Updated: August 21, 2015
I am officially confused. I thought that Mint release names ought to progress through the alphabet, and after Rebecca, we were supposed to have something like Stephanie or such. Instead, we get Rafaela. But no matter, it will still be an interesting review.
Now, I wasn't too pleased with Rebecca in my original test, as the system struggled with some of the hardware of my older HP laptop, and consequently, there were a bunch of networking problems. The KDE experience on the G50 machine was much better, including all the elegance of Plasma 5. Now, we will commence to start another test on the same laptop. Let's see.
There were no issues. Linux Mint booted true and fast, even with UEFI, Secure Boot and such. We have seen issues with various distros struggling to support the new bunch of technologies, but not Mint. In fact, most of the recent Ubuntu-based flavors, including Netrunner have reached a point where the new boot mechanisms are almost transparent.
Rafaela offers the familiar, well polished Mint interface, with the gray and green color scheme. Then, you also have everything else, including solid networking, multimedia, tons of applications, and then some. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let's walk through the fun bits step by step.
Networking, Samba sharing, Samba printing
No complaints. Everything worked. Samba connectivity is fast, Samba printing works out of the box without having to sacrifice a goat or two. Now, the Realtek driver bug is present, though, as Rafaela uses the Trusty baseline, which is affected. You can work around the issue using driver options. I am wondering if and how the developers might solve this in an elegant manner. Wait for Realtek to fix their stuff? Detect known hardware issues and then modify the system settings accordingly? It's being going on for way too long.
The most noticeable change is a whole range of aesthetic pimpage in Rafaela. If you go into the system settings, you will see that the chaotic, variable size/shape dialog boxes and menus are gone. Instead, you get a fixed-format work area where you can change and edit different aspects of your presentation layer. Quite lovely, effective, readable, usable, useful.
Theme and background management have also been simplified. You get a colorful variety of wallpapers. The default themes are a little boring, if consistent and in line with the Mint brand. But you can relatively easily expand the set of available beauty and bling. We will discuss this in a separate article.
All of the things you need and crave are there, like HD video, MP3 codecs and Flash. Once again, your life has meaning. HD video also plays smoothly and without any trouble, including some of the less obvious formats. The choice of music players comes down to Banshee and VLC. Enough variety, but not too much to make it look confusing and amateurish. Lovely jubbly.
This was another effortless escapade. Mint has long ago nailed the right formula for making its users happy, so even when you're dealing with GPT plus seven or eight different operating systems on a single disk, including Windows 8 and Windows 10, plus a bunch of hidden factory restore partitions and whatnot, it's all good.
Quick, simple, plus a very decent slideshow that highlights the nice stuff in Rafaela. It all looks the same like one or five releases ago, and yet, there are always minute polishes and fixes that make Mint 17.2 look that much more stylish. I believe the fonts are sharper, crisper, or maybe my eyes have improved. Moreover, the actual installation process was very fast. Only about 10 minutes in total.
Linux Mint 17.2 started up fine after the installation. There were no problems with the EFI GRUB setup. The overall boot time is slightly tricky to calculate, but I think it's somewhat faster than most other Ubuntu distros gracing the hard disk.
Software management & updates
Again, it's the tiny, tiny details, but this aspect of the system has also been gently refined. Everything works quickly, smoothly, like stroking a goose's neck. I was presented with updates within seconds of reaching the working session, and the process went by in a flurry of rapid elegance. The Software Center is that much more robust, that quicker to cache, and the old bugs with the splash screen have been merrily eradicated.
Managing software sources is another joy. Laid out in a smart, intuitive manner. Clean, polished, and once more, very fast. I did not experience a single moment of frustration, and that's a very good sign. A happy reviewer means happy thoughts, and happy thoughts means happy words.
Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela offers a highly practical, balanced arsenal of tools and programs. It is one of the most sensible collections, and perhaps the ultimate formula. You get Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, VLC, Banshee, GIMP, Pidgin. Skype and Steam are also available in the repositories. Really, nothing much to add or remove.
Much like Xubuntu Vivid, Mint offered a seamless experience with a whole range of mobile devices, including a variety of Nokia, Microsoft, Samsung, and Apple devices. The one that usually causes grief to many a distro is the shiny iPhone 6, but there were no such worries here. Everything was baby back smooth. The system will even tell you your device might be locked, and you can load music and photos in the distro's software. Nice.
