Updated: June 8, 2013
OK, time to go wild. There. A joke on the very first line of this article. If you got it, feel free to email me, because it's darn wicked. Yes. Linux Mint 15 Olivia has been officially released a few days back, and its dubbed the most ambitious Mint version ever. The spring edition comes with the standard Cinnamon and MATE flavors, with tons of changes, lots of polish, and solid functionality out of the box. On paper.
It's time to see whether the grand promise stands to a test of reality. We will begin with the Cinnamon version, on a T61 laptop with 2GB RAM, two SSD, Intel graphics, and no proprietary drivers. Then, next week or so, we will branch over to my other laptop with Broadcom and Nvidia stuff, and also test MATE separately. Ought to be interesting.
Mint comes with a nice splash screen, and no flickering and virtual consoles intruding. Then, you hit a familiar Mint desktop, with its staple wallpaper, and the soft gray and green motifs. The Cinnamon environment has been polished extra, with nice notifications in the top right corner. Familiar, solid, good.
However, since I'm an idiot, I forgot to save the screenshots I collected in the live session, and therefore, all of what I'm telling you will have to go without any images. It's a real shame that I'm ruining such a fine review with clumsiness, but hey, it happens.
All in all, everything worked, so that should make you happy.
Here, we will redo all the missing bits and pieces, I promise. First, Mint installed without any fuss in the quad-boot setup that this machine has, with the bootloader controlled by Ubuntu 12.04 Pangolin. Second, it came up fast and quick. Then, Wireless settings were preserved from the live session without any problems. Bluetooth connectivity worked, as well as Samba sharing. No screenshots yet, I'm teasing you now.
Before doing anything too serious, I decided to beautify my Mint. So I downloaded extra themes, wallpapers, windows borders, and icons, and applied them. Just like we did in the past. Almost trivial.
All of the system items come under a single unified menu, and you no longer have a conflict between Cinnamon and Gnome 3, and no duplicate or semi-crippled items. Moreover, to aid its friendly aspect toward new users, Olivia ships with a drivers utility, which lets you search for proprietary drivers for your hardware, akin to the older and now missing Jockey tool.
Mint comes with an improved theme management, allowing you to download online themes quickly and easily using the system settings menu. Furthermore, you can add desklets, which are sort of like widgets, to your screen. The current collection is not that big, but it ought to get better and bigger with time. Like other system items, the default, necessary items are protected from removal or change.
The file manager is also quite neat, and has useful right-click options. Another great thing is that Copy and Move to options now include all items listed in your Favorites in the left sidebar, so you can send files to NFS or Samba shares, directly. And you also have disk usage bars for your filesystem and home directory.
I tried quite a few things. There was Flash on Youtube, 720p trailer on the iTunes website, so this would be what, Apple QuickTime, MP3 files, as well as Microsoft Media Server (MMS) streaming. No worries, whatsoever.
The one thing that bothered me was what happened when I launched a local MP3 file. It opened in the standard player, but not in Banshee or VLC, both of which feature under the volume icon in the system area. So when you play music this way, you won't get the lovely contextual menu.
When playing music through Banshee, it worked without problems.
The good ole stuff is there. You get the sturdy package manager, and it works fairly well. Now, one thing missing from the repos is Steam, but we will discuss this in a separate article. However, almost as a compensation, you get a new utility for managing your software sources. It's not yet another tab, like the drivers, in the stock Ubuntu.
The program arsenal is very good, balanced, useful, without too many unneeded extras. The stock set comes with Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, GIMP, Transmission, Pidgin, Evince, and a dozen helper utilities that can help you manage your system more efficiency. You also get Skype if you want, and it installs just fine without any special preparations and changes. Cheese, the webcam utility, is missing for some reason, though.
One thing Linux Mint 15 Olivia takes from its parent, Raring Ringtail, is the phenomenal improvement in resource usage, performance and overall interactive responsiveness. The system flies. Everything is sharp, smooth, instant. Memory usage hovers around 350MB, which is quite good for a 64-bit system like mine, and the CPU is fairly quiet. You feel like your laptop has upgrades itself a generation or two in hardware. Moreover, everything was rather stable. Suspend & resume worked fine.
