Updated: December 11, 2013
The hunting season continues. Now, we're after a beast called Linux Mint, the ultimate Ubuntu derivative with its own built-in pimping mechanism, which precludes the user from doing any customization of their own, 'cause it ain't necessary. Hence, Petra.
The latest Mint release comes in a bunch of flavors, and we're most interested in the Cinnamon and MATE editions. In this review, we'll focus on spices and such, and we will do it on a laptop that already runs Kubuntu Ringtail and a temporary openSUSE Bottle install, and what makes it extra interesting is the presence of proprietary drivers. Follow me.
Live session - Plenty of everything
Linux Mint can be considered a conservative distro, but only because it focuses on stability and consistency rather than fads. Comparing Mint 16 Petra to half a dozen earlier versions shows an almost identical look & feel. Almost.
Dig under the hood, and it gets perky. Linux Mint is getting away from Gnome more and more with each new release. In turn, the Cinnamon elements have been polished further, gaining an extra veneer on quality and usefulness. Everything is that much more pro, that much more refined. You can feel the system evolving, from one release to another, and although the changes are subtle, you're imbued with a sense of confidence.
Desklets, applets and other lets
Cinnamon is slowly but persistently converging toward the KDE-like management of its interface, with a unified menu that offers everything, including the download of additional tools, widgets, themes, and decorative elements from within the GUI. Simple and elegant.
You can adorn your desktop with new functionality, like the Expo feature, for instance. Or you may be interested in some small desktop applications, better known as desklets. Again, without leaving the comfort and safety of your session, you get it all.
Indeed, some desklets:
Keep digging, and you will discover a trove of goodies in every little corner. Whether you're trying to setup your screensaver or check the system notifications, Cinnamon 2.0 is stylish and cool.
Mint needs no pimping, unlike Ubuntu. Why? Because it ships with everything. In my testing, I tried Flash on Youtube, MP3, HD video in AVI and WEBM formats with all kinds of codecs hiding underneath, network streaming, and some trailers from Apple, which probably indicates QuickTime or iTunes or whatever. All worked fine.
Depending on what music player you open, you will have a contextual menu available under the volume icon. True for Banshee and VLC, not for the stock Media Player, which opens by default for MP3 files.
Maybe unneeded to say, but all was well here, too.
The usual deal, no biggie. Linux Mint 16 follows the same, somewhat boring and rather decent installation procedure like a dozen of its predecessors and cousins, so if you've followed my guides in the past, you'll be fine.
The test laptop is an older LG RD510 machine with 4GB RAM and an Nvidia card. I have recently reused it by installing Kubuntu Ringtail on it, and leaving an extra partition free for some additional dual-boot games and such, mostly Linux and Linux. Anyhow, there were no issues configuring Mint Petra side by side with Ringtail. Now, I left Kubuntu in charge of the bootloader, though.
Having fun with Petra
Sounds naughty, does it not, especially if you know someone with that name. Anyhow, let's see what Mint 16 can do after the installation. Remember, you have everything you need in the live session, so the experience should not be that much different.
Software Manager & updates
I started with updates and the setup of some extra packages. For example, you can see in the slideshow screenshot above, that Linux Mint offers Skype, Steam and Picasa in its repos. Let's see what gives.
Well, the software is indeed there, as promised. You no longer need to setup the Steam repository separately, like we had to do in only the previous release. This is a great improvement, overall.
A very rich and colorful arsenal. You get the best bunch of programs, a whole fleet of helper tools and utilities designed to make your life easier, like the backup tool and the upload manager. You can also tweak your system some extra, including the logic screen. Finally, we have the third-party tools that we want, like Steam. The usual set includes the Firefox and Thunderbird combo, VLC, GIMP, LibreOffice, Pidgin, Transmission, Banshee, Brasero, and a handful more.
Some third-party fun, Skype, Steam and Picasa shown:
And some useful tools:
Proprietary drivers (Nvidia)
I did recently have serious problems with Nvidia drivers on Windows, but this has no impact whatsoever on the Linux experience. Now, you have the Driver Manager, available in the System Settings, and it will offer you the right drivers for your hardware. Easy peasy, no worries.
The Nvidia setup was flawless. So we need not worry about it, at all. But if you're really anxious, or if something goes wrong, please consult my rather extensive tutorial on the topic, written for Ubuntu Ringtail, and the more recent Salamander guide.
System resources, performance, stability
The four-year old laptop may have been given a new life with Kubuntu 13.04, but it's even faster and sleeker running Mint. Maybe it's a placebo effect, but I think the removal of most of the Gnome components actually allows the Cinnamon environment to run even better than it used to do in the past. That, plus some solid Ubuntu experience this autumn, and additional kernel improvement, you get a blastful of fun.
On idle, the resource usage is fairly low, around 350MB worth of memory and single-digit CPU usage. Compare this to the most brilliant Xubuntu recently. Not quite as good, but still pretty decent, especially since the desktop is snappy. Suspend & resume? Cushty.
Splendid, Samba here we go.
More cool stuff
The official repository also includes the Faenza icon set, so it even gets better. Combine that with some lovely transition effects, like the Workspace switcher, and you're in for a superb treat. Then, the screenshot utility behaves well, like in Salamander, so all is well.
Only one thing. The user icon, which is the second from the left, far from the bottom right corner, allows you to stop the system, log out and alike. Should it not be pushed into the far corner then? But that's the only thing that I could find wanting.
If you're interested in some extra mintage:
Another Cinnamon review, on a different laptop with Intel graphics
I really wanted to find fault with Linux Mint 16 Petra. Not out of spite or anything such, simply because I totally loved Xubuntu 13.10 and wanted it to be the best distro of the season. But Petra is absolutely flawless. Honestly. I could not find a single bug, a single glitch, not a single error or even a warning. The only thing that I could complain about is that user icon being somewhat to the left of where I feel it should be.
Linux Mint Petra is a masterpiece, and definitely the best Mint release so far. Elegant, stylish, beautiful, fast, ultra stable, fully functional in every sense, 100% ready for the common user. There's little else to say, really. Can you guess the score? Yup, a perfect 10/10, and there's never been a time a distro deserved it more.