Updated: January 9, 2019
A new year is upon us. This means more distro testing. More fun, more tears, fresh hopes, resurging desperation. Which of these shall the great Lottery of Tux draw out for us on this day, people are asking. Well, it really depends how rad and enjoyable Linux Mint Tessa can be. For we are reviewing.
The LTS edition - Tara - was reasonable. Nothing special - a far cry from the stellar perfection that Mint once had, year after year. Just adequate, with the right dose of friendly and bad blended together, and then some extra fun after modifications and tweaking. Hopefully, Mint 19.1 should build on a solid-ish foundation, improve upon it, iron out some of them early bugs and problems, and give us a refined experience. One can hope, and one will test. Commence.
The boot sequence wasn't perfect. Ruined by two instances of text messages about ERRATA this that, who cares, I don't want to see boot messages unless I'm in a debug mode. The new desktop comes with visual improvements. Much needed improvements, as Mint's look & feel was getting stale. Finally, you get an icons-only bottom panel, based on the Icing task manager - you can still use the classic layout if you want, better fonts, and a bit more sharpness. However, the default theme (Mint-Y) remains horribly pale, with low contrast and odd fuzziness that makes your eyes water. It's very difficult using and navigating the Cinnamon desktop, as it feels blurred.
The Wireless connection was super-fast. Samba, you get no satisfaction unless you tweak the configuration. The Mint team mentions this on their site, so they are one of the few distro teams that actually bother telling the 50% of Windows users and friends that they might not be able to connect to their boxen. But why not take it a step further? Why not create a first-time setup wizard that tests the Samba connection, and if it fails with the new configuration, then use the old one? This does not even require a UI - can be a text wizard. I recall very few distros trying this, Pardus and Crunchbang among them. Sadly, not many since. Bluetooth worked just fine, including sending files. Printing, excellent, no complaints or issues.
Worked fine - except Xplayer, the default Mint program, doesn't do metadata and cover images well. You also have VLC, and this one works just fine. I wonder why bother adding software that is inferior to other products? Why not go with the best solution? Anyway, HD video also worked fine, smooth playback and all.
Okay - I tested Android and Windows Phone. It took a while to mount the Android, but it shows in the file manager, so if you click on the icon, you'll get an error. This is essentially a bogus error, but it's also rather unnecessary, and if a device is showing in the side pane in Nemo, then it should be accessible. I did have media playback from the phones. Nice.
A few more observations. I had to punch in my Samba password twice before I got to the shares, why pray. The Bluetooth icon stands out - it's different from the rest of the system's theme. The terminal window is transparent by default, and this is distracting. Panel height now shown in pixels!
A familiar affair, with a 20-min wait for the partition scan to complete, and then another partition scan refresh that feels unnecessary. I had my language set to US, but Mint (and many, many other distros) know better, and it set my language to an arbitrary English locale closest to my timezone. I hate this thing.
I decided to install Tessa over Tara - we shall see whether this was a mistake. The slideshow is okay if a bit bland, but the overall setup was quick. Only about 15 minutes. The GRUB stage seems to have been improved, and it no longer takes half an ice age to get the bootloader configured.
Get a Mint
This time, the boot sequence was clean. My Wireless settings were preserved, yay! You also get a nice welcome screen, and there's a few rather helpful bits and pieces for new users, like updates, drivers, layout, and even system snapshots with Timeshift. There's quite a bit of focus on the last piece.
This worked all right. The update process completed fast and true. Software Manager works well, and has a pretty good selection of software, including the standalone package formats. You will be asked yet again to snapshot your system, and you can switch to a local mirror - not sure why this isn't the default config after installation. You have a progress bar for the updates in the Icing task manager - similar to what Plasma has been doing since 5.12.
You won't need many extras, though. Tessa packs a decent, practical bunch. If there's one thing that's consistent with Linux Mint, it's the selection of default software. You have Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP, VLC, LibreOffice, Transmission, and then some. Really neat.
