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Is your favorite Linux desktop Cinnamon, MATE or Xfce? Or are you longing for something different and potentially better?

Then one of your best options is the upgrade to Linux Mint 21 “Vanessa” released on July 30th. It comes in a choice of Ubuntu- or Debian-base flavors.

It is an important step for me to make this recommendation. Once my daily Linux driver, I had a major fallout with this distribution several years ago, when an upgrade caused some troubling issues, leading to unpleasant reactions to — and no solution at all — Linux Mint tech support. from the community.

I then jumped into Linux Mint, a near-clone of Phaeron OS, and was a happy user until the distro’s developers made a radical design change and moved away from the traditional Cinnamon desktop.

So I jumped to distros again. I had reviewed the then new Cinnamon Remix distro released by an independent Linux developer. My go-to Linux distro became Ubuntu Cinnamon Remix, later renamed Cinabuntu. I’ve been very happy with its performance and usability options since then.

The ability to pick and choose operating system and configuration options is one of the shining beads you can polish your way to with Linux. It is not possible with Windows or macOS to be able to quickly install a replacement OS with the same look and feel.

However, with the release of Linux Mint 21 my Linux reviewer got the best of me. I was curious what I was missing.

I have detected some features that are not available in my current Cinnamon version. Those new features are in the MATE and Xfce versions as well. LM 21 versions include the latest versions of the three supported desktop environments: Cinnamon 5.4, Xfce 4.16, and MATE 1.26.

Read on to see what’s pulling me back to Linux Mint. Since Cinnamon is my favorite desktop, I focused on that version for this review.

hello old friend

The Vanessa release rekindled my appreciation for how tightly knit Linux Mint is as a computing platform. From the initial loading of the live session DVD to the impeccable installation, I was up and running in less than 30 minutes.

The welcome screen is becoming a standard setup routine for Linux installations. They can all take lessons on how to do this correctly using Linux Mint as an example. Even for experienced Linux users, Linux Mint’s approach is fast and convenient to perform all first-run tasks.

The left column panel of the panel provides general information, documentation, and a great index for completing the first steps. This is especially useful for new users who are unfamiliar with Linux in general – and LM in particular.

The main window area walks you through each step of updating system components and basic desktop configuration. Each section briefly describes what is included. The green themed launch button sets each part of the process in motion.

Steps include desktop color selection, choosing a traditional or modern panel layout, updating drivers and system components, setting up system settings, and software manager. The process also includes activating the built-in firewall, which is an item that many users overlook.

Linux Mint 21 Welcome Screen

The Linux Mint 21 welcome screen guides you through all the setup steps after installation, and it’s also a handy reminder that updates need to be made from time to time.


desktop difference

Design and usability features are one of the reasons I favor the Cinnamon desktop. It has one of the most detailed and organized configuration panels of any Linux distribution.

The System Settings panel keeps all the configuration options in one place. But unlike other desktop layouts with very few options, Linux Mint organizes all system controls into four general categories. In total, 40 icons hide related subcategories until you click an icon to open it.

KDE Plasma is the only other desktop with such an amount of configuration options. But that design is a series of separate settings panels that scatter controls and user options across a lot of menu locations.

While the configuration options available in the MATE and Xfce versions are less extensive, they still offer the ability to customize the look and feel to suit your computing needs.

Linux Mint does a better job than other desktops in how it handles the screen design and usability aspects. It has a wide range of quick access tools called desktops that reside on the desktop screen. Its use of applets that reside on the lower panel adds flexibility.

lm also provides a collection of extensions that provide even more usability options (similar to those available in the KDE Plasma desktop). This combination of features is a solid reason to try this distro.

Linux Mint 21 Desktop Configuration Options

The desktop configuration options available in the MATE and Xfce versions are less extensive than in Cinnamon. They still offer the ability to have the same look and feel as your computing needs.


under the hood

Linux Mint 21 is based on Ubuntu 22.04 and provides a full WIMP display like Windows, Icon, Menu, Pointer. This is a Long Term Support (LTS) release supported until 2027.

Vanessa, which continues the LM’s imagination for naming all releases with female names ending in the letter “A”, is packed with notable improvements in performance, compatibility, and stability. It ships with the Linux kernel 5.15 LTS.

Other changes include a new NTFS file system driver that simplifies interaction with Windows partitions, improvements to the default EXT4 file system, as well as improved hardware support, security patches and bug fixes.

A major Bluetooth change to the LM Blueman circuitry replaces the Blueberry app, which relies on GNOME-desktop plumbing. Like Blueberry, Blueman is desktop-agnostic and integrates well across all environments. It depends on the standard bluez stack and works universally, including from the command line.

