Updated: December 1, 2010
At first, I considered skipping Julia, for two reasons. One, I was somewhat disappointed with the last release, Isadora. Second, Ubuntu Maverick is really, really good. So how much better can Linux Mint be? Can it really make that much difference?
But then, I spent some time reading. There seems to be a row between Ubuntu and Mint, mostly over the direction the former has been taking lately, what with somewhat beta-quality changes in the distro and the planned move to Unity, which made a rather unspectacular intro with UNR Maverick. Me like. Nothing like a bit of spirited fighting in lieu of foreplay to make software better and more usable. Then, there was the announcement Linux Mint would be based on Debian. This is a very stateful statement. Armored with curiosity, I set my sights on the latest Linux Mint edition.
I will give you a decent, in-depth whirl, the way I usually do, checking anything and everything that you could possibly do with your machine, and then some. Depending on the results, there shall fall a decision whether to add Julia to my multi-growing repertoire of distros on my RD510 machine, which currently boots four distros from internal disk and some four or five from the external. The soon-to-come CentOS 6 will complete the picture.
So get your Julia here and follow me!
Linux Mint, live session, a lesson in good
Damn, I was surprised. Linux Mint is a refreshing change from a long series of too green desktops. While the color was used to varying effects in previous releases, becoming a little boring of late, Julia introduces a more moderate, toned down gray-and-green theme that looks classy and even surpasses openSUSE.
Even the system area is suave.
Comparing to Ubuntu's theme, which started with Lucid, this one looks even better. The color gradients are more smartly used and the palette is stylish. You feel good about the distro even without using it.
Window borders and buttons also feel expensive while being utterly simple, and they are positioned on the right side, where most people expect them to be. Excellent work.
A super cool menu
The next thing you will notice is an extremely well arranged system menu, which officially becomes the best menu of all Linux distros. First, it's smarter than other Gnome choices and easier to use than KDE4.
You have the inline, on-the-fly search, which works more efficiently than counterparts, allowing you instant productivity. Additionally, you have all of your important folders and tools readily available.
The Computer place, so to speak, contains important folder locations. System will take you to an almost brand new Software Manager, the Package Manager and the omnipotent Gnome Center. You have shortcuts for applications categories and some extremely sexy icons. Not only are the application thumbnails colorful and inviting, all of icons system-wide are just a pleasure to look at.
If you right-click on any one shortcut in the menu, you will have a powerful and useful context menu, allowing you to add icons to either the desktop or the panel, show the relevant program or tool in your Favorites menu, add it to startup or even uninstall the software. This is extremely neat. Combined with beauty, functionality, inline search, and best icons used in any distro, you get the perfect system menu.
But Mint joy does not end there. Linux Mint also uses its own custom arsenal of programs, which differs from what Ubuntu offers. True, this inflates the distro size to about 850MB, forcing you to use a DVD to burn the image, but the extra weight is definitely worth it.
Evolution is replaced by Thunderbird, good, Empathy is replaced by Pidgin, great. You get OpenOffice and GIMP, too. There's also Sun Java, offline installers for ATI and Nvidia cards and all of the plugins and codecs for your multimedia stuff. The selection of programs is rich, smart, balanced and useful. You get the best of the best, no crud.
Works out of the box, too, including older hardware with weak and antiquated graphics cards. For example, the elderly T60p managed all of the modern tricks without any sweat. I tried all kinds of effects, like Expose, Ring Switcher, Cube, no worries.
It's been there before, but it just gets better and better. In fact, this is another pleasant surprise of the autumn release. You can call it the Mint answer to Ubuntu Software Center. We will see how effective and useful it is after the installation. For the time being, we can sample the looks - and there's nothing bad here.
Of course, everything works. Even Microsoft Media Service (MMS), with embedded commands available, as we have seen in Fedora 14 Laughlin review. The audio volume control has also improved, with a new range of volume points and a more linear, or rather logarithmic, spectrum. But you get the point.
Before we install, let's do a micro mid-conclusion
Now, all of this in the LIVE session. We've practically covered everything without even bothering to install the distro yet. It just works, plain and simple. No bugs, no errors, no inconsistencies. The theme is beautiful, the icons are divine, the functionality is top notch.
