Updated: June 16, 2014
After Ubuntu, Linux Mint is the most anticipated spring release for 2014. The reasons are many, but the chief one is that the LTS-ness of the former directly impacts the latter, so if Ubuntu is bad, we're in for a five-year hiatus. And Mint has always been the counterweight to Ubuntu, when it comes to how the desktop is perceived and used.
While there ought to be more friendliness, there's a fair dose of rivalry and mistrust, and this is what makes the Qiana review all the more interesting. We all heard rumors about Debian taking over, LTS only derivatives and such, and today, it all comes unveiled. We will be having a whole bunch of Mint reviews, with at least two Cinnamons and one MATE. Let's start with an Nvidia-powered laptop, dual-boot config, lots of fun.
Live session & installation
True to its heritage, Mint delivers a highly consistent experience. The live session is identical to many a predecessor, and there's a lot of stable goodness and calmness present in the desktop. If anything, it feels a little snappier, little livelier, and there's that much extra polish invested in the Cinnamon desktop environment. No revolutions, just a single turn of a well-oiled titanium cog.
Where shall we begin?
Well, in a sense, reviewing the Mint live edition can be extremely tedious, or not, depends how much fun you want to have afterwards. Since it comes newbs-ready, there's everything, out of the box. But then, it spoils the rest of the review.
I limited my fun and fanfare to Wireless, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz, Samba sharing, which is faster, much like we've seen in the third Ubuntu review recently - plus the network discovery has also notched up in speed - Bluetooth, and some multimedia.
Music and video
So yes, as expected, it's all there. The one complaint I have is that if you try to play an MP3 file, it is launched in Totem by default, which is not integrated with the volume applet, so you don't get the fancy controls like for Banshee and VLC, which are also there.
This laptop has two operating systems on it, both Linux distributions. Currently, it's hosting Ubuntu 14.04, as I've shown you in the second review, as well as the latest Kubuntu Trusty. Well, in this review, Ubuntu goes, and we are going to be using Mint in its place. This will also give us a good opportunity to see how it fares when it comes to both stability and performance.
The installation worked without a hitch. It took about fifteen minutes. The bootloader setup was also easy, but then this is a classic, trivial layout, when you compare to the Ultrabook test, where I've showcased all kinds of tricks for a dual-boot configuration with Windows 8.1 and Ubuntu.
The good stuff
All right, now the really interesting bits and pieces. The desktop comes with a new, polished welcome screen. It's also a little faster to login and respond, probably due to the tweaks introduced to the update manager. Maybe.
Package management & updates
Speaking of updates, it really went well. I do believe the update manager is that much livelier. Likewise, the software manager is more robust, and you no longer get that package refresh splash. Searching, finding and installing software was a breeze.
The new Cinnamon desktop environment in Linux Mint 17 Qiana offers a lot. Hot corners are disabled by default, but the desktop effects are there. Moreover, as always, you have a wide range of options to beautify your session, including applets, desklets, backgrounds, and themes. And with each new release, it looks more and more professional.
The one thing that is missing is the ability to install Window borders separately from the themes. So you will have to manually grab some from the Web. Finally, I could not find any easy relation between the distro name, Qiana, and a popular item, person or motif. The closest I could find was Keanu Reeves. Or should we say Qiana Reeves. Hihihi.
The default repertoire remains solid and tested. It's a familiar drill by now. You get the Firefox and Thunderbird combo, GIMP, LibreOffice, Pidgin, VLC, Banshee, Transmission, and a few more. But if you burrow into the Software Manager, like I did, then you will be able to retrieve extra stuff in seconds, like Steam, Skype, Google Earth, Opera browser, and many others. No need for special pimping like with Ubuntu. Maybe a little.
This is quite important, remember. Well, no worries. All is well. I was able to retrieve and install the drivers without any problems. The upside of this effort is less heat, more speed, and a lower memory consumption.
Works fine, including a very fast network discovery.
The battery applet does not really hide its percentage indicator, not until you reboot, log out and log back in, restart Xorg or restart Cinnamon, whichever comes first. All other settings are immediate. Plus, there's no webcam utility.
Now, there was one big issue. It's the suspend & resume thingie. Much like its parent, Linux Mint 17 failed to resume gracefully from sleep. I submitted a report, we will see what gives. There were no other crashes or issues.
Stability, system resources
Now, if we look at the other aspects of the system's behavior, things were quite promising, especially after the installation of the Nvidia drivers. Now, contrast the memory usage to Ubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr on this same box. 625MB versus 415MB for Qiana. That's quite a difference. The CPU is not the quietest, after all, this is a five-year-old laptop, and its usage is very similar to Ubuntu. However, Cinnamon is a little snappier than Unity.
Linux Mint 17 Qiana is a very good and complete operating system. Almost too predictably so. However, this LTS release is not perfect. And there ought to be some small fixes. Suspend & resume is the primary issue, but it also relates to the entire Ubuntu family, so if all else works fine, and we have a 100% hardware compatibility, then we can let this one slide. Furthermore, webcam, battery applet, tiny things like that. Ought to be ironed out.
Beside that, Qiana works beautifully. It is a highly pleasing product visually, it is fast and robust, it comes with a rich arsenal of programs, it has a mature identity, and you get some five years of free updates. What's not to love? Well, there we are. Now, the dramatic part of grading. Seriously, 9.8/10 for the time being, we will see what gives in the coming reviews. In others words, go for it, you won't be disappointed.