Again, worked fine, and with a very quick neighborhood discovery. If in the past I had to wait a second or two for the utility to refresh the LAN, now, it was almost immediate here. Quite good, I must say. And it works, which is important, since we did have some trouble in the past.
Cinnamon is coming along fine, but it still leases some of bits and pieces from the Gnome 3 framework, and this means a few visual bugs that should be resolved. For example, let's go back to the printing utility and see what gives there.
Anyhow, in the left pane, you always have those two scrollbars, even if there's nothing to scroll really. Stretch the GUI as much as you want, horizontally or vertically, and you still have them. In the smb:// address field, the server name was listed with the HTML %20 space character, and this looks ugly. It can be made nicer.
Installing new themes usually went well, but some themes were incomplete or corrupt. There should be a better QA process for this. Moreover, the preview thumbs for different themes are not of equal size, and this looks ugly. A single standard size should be forced for all available themes, somewhat akin to KDE4.
Another thing that wasn't really nice happened the first time I fired up the Update Manager. It launched too fast, so it complained about not being able to get a lock on the APT archives, and thus, not being able to refresh the repository indexes. Once you click Close, it all worked out fine.
The locale was set to my region despite the fact I chose English. So yes, the language was all right, but the calendar and the terminal would show dates in a funny foreign language, which is not what I wanted. We will have a separate tutorial on how to fix this.
One time and one time only, after closing the Software Manager, its splash remained behind, a sore visage for my eyes, similar to what we saw in my Nadia review. This is not a biggie, but it's not a smallie either, and it should be fixed.
Speaking of applications and such, the system menu could benefit from an improved search with better regex, as it will normally only find items if the search is very precise and linear, but not if you use by-terms or descriptions. Again, not a critical problem per se, but it would help if people looking for their local content could get programs or recent items by using any which searchable term, including looking inside files, archives, and such.
Some of the system area icons do not integrate well with Cinnamon themes. For example, Skype, VLC, as well as the Update Manager have too big icons that ruin the overall effect. Moreover, the panel is not vertically resizable in the standard mode, and some people might miss the functionality in the advanced one.
In Nemo, mounted volumes come with a little Eject button to the right of the volume name. But if you resize the sidebar, that icon will move right, as far as you want, leaving a somewhat disjointed feel.
The login screen comes with a cloudy sky background and does not feel an integral part of the Cinnamon session. It should be made slicker, more refined, inline with the theme. On the other hand, the lock screen is really cool.
After all the hard work and extras, and by that I mean 8 minutes of investment, I had a fairly decent desktop in front of me. I deliberately chose a fappy wallpaper, especially since it matches the spirit of the distro, in the name at least. Oh geek, where art thou? For those of you always wondering and asking where I get my backgrounds from, well I use a very nice website named wallbase.cc to get the content. There you go, enjoy.
Linux Mint 15 Olivia is a very good distribution. True, I did list about half a dozen smaller problems, but you can call this nitpicking, or just improvements for a very solid baseline. Overall, the system behaved great. There were no crashes, no weird freezes or bugs. The desktop was smooth and sleek and stylish. Everything worked out of the box, accompanied by splendid performance. On top of that, you get some newb-friendly perks you do not often see elsewhere.
As it is, Mint probably offers the most rounded, most reasonable and sensible desktop experience for the widest range of Linux users. It is practically perfect, but I would like to see more work in getting the niggles and wrinkles ironed out, the likes of which I listed above. None of these are dealbreakers, but if done properly, they do add a patina of professionalism to the final product. And so we conclude this review with a very fresh, positive note and a jolly great grade of about 9.5/10. In a few days, we will check how Olivia behaves on other hardware, with proprietary stuff, and if everything goes there well, we're looking at a perfect score. Carry on.