LINUX PICKS AND PANS

Many Minor Glitches Make Mint 15 More Work Than It’s Worth

The latest release of Linux Mint 15, nicknamed “Olivia,” tries really hard to reach new design goals but is marred by a series of petty flaws.

The latest rendition of Linux Mint’s flagship desktop environment, Cinnamon 1.8, is ambitious but immature in its execution. If you choose the new MATE 1.6 desktop instead, you get a very workable GNOME 2 fork that may not be worth wallowing in yesteryear.Overall, the best of what is new with Linux Mint 15 could be an HTML5-themed login screen and the additional features of Software Sources and Driver Managers. You also get lots of little system improvements that by themselves may not seem overly impressive, but taken together, they make Linux Mint 15 a workable upgrade that still needs some tweaking.

After a week or two of rotating between Mint 14 and Mint 15 on two daily workhorse computers, I find that once the glitz wears off, I forget which version is which when I get bogged down with my work.

Linux Mint 15

I tend to leapfrog over every other Linux Mint release on my various computers. The developer’s insistence on not providing an update from the Linux Mint repository carries too much needless overhead. The process of reinstalling all of your files and applications after a fresh installation may not be worth the bother, especially for this version.A Flawed Install ProcessI first installed Linux Mint 15’s Cinnamon version as an upgrade to the Linux Mint 13 Cinnamon version. Prior to performing the upgrade, I backed up my installed programs and all of my data files with the Mint Backup Tool.

I got an error message near the end of the installation routine advising that some errors may have occurred in copying the previously installed applications, so manual reinstallation may be needed. The process of installing Linux Mint 15 was flawed.

I am starting to expect sloppy installation routines regularly for this distribution. Having to do a completely fresh installation — and flawed ones at that — for each new release does not encourage user retention, I think. I’m sure it influences ongoing users to conveniently skip the bother of interim upgrades.

Poor First Impressions

I always cringe when installing a new version of Linux Mint. Too many previous times the process smudged the GRUB menu. I have spent considerable time using cleanup tools to fix the dual boot loader so I can access other OSes, but this time I rebooted the system and was greeted with a functioning boot menu. That brought me to the newly designed login screen.

After that, however, Linux Mint once again let me down. The home screen never materialized. Instead, I stared at the Mint 15 gray and green logo. Then I used the power button to reboot the system.

That brought me back through the sign-on process to a home screen covered with a message telling me that Cinnamon just crashed and rebooted into fallback mode. Did I want to restart Cinnamon? I, of course, chose Yes.

Wrong answer. Each time I clicked on the Yes button, the message box repeated. After several such misadventures, I clicked No. Then I quit the session using the power button and rebooted yet again.

Success at Last

Repeated reboots got me nowhere but the same non-functioning home screen. Since the live DVD sessions worked without hitches, I guessed that the installation files were not corrupted but the installation process was. Still, I did a new ISO download and burned a new installation disk just the same.

Linux Mint 15

Finally, one hour later after two more failed attempts, the installation was completed and working — but it took formatting the partition again to make it work.

Do not waste time fooling around with the Mint Backup Tool. Use a better product. It failed to properly save the data and messed up the packages. So once again, doing a version upgrade with Linux Mint is a major hassle. I also cannot say that what I got in return was worth the humongous inconvenience.

Comes With…

Unless your storage and system resources require lightweight applications, the installed base of applications is not a real issue with a Linux distro. Adding and removing packages is easy to do, especially in Linux Mint.

As a starting point, the latest release of Mint includes the Firefox Web browser, LibreOffice productivity suite, GIMP image editor and gThumb photo manager. Also included is the Banshee music player with audio codecs and both the VLC and Totem movie players with video codecs.

Internet staples such as the Pidgin chat client, Thunderbird for email and XChat IRC are installed as well.

The same familiar Software Manager is in play with Mint 15, but so far, it has not locked up or otherwise fumbled in use as previous versions have.

Poor UX

When it comes to operating systems, stability, dependability and ease of use all contribute to the user experience. Although I liked the improvements to Cinnamon that came with Linux Mint 13 and 14, the UX with Linux Mint 15 so far has been a huge yawn to me.