I will be a pompous ass and declare Julia's live session as the best offering so far on the Linux market. I don't have one bad word to say.
Installation, one little issue, but the rest is fine
My first snag! The installer begins rather unceremoniously, without a word of warning. You're instantly taken to the installation language setup. If you take a look at the way the installer is designed, there's some 70-80% empty space in the window, with the language scrollbox pushed to the left. Now, Catala and Gagelo languages are only partially shown, which does not make for a nice visual effect. Since the developers do know how many languages they have and the exact height of each element in the list, it's a simple matter of setting the scrollbar to increment more accurately so that no more than a certain number of languages is shown and none is truncated.
But apart from this one little issue, there was nothing else. The installer worked just fine and it ran its own slideshow of images and suggestions, making it as good as Ubuntu, and maybe even a little prettier, too.
Linux Mint is installed and running
The first time you boot into the operating system, you'll see a welcome screen, which is yet another goodie thrown at you, for free. The Welcome message is extremely useful, especially since it contains links to a handful of important resources, like documentation, tutorials, known problems, the user guide in PDF format, the official forum and chat room, software reviews, and more.
This is very useful for new users. Once you close the Welcome screen, you get the Mint desktop, all ready and dandy and waiting for you.
Software Manager revisited, extremely fresh and useful
I wanted to explore the Software Manager first and see how good it is - and how well it scales against Ubuntu's Software Center. I must admit this is a very useful and practical program, and it's fun to use, especially since you get tons of third-party software available, too. For example, Skype installation. Inline search, it's there.
When you choose the program, you get even more information than in Ubuntu. There's the application score, as well as the number of people who voted, plus detailed, user-written reviews and opinions, which let you know exactly good how the program really is.
This makes your software experience in Linux Mint extremely pleasant. You also get an unprecedented exposure to community reviews, which are a priceless tool for judging software quality.
Newly installed programs will show in bold font in the system menu.
And there you go, enjoying your free and proprietary but also free, applications:
Very neat. I really like this thing. Now, let's see some other stuff.
Linux Mint lets you extend your basic file manager functionality by adding all sorts of scripts and actions via the Actions Configuration Tool. Again, compared to other solutions on the market, smarter and easier to use.
As always, everything in one place, waiting for you.
System performance & stability
No errors, no problems. Suspend & resume worked like a charm. Mint is not a major memory guzzler, settling down for a fairly modest quarter of a GB of RAM in normal use on a 32-bit machine. More testing on a 64-bit machine, with Nvidia drivers coming in the future.
Considering the relative immaturity of the filesystem, BTRFS behaved nicely and did not create any problems. The system ran smooth and true, which is encouraging. And yes, the terminal is adorned by some fortune cookie messages.
As easy as it was to configure in Maverick and Fedora Laughlin. Just choose a network host name or an IP address and let the service find the printer. A no brainer, really.
Package Management errors
Ah, not all can be perfect, it seems. While Julia uses the color and numbers nomenclature to identify important and well tested updates, sometimes, small items slips the radar and thrown errors. For example, reading the Changelog for a Firefox update, you see that the changelog download has failed. Download queue destroyed sounds bad. All in all, a handful of bad messages that could alert the users. Worst of all, the Changelog area is clickable, which could confuse the users. It's supposed to be a notification, not a text editor.
The error itself is nothing special; what makes this a small fiasco is the verbosity of error messages and the exposure to the user. Geek stuff needs to be hidden away.
One last look at the perfect system menu and we're done here!
I'm proud to say that Linux Mint is the best autumn release, and possibly the best release of 2010. It's on par with Ubuntu in terms of good looks and stability, but then it builds on this foundation and becomes even better. The default choice of programs is superior. The Software Manager is a blast. You get the best system menu and the prettiest icons on the market.
Except for two tiny glitches, one during the installation and the other being an updates changelog, there was really nothing wrong or bad or missing in Linux Mint. It's a perfectly balanced distribution in all aspects, beauty, style, functionality, stability, the repertoire of tools and applications, the overall feel.
This is a splendid surprise and a major marketing stunt. After the relative failure of Isadora, Julia shines like a supernova. And comparing to two extremely successful Ubuntu releases, which it manages to outdo, this is a stunning achievement.Linux Mint 10 Julia gets a perfect 10!