Updated: July 6, 2016
All right. Let's see if we can brighten my mood a little. Time to test Linux Mint 18 Sarah, the latest LTS in the Mint family, based on Xerus. This spring season has been dreadful, so I'm really hoping there will be some joy in this review. But given the results so far, that does not seem likely.
Mint has always been one of my favorite distributions, and overall, it has held steady, keeping in the high nines, often perfect, often the end-of-the-year winner, if not quite always the toppest of notches. Sarah might just be the thing we need, because things have been rolling downhill like avalanche on Teflon. Join me. Join me.
Forgetting live testing
The distro booted fine. The test laptop in question is my notorious Lenovo G50, which brings a wealth of obstacles to the Linux world, not at all helped by community's refusal to actually do something about it. Bugs be lingering. Unsolved. Forever alone.
Despite a stringent repertoire of acronyms and buzzwords, Sarah booted without any big problems. The default session is pretty and familiar, but it is not using the new Mint-Y flat theme. That's a perk for later. We're all about the basics now. It's elementary, my dear Dedoimedo.
Forgetting network support
Mint used to never struggle with the network side of things. Or if it did, with some aspects mentioned here, the quality has worsened, and the compatibility is worse than it used to be. The Realtek card was the bane of my live session, dying within minutes, and I was not able to fix it in-vivo, and had to reboot and start the testing a-fresh. Bluetooth worked, which is sort of a solace. Samba sharing was okay, but with the mandatory security crap that requires authentication now. I WANT GUEST ACCESS. STOP PEDDLING MEANINGLESS SECURITY PARANOIA ON ME. And Samba printing did what it should, but the discovery of printers using the IP address did not. This is a first, and another sure sign of terrible regressions taking over the Linux world.
Before we continue - for all the tests mentioned below, you may be inclined to say, Dedo your laptop sucks. Yes it does. Big time. But it also has a million other distros installed, including Trusty and CentOS 7, plus Windows. With these distros, all of the mentioned tests, including below, work fine. Let me rephrase that. Work BETTER. More consistently. We can always fall back to these installed instances and compare. It's not a hardware problem, beyond the inherent limitations. It's a clear downward spiral of regressions that has been worsening release after release. Speaking of CentOS 7 and what it can do, I owe you additional reviews on this hardware, hint Gnome and friends, and let me not tease you too much or spoil things to come, but believe me, NONE of what you're going to read below is really a problem. None. I swear.
On the Bluetooth side, I lied. In the live session, I was not able to do anything. Pairing with my Ubuntu Phone did not work. This is something for after the installation. So please forgive me, I never meant to break your heart. But you broke mine. Dedo ... Kayleigh. Whatever.
Forgetting media codecs
One of the chief advantages of Mint over Ubuntu is that it gave its users, newb and pro, all the ingredients for seamless fun. You wanted to watch a movie or listen to some music, no matter how odd or weird or funky your codecs was, you had them all. Now, this supreme distinction has been deleted. No more.
Launching Videos - which is an odd choice when you try to play MUSIC (MP3) - the system started searching for some codecs, and sure it did find some. But then, the innocent user is supposed to figure out which one they need. The obvious pre-selected option - the good gstreamer pack - is definitely not going to work. This is nerds' territory.
I wasn't able to play MP3. I installed all of the codecs, and nothing happened. Sad. Then, searching for something to test the Flash plugin, I went about the 18+ Internet, and here too, my hopes were dashed against the sharp rocks of mediocrity. No joy either. No happy moment. Linux Mint had destroyed one of its primary goodies.
Forgetting smartphone support
Oh my. Take a look at all my previous Mint reviews. Please. I urge you. Smartphone support was always spotless. KDE and Plasma are horrible in general, but Gnome, Cinnamon, MATE, and Xfce work splendidly. Or at least, used to.
This time - and I honestly don't know what has changed, consistency right - I was not able to mount and use any one of my phones. They all just failed with an ugly bunch of horrible errors. Another regression, another facet of true, deep sadness. I have such a terrible trauma using these new distros. You just know that proven stuff that used to work for you so well is going to break. You just know it. Such a profound feeling of despair. Watching your favorite operating system destroy itself. iPhone, Ubuntu Phone, Lumia, nope.
Installation, because OCD
Honestly, I have little patience for this kind of exercise after all we've been through, but you're seeing a full install attempt, because I suffer from a need to complete tasks, I am still hopeful, and I care about you, and I want to spare you the pain. So we're plodding on.
The installation was fairly uneventful. The wizard took about 10 minutes before reaching the partitioning stage. There were no surprises there. The slideshow gives the same info like before, which is good. Then, the bootloader was configured successfully, and Mint staggered into a Cinnamon session.
Forgetting how to enjoy Linux
Well, here we are. Linux Mint 18 Sarah Cinnamon was installed. So far, I was able to achieve zero success in the things I like, value and need. This was like Ubuntu, only worse, because some of the stuff here actually worked in Ubuntu, plus the expectations.