Aside from the installation snafus that can happen with any distro upgrade, Linux Mint 15 just shows too many little fumbles that add up to a big letdown. For me, this degraded user experience can mean the difference between continuing to use Linux Mint on my everyday gear or replacing it with a better alternative.

Perhaps one of the biggest factors in what constitutes Linux Mint 15’s UX near-failure for me is the so-called refinements to the Cinnamon panel. Several of the applets I used in Mint 13 and 14 no longer work in Mint 15.

Even worse is that many of the additional applets I had the system download and install from the menu options failed to display or otherwise run. This was despite their registration in the applet control panel.

More Glitches

Want three more examples of my dissatisfaction with Mint 15’s user experience? One is the new feature called Desklets that puts widgets on the desktop. C’mon guys, you could not do any better than a clock, a digital photo frame and a launcher? The Get More function provides only a scant few more Desklets that are mostly different versions of the same thing — clocks, weather and a calculator.

The second example is a so-called new feature: a Cinnamon screen saver. It really does not do much other than letting you blank the screen after a designated time interval. You can leave an away message as well by default, but traditional graphic images displayed on the screen to conceal the desktop are not included.

Another intermittent nagging problem with Linux Mint 15 is the failure of its loading cycle to always recognize the sound hardware. This has occurred numerous times on several installations. The system only sees a dummy output, so there is no sound available from either the speakers or a plugged-in headset. It takes a system restart to fix the problem — until next time.

Extenuating Extensions

Despite my displeasure with what does not work well for me, I really do like the finessing done to the Linux Mint desktop extensions. You can much more easily install extensions and browse the catalog. Just click the More Info link to find out about each of the dozen extensions.

Rather than have to manually download, unzip and install your choices, Linux Mint 15 lets you click the install button and then right-click to add the choice to Cinnamon and configure as needed. You find this control panel in Preferences/Extensions.

The extensions themselves are the same as available in earlier editions. The ones I installed automatically in Linux Mint 15 were the same ones I have running on my desktop with Linux Mint 14.

Other Factors

The more I use Linux Mint 15 on my workhorse laptop, the cozier I get with it, but with that growing familiarity comes more quirks that deter my productivity.

For example, one of my desktop computers runs Linux Mint 14; on that installation I often use the GNOME Media Player to play back recorded interviews. I like its control buttons for fast access to pause/play/forward and back. That application is version 1.0.6.

The latest version available in the Linux Mint 15 repository, however, is version 0.1.3. Its control button array is different and not as functional. Why should the newest distro give retrograded application versions?

One nice improvement in the interface is the dual hot corner zones. Earlier versions of Cinnamon only let you select the screen corner for an Expo view and whether or not to show/hide the hot icon. The updated Cinnamon version in Linux Mint 15 gives you the option of also designating a hot corner for Scale view. If nothing else, not having to have an applet for switching to one or both of these views saves space on the panel bar.

Getting MATE

Previous versions of Linux Mint let you download an ISO for Cinnamon and for MATE. So far, that is no longer the case.

In order to install the latest MATE desktop release, you must first install Linux Mint 15, then download and install the MATE shell from the Software Manager.

Of course, this means that you can not try out MATE in a live DVD session, but you can still do that with the Cinnamon version.

Bottom Line

Clearly, Linux Mint 15 is a work in progress. It needs a bit more maturing to get the kinks out. Yet it is one of only a few major Linux distros that ship with the Cinnamon desktop.

Other desktop shells are available as well. Whichever desktop flavor you prefer, the Linux Mint distro is reliable and generally works well. The only issue to resolve if you are not moving to Linux Mint 15 as a new user is whether to make the upgrade or not.

Want to Suggest a Linux Application for Review?

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And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.

12 Comments

  • I decided to upgrade from Mint 11 to Mint 15 – KDE. Running from the Live DVD, the program looks fantastic – bright, colorful and a huge improvement in display drivers… even Youtube is fixed, losing it’s blue tinge.

    However I, too, AM having a beast of a time installing it on my hard drive. This will be my fourth attempt and, like you, my second iso disk.

    Between attempts, I loaded Ubuntu. No comparison. I’ll keep struggling with Mint 15.

