Updated: January 10, 2015
Linux Mint is the most popular distribution out there. For many good reasons. Overall, it's exercised a healthy record of stability, consistency and quality. Now and then, it may seesaw up and down on the success ladder, but it's always in the top five category, which means the users can expect and rely on decent results for their Mint desktop experience.
The latest edition is called Rebecca, but it's still based on Trusty LTS, like the previous version. This is a smart choice, and it reflects the dev team's desire not to dabble in unstable middle-of-the-road ideas and concepts that interim Ubuntu releases bring. To wit, it probably does not justify a new name, or conversely, the numbering convention should have been kept. But instead of being Mint 18, Rebecca is a 17.1 release. Slightly quirky. Let's see what it can do.
I decided to try Rebecca on my Nvidia-powered HP laptop, a 2010 system, rather than the standard quad-boot T61, which I most often use for testing. The reason is, the Pavilion box already runs a dual-boot of Qiana and Windows 7 internally, and it's a pretty robust setup.
However, I did not want to displace the internal installation just yet, so I hooked up an external 640GB disk, which contains some five - used to be six - other distros, mostly older attempts from two years back or so. This means we will be testing a seven-boot setup and Nvidia drivers instead of the more usual SSD quad-boot combo. Not bad.
All in all, as you might expect, everything worked fine. You get the familiar gray and green desktop, with the classic wallpaper. The system menu is a Windows key away, and you get all the codecs for your fun and pleasure. Moreover, the Cinnamon desktop is functional as well as quite pleasing. Lovely notifications, ability to duplicate files in the file manager, cushty.
Networking & printing
Samba sharing was fine, and so was the 2.4GHz Wireless connectivity. The laptop's card does not support the 5GHz frequency, so I could not test it here. Printing to Samba shares also worked without any problems.
You get your MP3 and Flash. But there's a small issue at hand. By default, music files open in a program called Videos, which is not integrated with the volume applet in the system area. On the other hand, both VLC and Banshee are, but they are not launched when you double-click on an MP3 file. This should be fixed.
Flash worked without any issues, but for some reason I forgot to take a screenshot, and this makes me an idiot. However, you can imagine the results, right. Sure, you can.
Let's start by showing you what GParted sees. The internal disk has the standard Windows-Linux dual-boot set. The external disk comes with a whole bunch of partitions, most of them used but no longer relevant, as the operating systems have all since aged beyond any practical value. I decided to place Mint 17.1 on the first partition.
The installation proceeded without any problems. You get the usual, nice slideshow and all that. It took a little while, because the external disk is somewhat slower and whatnot, but soon enough, I had a lovely, monstrous seven-boot configuration ready for use.
Post install use - And then it went wrong
The installed desktop is identical to the live session. You also have the first-time use welcome screen, which is quite handy for new users, although Linux Mint ships with all the goodies fresh converts need, so it's not really an issue, either way.
Third-party drivers management
One of the first things I did was get proprietary drivers for my graphics card. Mint ships with its own dedicated utility, and you ought not encounter any big problems with the setup. Indeed, the Driver Manager offered both Nvidia and Broadcom blobs. And for some reason, it thought the Broadcom card was not working, when in fact it was, but it was probably using an open-source driver. Weird.
After reboot, I had the Nvidia driver in use. But the Broadcom entry was gone, missing from the utility. The other noticeable change was that my network was kind of flaking now, somewhat slow and erratic. I did see similar issues on this laptop before, and we could blame HP, but we could also blame the every other distro out there for not providing the necessary support. Somewhat like my T400 saga, which so far remains utterly unusable in the Linux world.
Tons of trouble, I'm afraid. The default repos were utterly slow. Some of the servers could not be resolved. I was forced to fire up the Software Manager to find better repos, and soon enough, this effort became a very frustrating quest.
Some of the repos were broken, with hash sum mismatch for some packages. Then, updates simply got stuck. The download window would hang indefinitely. Goes back to the network card nonsense. Perhaps Broadcom is just a crappy vendor, but that does not absolve the distributions, or the fact everything was working smoothly before the Broadcom drivers were mysteriously removed from the Driver Manager, without any action on my end. Which means what? Activated? Can't be bothered with lsmod, I'm playing a total newbie here.