Hardware compatibility, suspend & resume
Overall, Mint 19.1 cooperated well with my G50 machine. Everything was properly initialized, all the hardware correctly detected (sans phone labels). Suspend & resume works just fine. Power management is fairly rudimentary, far far behind Plasma. There was no microcode firmware thingie for my CPU.
This is an odd one - and worse than Tara. Memory usage is improved slightly, about 900 MB on idle, which is a lot compared to Xfce and Plasma, but low for Gnome-based desktops. However, the CPU ticked like mad, with Xorg taking a constant 11-12% no matter what. Hence, responsiveness isn't the best. There must be some regression in the display manager or some such. But this is a step in the wrong direction.
It does not come as a great surprise that the battery life has deteriorated - compared to Tara. With 50% brightness, Tessa offers a whole hour less than its predecessor, under exact same conditions. I guess the constant tick of the CPU doesn't help. So yes, the battery has lost a lot of juice in the past few years, and it's down to about 70% charge, but this translates into less than 3 hours full charge at 50% brightness. A really bad result. Oh well.
Wiggles and niggles
Playing around, I noticed a few oddities. For instance, Mint uses Gnome online accounts - they work fine, but then Mint pushes for a unique angle with its software, so why not this piece, too. Xed uses the same weird visual format to highlight theme changes as we've seen in Fedora 29, and this simply feels broken. Speaking of Xed, this text editor does not keep a list of recently opened documents by default, which makes it highly annoying.
The tool that lets you switch to local mirrors in the update manager uses the Adwaita theme, hard-coded. BTW, should system settings items launch with single or double click? Not certain. The use of the Yahoo! search engine feels somewhat odd given the overall look & feel of Mint. The Downloads folder does not show in the side pane by default.
Just before we dive into the topic of customization:
This was an awfully frustrating exercise. I spent more time trying to make Tessa usable than I did testing features. And the main reason - pale, blurry, fuzzy fonts. No matter what I did, it just didn't help. A few weeks ago, I did show you how to edit Cinnamon themes, and this worked fine for Tara. Well, not anymore for Tessa. I did the exact same exercise, but this did not help. I changed pretty much any color declaration in the CSS files, and even tweaked transparency in every rgba(x,y,z,w) line, and still this didn't work. Or rather ...
Now, if you look at various panel and menus - this did partially work. You can see that the text inside the menus is dark (black), as it should be, and even in the settings menu, it's reflected in some of the elements, but not all of them. Stubbornly, the file manager and various apps continued showing the pale fonts, and then I decided, it's just not worth doing it. Why do I bother? I'm not 21 years old, I don't want to use a dark theme, and there's no reason to waste energy changing a distro that stubbornly refuses to be changed and made more ergonomically friendly. Not meant to be, fine, not meant to be.
Fonts aside, Linux Mint 19.1 is an average plus distro, with some good points but not as many awesome advantages over the competition as Mint used to have. I've highlighted this in my best distro of 2018 article, whereby Mint seems to have lost its edge. It does what most other distros do and little else besides. There's no supreme quality factor as once upon time, where Mint did things no other system could. So you get media, phone connectivity, reasonable networking, a good collection of apps, but you also get glitches, only okay performance with high-resource usage, plus niggles and errors here and there.
But the one thing that totally ruins the deal - the fonts. So pale my eyes hurt. And I have perfect vision. Plus you can't change them, not easily, not anyway. So this makes Mint Tessa simply unusable for me. I spend hours working in front of a computer, writing, gaming, whatnot, and I am extremely aware and sensitive to how one gets the highest level of comfort and productivity. I can do that with Windows 7 or Windows 8 or Kubuntu for example. With Mint Tessa, even 15 minutes feels like a strain. Worst thing, Tara did let you change the fonts, and everything worked fine only six months ago!
Anyway, Mint used to be Ubuntu on steroids and the friendliest distro around. Not anymore. I can't name even a single distinct killer feature that it has, plus the sweet momentum of innovation and fun is gone. Or going away. And the whole 12% Xorg CPU eater, that sure ain't helping the matters. This is a change, and not a good one, with a steady, gradually increasing loss of quality and coolness. Overall grade, 6/10. On a sad note, here goes the first review of 2019. Oh well.