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Jun
5

Linux Mint 15 Review – Close to Perfection

by Rob Zwetsloot

The most ambitious Linux Mint yet is one of the best desktop distros ever made

The state of play

Linux Mint is at a tipping point. Our interview with Clem and his team revealed their plan to move away from the GNOME back-end. They feel it’s been holding them back somewhat, and now that Cinnamon and MDM are feature complete in their eyes, now is the time for the next step in the distro. Linux Mint 15 then is a preview of a mature, more independent Mint that will allow for great innovation over the coming year.

This has us extremely excited, as the Linux Mint presented in version 15, Olivia, is definitely the best Linux Mint so far, and one of the finest distros we’ve used. Cinnamon 1.8 now comes with more features, and for the first time a cleaner, universal API for developing add-ons. MDM has not only caught up with modern login managers, it’s also forging new ground with HTML 5 theming. MATE has received an overhaul, with a lot of background packages and core libraries replaced and updated. While that all sounds good on paper, it’s not just these specs that have got us loving the latest Mint. Read on to find out more.

MATE GNOME Ubuntu Unity
A feature complete Cinnamon for Linux Mint 15

Review

Linux Mint 14 was one of our favourite desktop distros of the last year. While there were some initial hiccups that required a 14.1 release, it was generally a much better release than the then current Ubuntu 12.10, which had been marred by the controversy over the Amazon searches in the dash. Cinnamon seemed like a much more welcome alternative when people’s privacy was at stake.

Cinnamon isn’t the only option though, with MATE flanking Cinnamon as the alternate image on Mint’s download page. With both 32 and 64-bit versions as standard for each, there isn’t one overall DVD ISO with both on for you to try, however the images themselves are not much bigger than a CD, clocking in at around 900 MB. Installation is quick and painless if you want it to be, and more advanced if you have special needs for your system. On our test setups it took us only slightly more than ten minutes to go from booting into the live disc to a full installed Linux distro. First impressions of the distribution are great – the MDM Display Manager finally comes with user selection by default, rather than having to choose a GTK greeter after the fact. This default greeter is part of the new HTML 5 theming, which allows for animated themes using the web standard. There are already a few available to try out, such as a steam punky night time theme, or a futuristic space bound theme. There are more online created by users and web designers alike that can feel right at home with the familiar code.

MDM HTML 5
Tux in Space for the Greeter

The impressions continue well. A new digital clock resides on the desktop as one of the new desklets, similar to Android widgets. These interactive desktop spots are easily manipulated, so you can move, remove or add more easily depending on your preference. However, the selection is fairly small at the moment, with the most interesting desklet being an XKCD viewer.

The default app selection is pretty good, which usually means it has Firefox, an IM client, and access to LibreOffice. It does actually come with GIMP and VLC by default, which is not all that common. Heading to the Mint Software Manager to get some more applications is always a great experience, as unlike the Software Centre in Ubuntu, you never feel like you’re being babied with recommendations or “Technical Items” turned off. The interface is straightforward, and just the right balance of information and user-friendliness.

Using Mint is very much a joy, and is aided by many of the new features in Mint 15. Nemo’s overhaul has made changing your folder view on the fly very easy, allowing you to hide the sidebar at a touch of a button as well. The entire Cinnamon desktop is incredibly slick, much faster than the GNOME Shell, and a lot more customisable as well. All the customisation options for both the Cinnamon environment and the distro itself have been merged under one settings application – before the Mint Menu would have the Cinnamon Settings on it, and could get a touch confusing if you were quickly looking for the Settings application with the same icon.

Cinnamon GNOME Linux Mint
All the settings are now under one application

MATE as well has had some love, and while there isn’t a huge difference visually for day-to-day users, a lot of minor speed improvements and optimisations have been performed on it. Caja, the file manager, has had a small aesthetic update, and can now use the Connect Server option from Nautilus. There’s also new support for media keys as well, something a lot of more modern desktops have been able to use for a while now.

It also seems to run with fairly low power requirements. Testing it on a laptop, we found it gave us up to 30% extra battery life than Ubuntu running Unity would doing similar tasks. Frankly, we work faster on Linux Mint as well thanks to the variety of simple keyboard shortcuts for all kinds of desktop exposing and app switching operations, as well as the fairly smart hot corner that won’t just activate if the mouse looks like it’s moving there.

