge-out the competition.

Mint Xfce

Pros: I like Xfce for its basic layout, which is comfortable to use for those of us who used Windows way too long, and too, Xfce doesn't have many bells, whistles, wigglies, nor anything else to distract. Xfce is also easily modified for preferences of color and general layout. One core wonderfulness of all versions of Mint is of the graphics quality being intensely superior to everything Windows-based.

Cons: On low wattage computers like my own, Xfce is slow to boot, and programs are slower than normal to load. For myself, the slowness isn't a problem since I am not in a hurry while on the Xfce computer. Using a solid state drive does improve the slowness by about 50%, but I favor the dependability of hard drives far more than I favor load speeds.

Mint Cinnamon

Pros: Cinnamon is a nice change from Xfce, and since I prefer for most of my computers to have a different look and feel (so as to not grow bored from seeing the same thing too often), then Cinnamon fits my preferences quite well. On my computers, Cinnamon on a hard drive loads most programs within about half the time as Xfce. I had tested Cinnamon several times in the past, but I wasn't much pleased with its appearances until 21.3, of which I now often favor above Xfce and Mate. Cinnamon's graphics quality is similarly fantastic as Xfce's.

Cons: Cinnamon has lots of bells, whistles, and wigglies, but fortunately most all of them are easily turned off. As a general rule of thumb, all Linux distributions boot and load software about 5-10 times slower than a clean Windows installation, and Cinnamon is not an exception. My personal preferences strongly disfavor too much use of grays, of which Cinnamon uses in abundance, but a quick visit to the themes' gtk and css files to change all 191919/202020 grays to 000000 makes Cinnamon quite nice for me.

Mint Mate

Pros: As stable as Xfce and Cinnamon, while Mate offers a different variation of appearances.

Cons: On low wattage computers, Mate is similarly slow to boot and load software as are Xfce and Cinnamon.

Load Times With Solid State Drives

As an experiment, I loaded Cinnamon onto a 500gb Samsung® EVO 850 solid state drive. The ~90 second boot time dropped to about 40 seconds, and loading the Software Manager also dropped from ~90 seconds to ~40 seconds. The Nemo file manager dropped from ~3 seconds to about ~2 seconds. LibreOffice's Writer had no notable change of load time. Firefox's load time dropped from around 16 seconds to ~7-8 seconds.

For myself, aside from the extra minute to boot, the solid state drive would not save me more than maybe a minute a day during regular use. For my own needs, a solid state drive is not an advantage.

Comparisons of Typical Load Speeds for Mint and Windows on Hard Drives

The speed of loading a program is not important aside from the user having to stop work while waiting for the computer to do its job. Sluggishness can cause the user to become frustrated, and the frustration can become a deciding factor of whether or not the user is satisfied with the operating system.

Boot time: Mint - 90 seconds. Windows XP - 30 seconds. Windows 8.1 - 12 seconds.

Load a word processor: Mint Writer - 12-20 seconds. XP Word 2003 and 2010 - almost instant. Windows 8.1 Word 2003 and 2010 - ~1 second.

Load the file manager: Mint - 3 seconds. XP - almost instant. Windows 8.1 - less than 1 second.

Load Firefox: Mint - 16 seconds. XP - about 4 seconds. Windows 8.1 - 3 seconds.

For load speeds and operational speed, there is no question about it, Windows XP and 8.1 are fast, much faster than most all Linux distributions. Lightweight distros like Puppy, Antix, and MX are able to load lightweight software quickly, but the load times are similar as Mint's for software like LibreOffice and Firefox.

Hardware Test

While editing this article I wanted to experiment with Cinnamon on an old Biostar A68N-5545 motherboard that has four SATA ports, a 25W AMD A8-5545 APU (quad core 1.7ghz, turbo 2.7ghz), and 4gb DDR3 RAM. Using the same Cinnamon SSD as was in the other pc (which had a 2ghz quad core APU and 8gb RAM), the differences were surprising. Boot time dropped to about 19 seconds, Firefox loads in about 3 seconds, the file manager loads in about 1.5 seconds, and Writer loads in about 4 seconds, which is quite good.