Blueman Manager and Tray Icons have features that were not previously available in Blueberry. It handles more information for connection monitoring or troubleshooting Bluetooth issues and brings better connectivity to the headset and audio profiles.

Linux Mint 21 Cinnamon Desktop

Linux Mint 21 classic Cinnamon desktop design sports a favorites column, application category list, and a changing sublist of installed titles.


pain point solution

Welcome to Vanessa. Its lack in earlier releases was a usability issue. To address this, a new XApp (Linux Mint Exclusive Application) project called xapp-thumbnailers was developed for Linux Mint 21.

Process Monitor is a pain point solution for me. It places a special icon in the system tray when automated tasks are running in the background. Such tasks can slow down the performance of the system until it is completed. This new monitor is a silent alert that explains computer slowdowns.

Timeshift was an independent project for backing up and restoring OSes. The producer abandoned the application. LM took over the maintenance of Timeshift prior to the release of the LM 21. Timeshift is now an XApp.

One immediate benefit is the change in the way rsync mode works. It now calculates the space required for the next OS snapshot storage. If there is less than 1 GB of free space on the disk when the snapshot is executed, it quits proceeding.

Another pain point remedy is how LM21 now handles package removal. This prevents removal from the main menu (right-click, Uninstall) if the evaluation shows that other programs will be affected. This triggers an error message and stops the operation.

If no damage is found to major system components, uninstalling an application from the main menu also removes dependencies for applications that were installed automatically and are no longer needed.

Linux Mint 21 Scale and Expo Window View

Scale and Expo window views in Cinnamon are triggered by heated corners and applets on the lower panel.


ground level

The computer hardware requirements for Linux Mint 21 have not changed. You need a modern computer because LM is not as light on system resources as it used to be. That means a box with a 64-bit processor, at least 2GB of RAM, and 15GB of free space.

If you need help installing Linux Mint 21, the Linux Mint website has a comprehensive installation guide. But that shouldn’t be a possibility. Installation Engine is well polished. Most of my computers run multiple partitions, which usually forces manual intervention.

The LM 21 installer does not stumble. It simply asked where to put the OS. The installer handled all the splitting and adjustments in the background.


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Titan Linux is not an operating system that casual Linux users – especially new adopters – should have installed on their primary or only computer. But seasoned Linux distribution hoppers in search of a pleasant new Linux experience shouldn’t pass up the new offering.

Titan is a new distro built on the Debian stable branch. The developers first announced its arrival on April 24. This is a very early beta release, so it’s mostly bare bones. Nevertheless, it is surprisingly very stable given this stage of its development.

I looked at version 1.2 and found little things about its performance. The new distro’s two-person developer team has a growing community of testers for such new projects; Around 60 on the last count.

Usually, such small start-up teams cannot keep up with the further progress and often Linux distros fall by the wayside. But I am impressed by the achievements of this team so far.

Project leader Matthew Moore readily admits that the success or failure of the new distro will depend on user acceptance and a supportive community. One of the biggest adoption challenges facing Titan Linux is that with no ads or reviews (so far), it’s difficult to attract the risk of potential users.

Progress and updates come almost daily. So I would expect Titan to mature more quickly than it usually does with fledgling releases.

This distro is a fully functional yet minimal KDE Plasma desktop experience with an emphasis on usability and performance. It already has a wide range of hardware support out of the box.

Titan Linux takes a unique approach to the Debian experience. This eliminates the dependency on certain meta-packages to make the system a more stable overall.

something old is turning into something new

KDE is a comprehensive desktop environment that offers users a plethora of customization options. It is also a Linux staple that is popular and reliable. However, KDE may put off new users due to its complexity and quirks.

I’ve used KDE Plasma with several distros over the years. I first tried it when the old KDE desktop turned out to be a revitalized KDE Plasma upgrade. Some of its user interface (UI) issues got in my way as a daily driver.

If I see Titan moving beyond beta releases, Titan Linux with KDE might make me a happy user again. It all comes down to usability.

work in progress

Until now, developers trimmed the fat from KDE Plasma to make it less complicated without endless customization options. That’s the point of this distro.

In addition to simpler, lighter means in the long run, the Titan could attract a larger user with aging and less powerful computers. Keeping KDE as streamlined as possible while offering full hardware support from the Debian catalog are welcome performance goals.

Titan Linux offers something a little more slim than the standard Debian. But according to Moore, it’s more useful than a standard Debian Net installation.

Customization is not a bad thing. Linux thrives on having the freedom to customize, tweak, and create a desktop environment suited to individual user preferences.