The overall compatibility with this Lenovo G50 is quite good. So we did have the problem with the Realtek driver, but other than that, everything was just fine. No issues or prompts or errors related to the boot sequence, no issues with partitioning. All of the Fn keys work. Suspend & resume is ultra-fast, maybe one second to sleep and wake. The only thing missing is the webcam utility like Cheese, to make use of the available optics.
Linux Mint 17.2 is a fast and lean distro. It's not as quick as Xubuntu, but it's very close. The CPU does not always tick absolute zero, like the Xfce-flavored Ubuntu derivative, but it's quiet, and most importantly, the distro is responsive. Memory usage is somewhat high, at about 650 MB. That's more than 50% more than Xubuntu. See what I did there?
I did decide to try to alter the default looks a bit, to make them slightly more interesting. This was a good exercise in trying out some of the themes and icons, to see how this facet of Mintology has changed. Plus, it finally exposed some baddies.
Firstly, if you want to add new themes or extensions or whatnot, they all load really fast. There's none of that slowness from previous releases. It's not just the visual side of things that has been fixed, there's also the actual functional element.
Secondly, fiddling with some of the extras, I came across things like incompatible versions, inconsistent design, poor or missing functionality. Why would you have something that does not work with a particular version of Cinnamon? In fact, why show it in the list in the first place? Then, after changing some themes, the battery applet vanished. It became a brightness icon, and no matter how many times I tried to add or remove it, it just stayed there. It was the power applet all right, just sexually confused.
Logging out and in did not help. Moreover, it also exposed me to a very sluggish re-login process, which is not what I've expected after all that virgin oil sailing and WARP speed. Most people will not be spending much time fiddling with the login and logout functions, but that's something that needs to be solved.
I did not choose battery life, battery life chose me
Let's talk about the battery some more. The applet finally returned after shutting down the laptop and powering it on the next day. I have no idea what went wrong and why Cinnamon became digitally challenged, but the problem resolved itself.
Overall, just after booting, the battery promised about three hours. After watching videos for some twenty minutes, the slider was down to about two hours. Comparing to some of the other distributions on this laptop, the figure seems a little low. For example, Netrunner 15 Prometheus has roughly 2.5 hours left at the 72% mark, with Plasma. Likewise, Xubuntu Vivid had three hours left at about three quarters battery. This begs more research, but it seems like Cinnamon has developed a small, secret craving for e-blood.
As the battery drained, with pretty much consistent workloads similar to what I did with the other distros, the forecast improved, and with roughly 25% battery left, the counter offered about 50 minutes of work time. This translates into about 3.5 hours total time. Not bad, but not as lavish as its brethren and sistren. 'Tis a tricky test and without resorting to power graphs and consumption figures, me hunch says Cinnamon is a bit behind.
I spent some more time fiddling and playing. Most new themes, icons and windows decorations are not available in the repositories, so you will have to manually download them from various external sides, and extract them into your home folder. This is less elegant than KDE, which always offers a tightly woven, internal set. However, with some dedication and imagination, you can probably get very cool and rad results.
Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela is a highly polished, refined, practical, effortless distro. It's a genuine joy to use. Everything works as expected, and best of all, out of the box, by default. The new release brings in an avalanche of small, soft but most effective improvements, including system settings, themes, and software management.
On the bad sides, there are some tiny quirks. Having to leave your bubble of fun and wander around the Internet in search after some new icons or decorations lessens the impact of having a closed and tight ecosystem that can sustain itself. The Realtek bug is also rather annoying and maybe even alarming, and I do not know how to explain the power to brightness applet transformation. But it only happened once.
Overall though, the impression is very similar to Xubuntu Vivid. Slightly more restrained, because I've learned to accept the fact Mint is a top notch player, whereas Xubuntu used to be a black swan underdog and now it's a majestic phoenix sweeping over the forests of distrolandia, and there's more of a dramatic effect there. But then, tiny tiny glitches, the family woes, and a whole lot of goodness, elegance, great software, and not a single crash. My 10/10 wizard stick is out again, and it's trickling faerie dust. 9.99999/10. Not perfect, because perfection means zero flaws. But you should be testing this one, right now. See you around.