With an ssd on the right MB, Cinnamon is very competitive with Windows. I would assume that Xfce and Mate would be similarly fast.

The moral of the story is that load times can be dramatically different between different brands of motherboards. To me it is humorous that Cinnamon runs faster on lower spec hardware than on the higher spec hardware.

Note: In years past, I used top of the line CPUs and RAM, and though everything ran fast, still the ~200-250 watt minimum consumption was not good: it heated the home office quite nicely in winter, but in summer it was intolerably hot. The solution was easy: build new computers that consume under 25 watts during normal loads. Aside from the comfort of low wattage computers, they also paid for themselves in electricity savings within the first two years of use.

Over-all Opinion of Mint Versus Windows

For those of us who need a professional quality word processor for use with large and complex documents, the one and only viable choice is Word 2010. Word 2010 works fine in XP, but XP does not support Office 2010's theming, which leaves Word's title bar and coloring looking less than attractive (the 'too much gray' problem). Windows 8.1 renders Word the very best. Word can be installed in Linux by using Wine, but like XP, Word's theming is unattractive in Linux. If Word were an absolute daily necessity, I would only use Windows 8.1 on all of my computers.

One core weakness of Word 2010 is the operating system's graphics quality. On my Windows computers, text is less than crisp, which is hard on the eyes. Linux, however, has superb graphics quality, which is also seen within Word on Linux. Text quality is dictated by several factors that include the graphics hardware, hardware drivers, and the operating system itself. As an example, on all of my computers the text quality is always very poor in all versions of Windows, but the text quality is almost always very good in Linux. Using the same monitor, same monitor resolution, same video cable, same graphics hardware, same CPU, same RAM, and the same motherboard, the graphics quality has always been poor in all versions of Windows, and yet the graphics quality is very, very good when Linux is installed.

Windows' good side is that it's fast and has a lot of good software, but all versions suffer from file instability, low quality graphics, and slowness of keyboard response. Linux tends to be slow to load, and a lot of software for Linux is not professionally polished, but keyboard response can be adjusted to please the fastest typist, graphics quality is superb, and file stability is very good.

Word 2010 Features in Linux

One core advantage of Word 2010 is the nifty Find feature, which is tremendously valuable when searching through large documents. LibreOffice Writer does not have the feature, but there is a good work-around. While Writer has a document open, you can select all (ctrl-a), copy all (ctrl-c), paste (ctrl-v) the text into a text editor like Geany (which removes all of Writer's formatting), and then copy-paste the text from Geany into the Calc spreadsheet. Setting Calc to wrap the text, the result is a workable copy of your word processing document. Calc's Find popup can then display all of the instances of the text being searched for. The result in Calc is sometimes better and sometimes not as good as Word, but it's still a fully usable solution.

Too, Calc offers a split screen view like what Word offers, which is a huge necessity when entering text at the bottom of a document while reading the text near the top of the document (i.e. translating a document's foreign language into English). The Geany editor also offers split screens, which is excellent for smaller documents, but Geany doesn't have the 'Find All' display like what Calc has.

The 'Find All' function and the split screen feature are the two primary reasons for why I had kept using Word, but now that I can have similar features in Linux, then there is no good reason to install Office 2010 in Linux.

With Mint having LibreOffice and the Xed text editor, the user can do just about everything in Linux that was being done in Windows.

Sum

All flavors of Linux Mint offer the best quality Linux software, superb graphics, fast keyboard repeat rates, and very good stability. On my hardware, Cinnamon runs a little faster than Xfce and Mate, while Cinnamon also has the panel icons and file manager that I prefer. For myself, if I had to choose just one of Mint's versions, I would still choose Xfce. However, fortunately I need at least three computers, which enables me to use all three Mint versions.

The moral of the story is for the user to simply give all three Mint flavors a test, and to choose the one that the user personally likes best.

Personal Comment

For years I wanted to assemble an operating system that I could feel comfortable using, one that holds no baggage of negativity, one of which I could place the best of my files upon, and to not have the lingering thoughts of from where the software originated. No software is pure, but Mint is the best known. And now, for the very first time, a new emotion arises when I think of using the offline computer: a happiness that is founded upon the tone of an object that is of moral quality.


Linux Mint Website