Updated: December 10, 2011
Also sprach Dedoimedo: Linux Mint Lisa is the best Gnome 3 incarnation now, but that's not something to be proud of. While the Mint developers are trying their best to deliver a consistent and friendly experience for years and pretty much succeeding, the last release is a setback. You've seen all this and more in my namesake review, just a few days back. This was done on an ancient T60p laptop.
Time to test Linux Mint 12 Lisa on my high-end hardware. This time, I will see how Lisa likes a modern processor, a lovely Nvidia card and being installed to an external disk that already houses a handful of distributions. After me. Avanti!
I'm not going to test everything
I will focus on the new and cool things that I could not have tested on the weak machine, namely 64-bit thingie, the installation to an external USB disk, the use of the Nvidia card and drivers, webcam, and a few more items besides. We'll also see whether Gnome 3 behaves well on modern hardware, as it was somewhat sluggish on T60.
Most importantly, I mentioned having failed to install the Release Candidate in this same manner, so we will see whether any of the above can be tested at all, or rather, whether Lisa will install to an external source in the first place. It should, but you can't ever be 100% sure. Because of the quantum fluctuations and whatnot. Once more, avanti!
Living la vida live
In the live session, Mint came just fine and prompted me to download some Broadcom drivers for my Wireless card, although a basic set was already in use. Not bad. Nvidia was going to have to wait for after the installation, if it works, that is.
The rest of the stuff worked, as you may expect, without any crashes.
Installation, cross fingers
No need for extra drama. It worked just fine. Whichever bug was present in the release candidate has been resolved. So I placed Mint in its own partition on a disk already containing two Ubuntu flavors and one SUSE. I ignored the internal 500GB disk with its own Lucid and Windows 7 in a dual-boot configuration. Mint's GRUB2 was installed in the root partition.
So here's the final layout:
Like Ubuntu Ocelot, Mint asked me whether I wanted to take a picture of myself for the login icon. It shows that the web camera works, but then, it also worked in Ubuntu and later failed to work in the installed system, also 64-bit. We will check if the same problem persists here. Likewise, Mint would not offer any user configurations for migration, despite having a plenty of partitions and operating systems available for picking.
The installation was very long, again. It took an eon on the 32-bit system from CD, it still took half a century on the 64-bit machine while running from a USB. The copy of the data lasted mere minutes, but then the system hanged for a long while at the laptop-detect stage, just like earlier. This must be the evil hordes of Gnome orcs at work.
Using Mint, any good?
After the installation and configuring the bootloading sequence properly, Mint came up just fine and offered me to install the Nvidia drivers, plus some 200MB worth of updates.
I decided to update my system as much as possible before testing, as those packages must be worth something. While downloading the updates, I continued using Lisa and noticed a fairly slow response from windows and applications. I believe this is in part because of the single-application moron mentality taking place in the computing world.
You see, because of all the Asperger's Syndrome hype over tablets and crap, everyone is focusing on making people with unpaired chromosomes more comfortable using their gadgets, plus there's the battery life consideration. Chemistry won't let you juice out more than existing energy sources allow, which is a handful of hours at most. To wit, in this new ideology of making your devices always connected, always whatever and having a very long battery life, backgrounded processes are frozen. And when you wish to switch, there's a delay in waking them up.
This seems to affect Gnome 3 more than any other desktop interface and made me suffer on my normally lightning-fast laptop, with its many cores, lots of RAM and whatnot. And it's not as if I were doing anything special. Just downloading updates. And let's not forget the ugly little icons that stand out in wrong color against the background.
Once the updates started installing, I was asked to replace Gnome defaults.list. Now, let's assume I don't know what this is, as 99.99% of people out there. Notice the beautiful Shakespearean quality lingo explaining the dilemma to the user. Guess the click.
I was also informed about the MATE panel applet. Not sure why I need to know this.
Now here comes a surprise. Even with the Nvidia driver loaded, the base memory consumption is only about 450MB. Not low, but not quite that high as we've seen in several other reviews, including KDE desktops. Moreover, this is less than Nouveau, which takes about 600MB on this platform and kicks the fans into overdrive due to excessive heating.
Did not work. No matter what I tried, it stays broken. I even downloaded the KDE4 Kamoso application, just to make sure the problem is not limited to Cheese, but this did not really help. And printing remains as broken as before, too.
Ugly things, many they are
Not all was smooth or perfect. For example, Mint automatically mounted all of the other partitions on the external disk, but not the internal, which you can mount manually. When this happened, I received several big and quite intrusive prompts at the bottom of the screen, like the example below. Now, it is not immediately apparent know how these prompts ought to be dismissed without clicking on either of the two buttons. In fact, you just need to click anywhere on that rectangle, but it won't go away if you don't, even after 10 or 50 seconds, which is stupid. Moreover, most people will probably click open or eject, forcing themselves to shift focus from whatever they are doing. Thank you, kindergarten police, I really like the UI flow.
Another visual inconsistency came up during the updates. Remember the Gnome defaults list question. Well, you can expand that window to see a diff-style output. Now worries, however, once you shrink the text back, the window remains expanded. Someone missed a bit of code out there!
Opening the Appearance menu still stacks the available desktops at a turtle speed, just like on T60, and no amount of processing power helps. The top panel user menu will display your picture selected during the installation, but the vertical and horizontal offsets are not identical.
And after installing Kamoso, I got this error on the subsequent login:
Wow, that's almost like Windows, that the contact your system administrator error. I guess the problem is trivial, as the installation created the directory with root permissions or such, but it is not something I want to see or hear as the user.
One more thing that annoyed me is that when you open the menu, if your mouse is not focused on it, you won't be able to type and search. This makes the inline search rather broken, plus the fact it is already fairly weak and inaccurate. And if I'm not mistaken, the desktop did hang once and I had to Ctrl + Alt + Backspace it to life. More testing, more problems, it seems. But not what I expected.
This is what I chose:
My initial Mint conclusion remains valid. Overall, Lisa is a very nice distribution that offers the users a complete, ready-to-use package. But that's not enough. The desktop itself must also be an integral part of the experience and not just a wrapper for programs and windows. With tons of bugs raging across the Gnome 3 plains, this is not the case.
My high-end laptop test revealed additional new bugs and problems. Web camera stuff is something not strictly restricted to Mint, however, having been released a whole month after Ubuntu, this ought not be. Lots of visual and usability glitches plague the distro, the unholy legacy of Gnome 3. But I think the worst part is the responsiveness. The interaction is just plain wrong. You feel as if you're fighting the desktop rather than using it, and with no shortcuts on the desktop, you're kind of extra-click crippled.
Well, we can only hope that Mint 13 will resolve many of the problems present in the current version. And we can only hope that MATE might become the default interface. As it is, the perfect charm that abounded in Julia and Katya is gone. Will it ever return? Remains to be seen. Dedoimedo out.