The new update manager now lets you choose the level of risk you want from your updates. Again, the security people have gotten the upper hand, and the whole pointless cry-me-a-river Mint is not secure enough nonsense is now part of your experience. Choose if you want some or all updates. Wow, so boring. But a nice gesture toward the community.
The updates worked fine. There were no issues. Oh yes, the network card died again! But I was able to fix the issue modprobing the module out and into the memory, and after that, the network held steady without any more crashes.
Just observe the trend: Trusty, if it dies you must reboot, but the modprobe conf fix works permanently. Xerus, if it dies you can fix with modprobe, but the modprobe conf fix does not work permanently and the network dies on heavy traffic and when waking from sleep roughly one in five times. Sarah, modprobe conf fix works and so does the modprobe trick when needed, and the network continues working after waking from sleep. That is called consistency, ladies and gentlemen.
Oh, the updates also fixed only a single issue - Bluetooth. Only that.
Bluetooth & smartphone support
Pairing was fine now, but none of my phones worked. Still.
You get what you need, provided you checked that box. Videos still launched for music, which is weird, as you have both Banshee and VLC. Videos also does not integrate into the system area during playback, whereas the other two do. So why have it? BTW, HD video, all good.
The new flat theme is cool. Elegant. Stylish. But there's a couple of problems with the customization. One, the contrast is really bad. Gray font on gray background is hard on the eyes, and I had to increase the font to be able to see well. There's no way, other than CSS tricks, to fix this. I also struggled with DPI and hinting and anti-aliasing, as I've already told you in my Fonts drama article. The bottom panel won't resize unless you pay attention to all the buttons and options in the Panel Edit mode.
The one thing that remains quite useful is the app repertoire. You get the expected set of goodies, with the Firefox and Thunderbird combo, VLC, GIMP, LibreOffice, Transmission, Pidgin, and more. Steam and Skype are in the repos. Nice.
Well, Mint Sarah is not the quietest singer in the choir. The CPU was chirpy all right, dancing in mid-low single-digit figures, even though this did not impact the responsiveness too much. Memory usage is about 750 MB. Not too shabby, not too good either.
The laptop did not auto-dim immediately, but it worked eventually. With, or rather despite, the CPU noise and hunger for power, so to speak, hi hi, Mint 18 managed to offer me about 2.75 hours, more than some other distros. A surprising result. Still, not the best. But okay.
Hardware compatibility, suspend & resume
Seems to be mostly all right. The first time I tried to get the laptop to wake up, it froze. The issue did not reoccur. Fn buttons work fine, and overall, it's similar to previous versions, with all the obvious exceptions marked earlier. The one missing driver is Intel microcode, and I still wonder what it is and what it does. But hey, documentation is so yesterday.
Other problems and observations
There were a few other niggles. I'm not happy with the dotted or dashed line in different applications, which indicates there's sort of more below. There are no templates other than text file defined in the file manager. The default search engine in Firefox is Yahoo!, which is kind of odd but perfectly understandable. Banshee takes forever to launch. Nothing else really. Oh yes, I was not able to install any new themes and see if I could somehow improve the eye-contrast thingie, because the cache refresh was stuck forever, repeatedly.
This is the end product. I'm not too happy. The icons are cool, though.
Linux Mint. Version 18. Sarah. Cinnamon Edition. This was supposed to be the sweetest LTS yet. Only it's very buggy, it's worse than the previous edition and the three before, or maybe all of them. It's even buggier than Ubuntu, and it's been released a good two months after its parent. There are so many regressions in the system. And I know I'm trying every trick in the English language and scientific method to explain and convince you that this has nothing to do with my hardware, because with the same nuts and bolts in place, you can still baseline, calibrate, evaluate, and compare over time.
With none of the other parameters changed - my box and me - Mint 18 Sarah is just not a very good release. The live session is awful. I don't have any smartphone support, at all. Quite a few other aspects of the desktop experience are missing or lacking, and they are just not as refined as they used to be. I don't know how, I don't know why, yesterday you told me about the blue blue distro. This season is bad. There's no other way of putting it. And my experience was so unrewarding, there are many other aspects of this system that I just did not evaluate in any depth, like the x applications and such. What's the point?
I wish I could tell a different story. But the simple reality is, I can't. It defies logic that the previous releases of Mint or perhaps Xubuntu 15.04 or whatever give me everything I need, but this new LTS struggles in roughly 6 out of 10 critical areas. Read it any way you will, think what you want of me, seek flaws in my methods, seek affirmation in my words, there's no escaping the awful and painful conclusion. One, I'm shattered. Two, this season is absolutely terrible. Three, Sarah Cinnamon deserves only about 3/10. Please stick with the R-releases, and do not upgrade.