Part of the simplification is an innovative Titan Toolbox – a work in progress but very promising – by head developer Cobalt Rogue. This set of system management tools will let users maintain the OS with a single click. The toolbox will include a range of software apps hardwired to the Titan’s distinctive design, rather than a one-size-fits-all Debian Linux component.

sharing insider ideas

If you want to find out how Sausage is made, check out the developer’s website for links to both Moore and Cobalt Rogue’s YouTube videos on building Titan Linux. They both provide live stream discussion of their development efforts.

It is practical to observe conversations that focus on the goals of the team. A leading man doesn’t want Titan Linux to be just another remix. Moore plans to grow its new distribution into a unique offering with meaningful features.

In a recent video, Moore explained why he decided to build Titan Linux on Debian instead of Arch, which he used to use before. This is because Debian’s longevity between stable releases is more conducive to rapid beta releases.

Debian has long release cycles – in the neighborhood of two years – so Titan’s development doesn’t break because the base components change frequently. Arch distros are very erratic with rolling releases which often break systems.

Leaner KDE Deployed

KDE is the moniker for the K desktop environment introduced in 1996. It is a reference to the organization sponsoring the development of the K desktop and the family of software that runs on its K desktop, as well as other desktops.

When the KDE community released a major upgrade from KDE 4, the developers dubbed the new desktop upgrade to KDE 5 under the name “Plasma”. That name reflected the radical redesign and functionality changes as a type of KDE rebranding.

Various Linux distros are built around the KDE project. For example, Kubuntu Linux is a version of the Ubuntu family of OSes that uses the KDE desktop. Other popular distros running the KDE desktop environment include KaiOS, Manjaro KDE, Fedora KDE Spin, MX Linux KDE, and Garuda Linux.

What makes this brand new Titan Beta OS so remarkable to me is the potential of what it offers. It can make K Desktop more productive with streamlined features and better usability.

However, offering a stripped-down version of the KDE desktop isn’t a unique idea in itself. Many other Linux developers have tried to turn KDE into a better working desktop. Some even gave it a new name.

Making a Better K Desktop, Again

Among the hundreds of Linux distributions I’ve reviewed over the years, some of the improvement efforts differ. Looking at literally hundreds of similar looking Linux distros, rebuilding KDE is rarely productive.

Few desktop environments – and Linux is both blessed and damned – can be inviting enough to meet the computing needs of all user scenarios. KDE attempts to do the same.

Consider these examples:

  • In late 2019 Feren OS switched from a Cinnamon desktop and a Linux Mint base to a KDE Plasma and Ubuntu base.
  • The KDE Neon distro – not called Plasma – is something unique. It has KDE components that have not yet been absorbed by other KDE-based distros. It is based on Ubuntu (which itself is based on Debian Linux).
  • The KaiOS Linux distro provides a UI-refreshed KDE-based computing platform. It provides better KDE experience without bloated software and cumbersome usability.
  • The Vector Linux family is a small, fast, and lightweight Slackware-based distribution that ships a customized version of KDE to be more user-friendly than other Slackware-style distros.

A glimpse of Titan’s potential

The early beta releases of the new Titan distro are like a partially loaded framework. Sectional headings and their supporting elements are enough to get a solid reading of the big picture.

The main parts are in place and working. But many vacancies are still to be filled. The OS works well with the space it has. It will work even better when more innovative parts are written in it.

This view of the Titan Linux desktop shows the two main KDE elements – access to the virtual desktop via the lower panel and the unique Activity layout accessed via a pop-out vertical left column that provides another kind of virtual computing space Is.


Widget Popup Panel Display of Screen and Panel Apps Adds a variety of services and features to the desktop layout.


Pictured in the top left is the information display of the Terminal window with the Command Line Interface (CLI). On the right is the Software Store window that provides the ability to add/remove a complete list of Debian Linux software, even in this early beta view.


Here the simplified system settings panel in Titan Linux is shown.


ground level

Beta versions of Titan Linux are releasing at a rapid pace. This development schedule heats up anticipation for the first stable release.

The KDE Plasma desktop design found in current Linux distros is not lightweight. Beta version 1.2 consumes 450MB of RAM, making this anticipated new distro much lighter. This means two things: More aging computers running Titan OS may get a revival; And newer computers may outperform the more standard KDE integration.

The Live Session ISO is upgraded several times per week as developers push the envelope to release the first stable version and beyond. The live session environment lets you try out Titan Linux beta releases without making any changes to your current OS or hard drive.

The beta version I tested is already performing surprisingly well. More features and UI changes appear with each new ISO download.

Check it out for yourself on the Titan Linux website.


suggest a review

Is there a Linux software application or distro that you would like to recommend for review? Something you love or want to know?

Email me your thoughts and I’ll consider them for future columns.

And use the Reader Comments feature below to provide your input!