  • Sure there are glitches. I think about them every day. Still better than any of the alternatives like windows 7, Debian, Fedora, Apple, and *bsd. Maybe this article will be the much needed impetus to make Mint far far superior to any of the competition.

    • Thanks for the response oldator… are you using Mint with KDE? How? My concern is that they’ve pretty much abandoned it.

      What made you uncomfortable about Mageia? Was it that you’d become more used to MATE or Cinnamon?

  • I’ve been using Mint since 2009, and Mint 15 does have problems. I get white and black lines across my screen on the desktop, on Firefox, and on Thunderbird. Many times they are big enough to render the text unreadable. Never ran into this on ANY other diustro in my 12 years of running Linux.
    Any suggestions for a fix are most welcome.

    • I used PCLOS for 4 years, and really liked it, because it just worked. Switched to Mint and been there since. Tried Mageia, but it just never felt comfortable.

  • And now I’ve added Mageia, Chakra, and PCLinuxOS to my growing "short" list of KDE-based options. Have you tried any of them?

    I"m not someone who relishes rotating OSes in and out, so I’d really like to pick a good one and stick with it. Any KDE users with an opinion?

  • Hi Mr. Germain. I AM interested in your opinion on Mint v. SolydXK v. Others. I AM a relative newbie and found your SolydXK review through a trail from Mint through LMDE. I’m sorry to hear of your bad experience with the new Mint.

    I AM staying away from modern Ubuntu for obvious reasons, and was planning on going with the popular Mint distro. But I was dismayed to learn that they are STILL more or less enforcing full "fresh" upgrade installations, right down to wiping the file system. I think that’s crazy.

    So I looked into Mint’s LMDE variant, but was sad to find that (a) no official KDE version existed and (b) users were reporting that "semi-rolling" update periods were actually worse than the 6 month distance between Mint releases.

    So then I searched and found SolydXK… and from there, your very positive review of them. I much prefer KDE, so I AM interested in that distro. But as a very tiny new offshoot, how can I possibly trust my main machines to an OS that STILL relies on a periodic manually applied "rolling release" update, from such a small team?

    At least with Mint there’s a lot of community and momentum, and yet based on your review even they aren’t getting things quite right.

    So I’m at a loss. Do I gamble on SolydXK and hope for the best? Just install Debian and then KDE?

    Of your recently reviewed distributions, what would you recommend at the moment? Thanks in advance…

  • I’ve done half a dozen installations (desktop and laptop) of Mint 15 and I’m also not seeing the problems you’ve reported. Other than an occasionally touchly log-on screen, it seems extremely stable. I did run into sound problems with one laptop. But that laptop’s sound system is fussy even when running Windows-7 so I suspect it’s more a case of faulty hardware than it is an OS issue.

    Maybe next time you could include the hardware specs of what you’re installing on? That’s always helpful in a review like yours.

    Note: distro full version upgrades tend to be problematic with many (if not most) distributions of Linux. I’ve long since given up on doing them for more reasons than it’s worth going into here. In your case (especially if you’re skipping every other version) you’d be better off just doing a fresh install. Unless you’re extremely sloppy and "stream of consciousness" about what you put on your machine, it shouldn’t be all that difficult put your current apps back on your system either.

    Something to think about. 🙂

    • No, you’ve got it wrong, I think. Mr. Germain DID follow the normal, recommended "fresh" Mint upgrade path… and it utterly failed him.

      This is exactly why I AM shy of using the main Mint edition – I strongly disagree with the maintainer’s technical policy position that only from-scratch installations are valid. It boggles my mind that they think it’s somehow LESS risky to WIPE your whole darn disk and rely on a backup, than it would be to simply try a rolling upgrade as BOTH Ubuntu and Debian do. Sure enough, this process, using the provided Mint backup tools, failed Mr. Germain.

      (Worse, even the LMDE edition isn’t really "rolling" and apparently gets updated through Packs LESS frequently than the main editions.)

      Yes, one can keep /home files on a separate partition, but that’s an imperfect solution. That the Mint "upgrade" process always involves a complete loss of one’s file system (not even TRYING to preserve existing data files) is really, well, stupid.