Get:19 http://archive.ubuntu.com trusty-updates/universe amd64 Packages [229 kB]
100% [Connecting to packages.linuxmint.com (184.108.40.206)] [19 Packages 178 kB
Fetched 20.0 MB in 213503982334601d 5h 1min 22s (0 B/s)
W: Failed to fetch http://gd.tuwien.ac.at/opsys/linux/ubuntu/archive/dists/
trusty-updates/main/binary-i386/Packages Hash Sum mismatch
The Software Manager crashed once or twice. Moreover, if you change a source, it will refresh the package list. If you close the program while it's doing that, it will reopen on its own. This can be quite annoying. In the end, I was able to get all the updates, but it was a painful process.
This is the other facet of this distro's use that gave me so much grief. In the past, I have never encountered problems with the customization and tweaking. Anyhow, I tried to use new themes, icons and extensions. As it turns out, some of the backend functionality is broken, and I was unable to list and access all of them.
For those that I did manage to install, there was a slew of unexpected problems. Some extensions could not be activated, because they are incompatible with the default desktop theme. So why allow the install in the first place? When I tried to change the theme, the desktop actually froze. Completely. I had to Ctrl + Alt + Backspace to get back into a new, working session. Well, almost working. I didn't have a mouse pointer. This is not acceptable for a high-caliber distro like Mint. Or any distro for that matter.
Themes are now supposedly easier, handier, more like Gnome 2. But not really. If you click on, say, Window borders, a new view will open on the right side, but until you do, it's big and blank and awkward. Beyond this, changing themes did not work. There was the freeze, like I mentioned earlier, and no integrated method of getting individual elements, like window borders. You need to grab complete themes.
Changing background worked fine. However, after a first reboot, the original was restored instead of my own choice. But at least, the new utility lets you add folders, so you can quickly choose which image to place as the wallpaper. One of the more sensible implementations that I've seen around.
Finally, the old bug where icons do not scale up nicely if you resize the bottom panel persists. For certain panel heights, the icon set will revert to generic Gnome icons, and this does not look professional.
Most likely because of the network issues and package management issues combined, NTP was not working correctly, and it took a while before the server synced. While the clock was off, I tried fiddling with the applet and changing it. The applet probably does not use PAM, and so I was forced to provide my password every single time when locking and unlocking the tool. This is not really graceful. Well, at least the time & date does not show in a localized format, which is nice, because I hate stupid localizations, especially when they do not match my chosen installation language.
The familiar settings menu is there. Lovely. Even though some of the functions seem to be broken and need fixing. Well, if you ignore the Cinnamon customization problems, then you do get a sensible one-stop-shop for all system options.
Linux Mint 17.1 Rebecca comes with the familiar repertoire of goodies. Colorful, rich and useful. There's little wrong here, except the fact the wrong music player launches when playing MP3, as we've seen earlier. The occasional bug where Firefox would always ask you to close all the tabs and would not remember your selection is no longer present here.
Your default set includes Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, VLC, Transmission, LibreOffice, Banshee, a variety of useful tools and utilities, and still more. Skype and Steam are just a click away.
Mint behaved well on this laptop. It wasn't the fastest player, but it was decent. Memory usage was about 550 MB, and the CPU hovered in the low digits. All in all, a middle range player, but not bad considering all the bells and whistles and extras. We can't compare with other machines though, because the architecture and hardware are different.
What happened? I do not know. Maybe I was just being unlucky. Maybe my HP desktop sucks, and you should avoid Broadcom in Linux. But that's really a lame excuse, if you think about it, because both Qiana and Windows 7, resident on the internal hard disk, behave quite well. Which makes Rebecca a big disappointment.
I don't have a good way of glossing over the issues I've encountered during the preparation of this review. Mint 17.1 did not perform well in my tests. For a range of reasons, package management and desktop customizations were quite horrible, with crashes and hangs. Not acceptable. Then, there are a few other smaller issues that can and should be easily fixed. Overall, though, I can't recommend Rebecca. You'd better stay with Qiana. I will be doing some more testing in the future, for sure, but at the time being, you might skip this. Grade, 6/10.