Admittedly, I haven’t spend too much time with Mint 12. Just enough time to take a look at how it differed from Mint 11.
The change from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 is noticeable, but extremely well done. The developers created MGSE, the Mint Gnome Shell Extension, which makes Gnome 3 look and behave a lot like, well, Gnome 2. My two panels are there, my right-click button is there, my regular lovely MintMenu is there. And if a user wants to use Gnome 3 (I don’t really, but some do), the GUI app allows the user to remove the extensions easily, making a pure Gnome 3 desktop.
It does have several Gnome 3 features. For example, it has the upper-left full page infinity menu. Given all of the MGSE pieces, though, I don’t mind its presence. In fact, it seems almost helpful and/or handy.
Mint also includes MATE, a Gnome 2 fork, in its default installation. It’s switchable from the login manager. I like the look of MATE; it looks like Gnome 2, or even XFCE. But in using it, several bugs came up, and it crashed a couple of times. I understand that MATE got added to Mint 12 rather late, and required many changes to allow compatibility with Gnome 3, so that’s completely forgivable. Only time will tell if MATE will improve and become a desktop in its own right, or become overshadowed by MGSE’s enhancements of the much-hated Gnome 3.
All in all, Mint 12 does a great job of adapting to Gnome 3 without tearing out all of Gnome 2’s beloved functionality. And so, Mint remains a terrific out-of-the-box distro.
Note: Mint 12 still doesn’t allow my b43-firmware out of the box. It installs the driver on first boot, but not the firmware. That needs to be apt-get’d and modprobe’d.