Real improvements for everyone
Various other changes affect both desktops. Linux Mint now uses the Noto fonts by default, and the default theme comes in many other color choices. The Login Window preferences were redesigned, and the Language configuration window now allows much easier installation of "input methods" — welcome news for people who need to write Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, and other languages where all the characters aren't present on the keyboard for easy input.
But perhaps the biggest change is in the Update Manager application. It no longer shows individual package updates, but groups updates by "source package." This means that — for example — when an update for LibreOffice is available, you won't simply see a list of 22 packages. Instead, by default, you'll see a single "LibreOffice" update in the list, although you're free to drill down if you choose. According to Linux Mint's developers, installing some individual package updates but not others — for packages like Mesa 3D graphics library, for example — can sometimes break people's systems, however.
Going hand-in-hand with this change, there's also a redesigned kernel selection screen that makes it easy to see available kernels along with information about security fixes and known regressions (problems in the new kernel, in other words).
Overall, this is exactly the kind of release I — and many other Linux users — like to see. While Ubuntu 14.10 just shipped with no visible changes besides version bumps in a number of packages, Linux Mint has made the choice to stick with Ubuntu 14.04 under-the-hood and modify the stuff on top. Linux Mint 17.1 provides a great Linux desktop system, especially if you long for the days of more traditional Linux desktop interfaces.
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