Linux Mint 15 Review – Close to Perfection
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.
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.
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.
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.