Caveat: I'm writing this in the tone of a conversation I might have with one of my computer-literate (read: geek) friends. If you're less sophisticated in the subtle distinctions of Linux distributions, if you've never heard of distrowatch.com, or if you've never even tried booting a Linux LiveCD, (e.g. most members of my immediate family) you might not get it.
Tonight I've been using Linux Mint 8 on my lesser system (the tower known as 'papadam') and if it continues to impress me like it has already, it will soon migrate to my primary machine (the 17" laptop known as 'samosa'). The bigger question remains, will it steal the stage from openSUSE 11.2? SUSE has been my most-often-loaded desktop operating system for years, and I've been running since long before Novell bought it, but not until I finally got tired of wrestling with Slackware.
First impressions: The 32-bit version installed flawlessly from the CD I burned of the LinuxMint-8.iso file, very much resembling Ubuntu's Karmic Koala install. A minor annoyance is that (like Karmic) the Mint8 installer would have taken over my boot sector. I prevented that (click the "Advanced" button on the final screen of the installer and uncheck "Install grub boot loader") and instead booted first to Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic and used the # update-grub command to add it to my grub.cfg.
Audio hardware recognition (your run-of-the-mill Intel 82801 chip AC'97 motherboard sound hardware) worked just fine.
I mounted a partition with some movies on it and clicked on one. No problem. Right-click and launch with Mplayer? This time, Mplayer complained about not being able to output to the default video. A google of the exact text of the error, a visit to the Mplayer preferences dialog, and restarting Mplayer resulted in success, and a proper ~/.mplayer/gui.conf file.
So I tried playing an mp3 file. Again, no further software installery was required to get the same kind of results I have come to expect out of Windows 7. No wait, even better! Just hovering over the mp3 files in Nautilus for a second gave me an audio preview. I'm not sure I would have picked "Movie Player" as the default mp3 player of choice, but Rhythmbox was installed and also worked the first try.
Next I went to a flash site (Youtube) and didn't have to bother with installing flashplugin first. Very sweet. No. Media. Hassles. Finally, a Linux distro your grandma can use. I preferred Mint's green themed defaults to Ubuntu's brown "human" theme colors, probably because I'm accustomed to SUSE. It might take a bit longer for me to alter my preference for RPM package management tools, another one of the reasons I kept returning to YaST and the lizard.
There must be something missing. Sure enough, 'javac -version' informed me that there was no java compiler whatsoever on my system. Typing 'sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jdk' and after waiting for a minute, I compiled and executed some source code.
I don't have a DVD player in this machine, but I've got to believe that if I slipped in a title, maybe "Pleasantville", it would just launch the movie player.
Summary: I'm very happy that Mint 8 gives me the green colors I am comfortable and familiar with in openSUSE, and with very minimal post-install tweaking I have something indistinguishable from ((Ubuntu|openSUSE) + spending a lot longer chasing down various proprietary media decoders). This could very well become the desktop OS I spend most of my time booted in.