Linux Mint 14 Nadia review - Jolly good but


Updated: December 7, 2012

As you bethink most vividly, my experience with the latest Ubuntu was not stellar. In fact, it was anti-stellar. On a machine with generic hardware, it worked fine but with lots of regressions, and on a high-end box with the Nvidia graphics card, it was a fiasco. Oh, some people might complain my high-end box is not really high-end. Perhaps. That does not mean I will not tenaciously continue using the term.

So now, this situation begs the question. If Ubuntu is retarded, will its child be retarded, too? In other words, will Linux Mint Nadia, the latest release based on Quantal Quackery, be able to escape the same problems present in its parent? And most importantly, will be able to beat the perfect score I granted Maya this spring?

Teaser

Live session

The road test surely does not begin with perfect detail. The live DVD image boot menu reads Mint 13 - P.S. fixed since. Someone forgot to make a tiny sed change, oh-oh! Anyhow, the desktop that comes up sports the same familiar looks, with a few small, visual changes that are quite pleasant overall.

Live desktop

Look & feel

Since Gnome people feel like making their software as touchy and stupid as possible, the Mint dev team has decided to drop Nautilus and replace it with Nemo. From the casual user perspective, the change is almost transparent. And here's the new file manager in action:

Nemo

Then, the panel has also been refined. You have quicker access to various options, and more freedom in customization, although the KDE level of doing it remains a distant target, and you most likely don't want to get there. But there's significant improvement in Cinnamon, and it's really felt in these small things and fine details. And we will discuss this some more later on.

Panel options

Wireless

The connectivity was quick and snappy, no delay, no IPv6 shenanigans. The bandwidth utilization was fine throughout, without any problems. It is really amazing how seemingly identical components can behave so drastically differently.

Samba sharing - ugh

This is where things kind of went wrong - and we will elaborate more after the installation phase. At the beginning, the connectivity was fast, just as I would have expected, but after some usage, I suddenly started getting timeouts connecting to my Samba shares over Wireless. Different kinds of error messages, I did not screenshot them, but they were not pretty.

I did test Samba connectivity with smbclient from the command line and it flew. So the problem is somewhere in the network component of the desktop manager or so. Well, at least I was getting excellent bandwidth in browsers, so the problem was not as horrid as it was in Ubuntu family. Although Mint is also Ubuntu family, oh dear.

I thought restarting the network should do it. So I did. Only Cinnamon crashed and reverted to some default theme, and no subsequent restart of the Cinnamon environment helped. Moreover, all options other than Shut down were gone from the Quit button. I was forced to reboot from the command line and start a new live session. Really bad. Reminds me of the similar Kubuntu experience, sans the segfault message, although there was some kind of a crash somewhere. The only consolation is that this happened in the live session, so we will definitely follow up and see what happens later on.

Theme died

Multimedia

Almost a perfect score. In terms of playback, everything was dandy. I tried Flash on Youtube, local MP3 files, Microsoft Media Server (MMS) live streaming and 720p Apple trailers on their iTunes site, or whatnot. Everything worked fine, however there were three niggles.

Apple trailer

Flash

One, MP3 files are opened by default in Totem, not Banshee or VLC, both of which are installed, and both of which feature in the contextual menu of the Volume button in the system area. If you play your music in Banshee, you will get a lovely preview featured right there, but you will also get the inverted note icon for the program itself, which seems somewhat unnecessary. Two, VLC does not have any preview functionality, so I wonder why it was introduced into the menu then. Visually speaking, the VLC icon does not integrate well into the panel, and I would appreciate an equidistant margin right and bottom, but again, we will address the look & feel after we commit Nadia to hard disk.

MP3 playback

Launch player

When it comes to MMS, the playback was great and the buttons worked fine, but the static image of the Play button remained, instead of a typical visualization that you would normally get in the past. Slightly confusing.

MMS

Installation

Perhaps the boring, but necessary part. The test machine is in fact a production machine, with the first-generation i5 processor, 4GB RAM, Nvidia GT 320M card, and an external disk used for installation, housing currently Pangolin and Kubuntu 12.10. I left the internal disk and its dual-boot configuration in peace and focused on the external one.

There were no problems. The installation was very quick, unlike Ubuntu, which took its time doing the same thing. I configured the bootloader to the root partition, so that the LTS release would control the startup sequence.

Partition scheme

Slideshow

Running Mint 14 - Nadia to me!

Now, let's see what gives.

Desktop installed

Package management & updates

I updated the system first, from its default 3.5.0.17 kernel to 3.5.0.18, and for anyone who complains I never write about kernel versions, there you go. Now forget it. The Software Manager works fine, but again, there were several little quirks.