Once again we find ourselves adoring the package that Clement and his team have put out. We haven’t found a single problem with the distro, and the only thing we were disappointed at was the lack of desklets at the time of writing. With the new API for applets that links in to desklets, it’s just a matter of time before the community begins to release more. Until then though, we’re more than satisfied with the smooth, user-friendly experience that Linux Mint 15 and Cinnamon 1.8 provides to be our main distro for at least another six months.

Verdict

5/5

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    • joncr

      The perfection is marred, at least for myself and apparently quite a few other folks, because it shipped with the buggy Ubuntu 3.8.0-19 kernel. It produced kernel panics with abandon here, including attempts to boot the install DVD.

      After 4 broken installs of the MATE release, I tried a fifth time and immediately ran a dist-upgrade. That installed a 3.8.0-23 kernel that cured the panic problem. Unfortunately, after adding the recommended Nvidia driver from the new Driver Manager, when I moved from one workspace to another, open windows on the new workspace took an annoying number of milli-seconds to repaint, displaying white rectangles in the interim.

      With Ubuntu potentially diverging considerably from the rest of Linux in the future, Mint may need to reconsider its relationship with that distribution.

    • kmd

      I had issues with live dvd for both cinnamon 64-bit and 32-bit on my AMD64 desktop. Mouse refused to work after a few clicks and mint menu won’t respond to mouse click either. Previous intallation of mint 11, 12 and 14 worked flawlessly. Current installation of Magiea 3 on the same computer seems to work fine, including the mouse.

    • http://www.mysolutions.it Tyler Style

      I’m a big fan of Mint myself, but I’ve stuck with MATE rather than Cinnamon as it seems to be stabler and more feature-complete. I’ve never had any issues with it (including v15) for the three deskops and two laptops (both x86 and x64) I maintain it on. I’d recommend it for anyone trying a Linux distro for the first time, or for people who just want it installed and working with all the bits you usually have to manually choose already there (a huge plus is having VLC and LibraOffice as installation defaults!).

    • ssjdrn

      I encountered two pretty massive flaws when I tried installing this on a computer for my mom:

      1) The kernel module for ndiswrapper is not installed correctly by default. This means that if you use a network card that requires ndiswrapper (admittedly not the best approach), you’ll first need another kind of internet access in order to update the related packages, even though ndiswrapper is apparently intended to work out of the box.

      2) The nouveau driver, though stable, is slightly buggy when used with Cinnamon and whatever login manager Mint 15 uses. Switching to proprietary drivers caused the login manager to crash repeatedly, and was generally not usable.

      These may be issues with Ubuntu as well, but obviously a distro purporting to be user-friendly should not ship with such glaring flaws.

    • Brook

      Been using mint for over a year now, you can use either the Debian or Ubuntu based versions. I’ve recently upgraded to Mint 15 in both my Hypervisor and work vm’s, only a little tweaking to install phoenix gtk2/gtk3 theme and mate desktop is perfect. Rock solid desktop, hasn’t crashed when running multi monitors, and all the good PPA’s for ubuntu work out of the box.

      Its a shame that Gnome3 and Unity ran so many people off looking for better distros. I hear some people are loving the XFCE ubuntu spin too as an alternative. But mint is so polished all around, I can see myself staying with MINT for awhile.

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    • Dan Reed

      Although it looks rather nice, I too am affected with these kernel issues.

    • http://www.poon.my aeric

      I just found the regional settings under MATE doesn’t allow me to set English US day name such as Mon, Tue, Wed… instead of using Malaysian format which is Isn, Sel, Rab…

    • Greg Zeng

      The latest 2 Mints are both from Ubuntu 13.04, but like other ‘buntus, I easily updated them to the latest kernel: 3.9.4. That removes an objections about Ubuntus specialized kernels.

      My one gripe against Cinnamon comes from Gnome3. It has an impossible to remove bar, either at the top or bottom of the screen. So I prefer the Gnome2-work-alike, MATE – with its left (or right) sided bar, which can be intelli-hidden, if wished.

      Perhaps the Gnome3 lovers are old Chinese, reading tabloid newspapers in narrow vertical columns, and having their words in vertical column, instead of horizontal lines. I can only read-write in English, so either I have a portrait screen in front on me, or a Unity-type task bar on my left side, but intelli-hidden.

    • papasbag

      The live USB worked great…but when installed on the hard drive the mouse would not work and the monitor resolution was off. I had to go back to Mint 14.

    • GTC

      I’ve been using Mint from 9. Always found some issues here and there, none was a showstopper so far. With 15, only problem I had was that first boot had the desktop without icons and no context menu (mouse right click). Solved on its own once I rebooted. From there onwards, no other problem arose. And I want to let you all know I’m a complete noob with no way to hunt troubles down. I’m fairly new to linux, I mostly use MS Windows (since 95 up to 7).