  • Wow. Not sure what your problem is, but I’ve never had any major problems with Linux Mint that didn’t also exist in Ubuntu or other distros.

    "The latest rendition of Linux Mint’s flagship desktop, Cinnamon 1.8, is AM bitious but immature in its execution. If you choose the new MATE 1.6 desktop version over Cinnamon, you get a very workable GNOME 2 fork that may not be worth wallowing in yesteryear."

    You have to understand some things:

    1. Cinnamon is not very old yet, and is still in heavy development. You have to expect things to not be perfect yet. That said, it’s still AM ong the more popular desktops.

    2. MATE 1.4 was just about the most perfect rendition of Gnome 2 out there. But it was based on old GTK 2 tech. They are currently in the process of transitioning it to GTK 3. It’s actually not bad, but there are some glitches (the biggest one I’ve seen is an occasional menu crash).

    3. All this wouldn’t be an issue at all if Gnome had handled its desktop upgrade better. They buggered up the Linux desktop world for many who prefer a traditional desktop environment (aka Mint users), and Mint is still working its way out of that.

    "I AM starting to expect sloppy installation routines regularly for this distribution."

    I’m not sure what you’ve got going wrong on your system, but I’ve never once, on any system, had a bad Linux Mint install experience. And I’ve been installing Mint on a wide variety of systems since version 7. The worst issues I’ve had are things that were Ubuntu problems, or things that were common to Linux distros in general.

    "Several of the applets I used in Mint 13 and 14 no longer work in Mint 15."

    This is because applets are mostly community-supported, and take time to get upgraded to support the latest Cinnamon version. This has been an issue from the beginning of Cinnamon. Blame the community devs, not the distro. Same thing with your complaints about not many desklets. It’s a new feature that hasn’t yet gotten its community development traction. Give it time.

    "I often use the GNOME Media Player… The latest version available in the Linux Mint 15 repository, however, is version 0.1.3."

    That’s in the Ubuntu repositories, not Mint’s. Ubuntu’s been known to drop back its software versions when compatibility problems crop up. You would have exactly the same issue with the current Ubuntu version. Blame them, not Mint.

    "Previous versions of Linux Mint let you download an ISO for Cinnamon and for MATE. So far, that is no longer the case."

    Completely false. I don’t know where you’re getting your ISO’s, but on the Linux Mint web site, there are both Cinnamon and MATE Live DVD ISO’s, and they have been there since Mint 15 was released, I believe.

    "Clearly, Linux Mint 15 is a work in progress."

    You must not be very experienced with Linux then. ALL Linux distros are a work in progress by the very definition of Open Source.

    I would say this: The majority of the problems you are blaming on Mint 15, are really most likely either hardware issues, Ubuntu issues, Linux-in-general issues, or user error. Also, if you don’t like the problem of having to reinstall each time there is an update, I suggest either sticking to the LTS versions so that you only have to reinstall every few years (which is what I currently do), or use the Debian-based semi-rolling version and never have to reinstall again.

  • I find your article to be more flawed than the OS you wrote about.
    You speak in generalities, provide very little specifics and go into no details about the hardware used.
    Many factors can lead to a poor installation experience. Hardware is a big one.
    Linux upgrades have always been a little iffy. But in comparison to some other OS upgrades, they have a higher success rate.
    I have always done a fresh install of Mint and other Linuxes, but that has just been my preference. I had zero issues installing Mint 15 on my Sager 9150 laptop and it has been running smartly since.
    For my installs I always create a separate /home partition. That way I can blow away the old install (minus a few saved custom config files)and just remount my /home. After the install I AM back to work with everything I had almost instantly.

    Mate "is" available as a separate distro download from the main site. If you are not getting your distros from the linuxmint.com site then it’s possible that other site is not hosting all of the versions. A little research goes a long way.

    As for your comments about no "wow" factor. Mint 15 was never touted as a "Whole new experience". It’s a distro upgrade much like many others. It has improvements for sure and enhancements that are nice. But to say you were bored because there was no wow factor is just you spouting off a poorly formed opinion.
    That leaves readers like me with a big "Yawn" factor.

    To call the distro immature is inane as it is built on a solid foundation and like "ALL" Linux distros will always be a constant work in progress.

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