For some reason, Mint does not offer any regional servers in my region, and instead, it defaults to the main server in the USA, which are not the fastest around for me. After changing the server to another, the Manager closed and restarted, but the splash screen remained as a ghost process. This did not interfere with the normal work or the update process in any way.

Software Center

It looks like this:

Stuck splash

Nvidia drivers

After my system was updated to the max, I decided to install the Nvidia drivers. Like Ubuntu, the Additional drivers are now featured in the Software Sources, a not very friendly or visible location, especially since you do not get any popups for that. And then, I noticed that the Broadcom driver for my network was not in use, either! WTF! But this could explain the earlier Samba sluggishness, if some sucky alternative driver was used.

Additional drivers, Broadcom not in use

Broadcom drivers now in use

I quickly remedied the situation and installed the missing network driver, then proceeded to get the Nvidia one. I chose the Beta 310, the latest one supposed to render wonders in Linux, as a precursor to the Steam revolution. I deliberately omitted installing build essential package, sources, headers, and such.

Anyhow, it worked fine. No problems here, unlike some other, other distros, RE: Ubuntu. So this shows that QA is essential to not sucking. One difference that stands out is that you get the Nvidia splash screen before reaching the desktop, like in the old days.

Nvidia running

System resources, stability

Well, luckily, it turns out that all Mint woes so far happened only ONCE. And stayed that way, which is really nice. The combination of everything so far left with me with a solid network stack, fast Samba, and most importantly, an exceptionally smooth desktop experience. The latest Nvidia driver rocks, and combined with Cinnamon, you get a record low system usage unseen for many years. Only about 350MB, on a 64-bit system, with Nvidia. Unbelievable. And the little icon background thingie has been fixed too!

Low system usage

There was no network noise with constant updates like Ubuntu, the CPU was very quiet, the fans were quiet. Perhaps the best experience on this machine so far, and this must have something to do with Cinnamon, too. Suspend & resume worked well, taking only about 2-3 seconds both to sleep and wake, without any hitches and problems. And let's not forget the external USB disk used to power the distro.

In comparison, Nouveau behaved well, but the memory and CPU usage were much higher, including more heat and fan noise generated. The baseline usage was about 700MB and it easily spiked up to 900MB.

More look & feel

Let's discuss the visual perks and changes a bit more, as promised. Mint 14 Nadia lets you have as many workspaces as you want, and you can name them individually. You also get nice new notifications. And then, you can view and sort your open apps per workspace, reducing clutter.

Multiple desktops

Notifications

Open apps

And you can also customize your login screen, the welcome message and more.

Login screen change

I played some with themes, including window decorations, some of which I downloaded online. As it turns out, the default Nightlife is less sleek than Minty. And Minty also offers better VLC icon integration.

Final look 1

Final look 2

Minty theme, bottom panel

Applications

At 850MB, Mint 14 is not that heavy, but it comes with a decent repertoire of programs, useful and balanced. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, Transmission, GIMP, Pidgin, LibreOffice, VLC, Banshee, Totem, Brasero, Evince, and a few more. Just what you need.

Apps 1

Apps 2

Problems

In addition to the somewhat severe live session network bug and the Software Center one-time splash thingie, and the slew of tiny issues, the two outstanding and repeatable problems were the lack of depth search in the Menu and printing. If you search for Proxy, you won't find it, and this is one area where Ubuntu takes the lead.

No deep search

Likewise, Linux Mint 14 Nadia still uses the older and broken printing applet, whereas Ubuntu has reverted to the older utility that works. I will have a tutorial soon, but that does not diminish the issue at hand. Not good at all.

Broken printing utility

Conclusion

Is Linux Mint 14 Nadia perfect? No, it is not. It's a great distro, but there are several shortcomings in the execution. Well, considering it's based on Retarded Rookie, this is not a surprise. While Mint is several orders of magnitude more polished and refined and usable than its Ubuntu 12.10 counterpart, it does not exceed the robust splendidness of the spring release, methinks. Entirely subjective, but then, everything is.

On the negative side, printing and search are the big ones. I really disliked the fact my Broadcom card was not properly used, and that could explain some of the network problems, including the Samba issues and the Cinnamon crash afterwards. The Software Center bug can be forgiven somewhat. Media apps need a little more housekeeping to decide who runs what files.

Other than that, Mint Nadia purred fine. Nvidia performance and memory usage are phenomenal, the distro is elegant and beautiful, and Cinnamon has come a long way since its early versions. All combined, if you forget the few initial bumps, you end up with a solid product. But it is that shy of the perfect score. I would say 9/10 this time around, and that's not bad. However, we all know Linux Mint can do so much more.

Cheers.

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