    • http://lavaller.net avana

      I expected mint to be as easy as slicing through butter. On the contrary, I was surprised to find that I couldnt upgrade or install other software. The installer somehow failed to configure repository sites automatically leaving me in the lurch. The help guide is simple and inadequate.

    • jonc

      Greg Zeng said:
      6 June 2013 at 7:44 am

      >> “The latest 2 Mints are both from Ubuntu 13.04, but like other ‘buntus, I easily updated them to the latest kernel: 3.9.4. That removes an objections about Ubuntus specialized kernels.”

      That requires installing an Ubuntu mainline kernel. It will solve the panic problem. And it will make installation of a proprietary video driver problematic.

      Distributions ought not to ship with panicky kernels. Full stop.

    • chog1010

      Been a confirmed win 7 user but decided to try Mint 15 having seen what a carve up MS has made of Win 8. Installed the 64 bit version on my home built PC (3 gig mem, amd processor, nvidia graphics) with no issues what so ever. Have installed additional software and updated twice still with no issues. It’s rock solid and to say I’m impressed is an understatement. Thoroughly recommended for the newbie like me. 5/5

    • Sn00k

      Installed Mint 15 Cinnamon on a new budget PC and installed like a charm. I have been using Linux for longer than I care to remember and this has to be the smoothest version ever. Next on my todo list is to upgrade my wives Mint 14 laptop…

    • Eddie Wilson

      Downloaded and installed LinuxMint 15 and I must say that it is a very nice distro. The biggest showstopper I have is the lock down parts of the distro. I have used Synaptic for many a year and for some reason LinuxMint will cripple the application. To do responsible and personal updates and upgrades you have to use the command line. Mint’s update manager lacks a lot to be desired. They cripple Synaptic in order to try to make you use their simple utilities. I decide what the proper updates are for my computers, not Mint. I believe this is more for the new user coming from MS Windows. Commenters who complain about bugs coming from the Ubuntu base and landing into LinuxMint and blaming the bugs on Ubuntu are a little off base in that accessment. The development team has no excuse not to repair bugs and to let them into the distribution. Yes, LinuxMint is a very good distro but still lacks some quality control work. If the Mint team can work on that then they will have deserved the imaginary number one spot on Distrowatch.

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    • kmd

      After two failed attempts to try liveDVD on my AMD X2 Athlon, Nvidia video card and Nvidia chipset, both Mint 15 32bit & Mint 64bit Cinnamon desktops, I downloaded MInt 15 64bit Mate version and happy to share that it worked.

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    • SKLoh

      I installed linux mint 15 mate successfully alongside winxp in my acer netbook. After several updates, the desktop has changed to “Ubuntu Desktop” with a left sidebar. Is there a way to bring back the original desktop?

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    • Steve Dietrich

      Installed and unistalled and tested half a dozen times. Solid as a rock. Not a single problem.

    • Jason

      I did the same thing as chog1010. I bought a new PC expecting Win7, which is not my fav. It had Windows 8 which lasted about five minutes. I decided if that’s the future then it is time to try Linux, which I haven’t fooled with since 1996 or so. It was UNIX but same thing.

      Any way….tried Unbuntu and liked what I saw. Since I HATE the Microsoft Office 2007 2010 ribbon it was great to see Libre with the classic Word menus. Then I happened across a screenshot of Mint. Wow! Brilliant is all I can say. Microsoft has received their last dime from me so long as distros like this exist. I am telling everyone I know. Have installed it on three machines at home and two for friends. Will be sending a donation in soon. Great OS!

    • G. Artigue

      Two major bugs: you can’t customize the size of the fonts at the task bar: lame for people with impaired visual options, and you simple cannot add new users. Cinnamon is an awesome candy for the eye, but under the hood these two major flaws make me think they should seriously consider renaming this distro as “Linux Mint 15 beta” or something like that. Seriously. These are not minor bugs.

    • http://www.stephenturley.com/ Stephen Turley

      I think Mint 15 is one of the buggiest distros I’ve ever used. Hopefully it gets better.

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    • Felipe Dominguez

      Super mint 15 DECEPTION!!

      I have been using linux for a few years now.
      I did heard very good thing for Mint 15, I have try to install it for about a two days and it has been impossible!!!

      it installs with no error, but it does not boots. the biggest deception is that this problem it happens to a lot of people for years.

      So what is the point in making a “SUPER NICE” distribution if the bases fails?