2011-06-02

Review: Linux Mint 11 "Katya" GNOME

Main Screen
Linux Mint is currently my favorite Linux distribution of all and is the one I use almost exclusively on a regular basis. Since the release of Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", I have made it a point to review new releases of Linux Mint. Six months ago, I previewed Linux Mint 10 "Julia" GNOME RC. Since then, I have also reviewed two versions of Debian-based Linux Mint. However, due to Ubuntu's fixed 6-month release schedule, I haven't been able to check out the latest version of Ubuntu-based Linux Mint until now.

Regular readers of this blog know Linux Mint needs no further introduction. The only things to consider while reading this are that Linux Mint also has a Debian-based version that is going strong, while Ubuntu's state of transition (what with Unity, Wayland, et cetera) could pose difficulties for Ubuntu-based Linux Mint in the future.

I tested the live session through a live USB made with UnetBootin. Though this is an Ubuntu-based distribution, I tested the installation anyway through VirtualBox with 1024 MB of RAM allocated to the guest OS with the live USB session as the host OS. Follow the jump to see if this new version of Linux Mint is just as good as ever.


After changing the BIOS to boot from USB and getting past the UnetBootin boot menu, I saw the boot splash, which consisted of the black screen. I had read the release notes beforehand, which mentioned how the Plymouth boot splash was replaced by a black screen for the sake of consistency and how users wouldn't notice this too much as the boot process would be quick. I do agree that having a black screen throughout helps consistency, and it's a step up from the weird terminal-like Plymouth boot splash of Linux Mint 10 "Julia", but I miss the pretty boot splashes from previous versions, and black screens don't give me much information of any kind about boot times. (At least with the previous boot splashes I could get some qualitative idea about how much boot time I had left.) For the record, the boot time was indeed pretty fast, though not the absolute fastest I've seen; the black screen thus gave way to the desktop.

Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer + Mint Menu
The desktop is essentially unchanged from Linux Mint, except for the wallpaper, which is now the Linux Mint logo, name, and encircled number 11 in 3D font sitting on a light-gray background. There are two problems I have with this. The first is that it looks kind of cheap. Honestly, the text and stuff reminds me of clipart from Microsoft Office 97, though slightly better done. The second is that the wallpaper should be dark if the panel is to be light (or vice versa); I feel like the light panel and wallpaper don't work well together, and the contrast isn't that great. The worst part is that all the other wallpapers are darker and would work far better with the light panel (and in my opinion look far better anyway), yet this is the wallpaper chosen. I know that this is a pretty trivial issue considering how easy it is to change the wallpaper, but I'm harping on this because Linux Mint has a reputation for awesome artwork and design, and I feel like they have somewhat dropped the ball on this one.
One other aesthetic and functional change is of the scrollbars. The scrollbars are essentially recolored versions of those found in Ubuntu 11.04 "Natty Narwhal", meaning they are very thin, have scrolling buttons overlaid to the side when the cursor hovers over the bars, and hide to the side when not used. I'm a fan of them because they do free up screen space without harming usability, and they work well in Linux Mint.

The default web browser is Mozilla Firefox at version 4, which is no surprise. Multimedia codecs are included, and my computer's sound, volume keyboard shortcuts, and wireless card were all recognized properly, as I have come to expect of Linux Mint. The default productivity suite is LibreOffice, which is good because now almost all updated major distributions have moved away from OpenOffice.org (whose fate, incidentally, appears to be nearing some semblance of stability).
The other applications included are pretty standard fare for Linux Mint, with GIMP, Pidgin, Mozilla Thunderbird, Brasero, and VLC. There are two somewhat big changes in this regard, though. Banshee replaces Rhythmbox; I am somewhat conflicted about this because although Banshee works really well, I have found it to be pretty slow. I thought Linux Mint would continue going against Canonical's decisions, but I guess it had to end here. Oh well. The other change is the replacement of the F-Spot Photo Manager with gThumb. I am conflicted about this as well because although F-Spot was horribly slow and buggy, it seems to have been more like a fully-featured photo manager than gThumb, which seems like a quick, glorified image viewer. Then again, neither of these changes affect me particularly much because I don't use music collection programs or photo managers that much.

Mint Software Manager Splash Screen
The Linux Mint Software Manager is essentially unchanged, except that it now has a splash screen and a start screen. While I welcome these moves as making the applications seem more professional, I feel like these screens could use a bit more work aesthetically. One, what's with the weird serrated gray border on top? It looks like a graphics glitch, not artwork. Two, why does the name "Software Manager" look like cheap Microsoft Office 97 clipart (there it is again)? It could look a lot nicer. Other than that, the Software Manager is the same as before.




Moving on to desktop effects, I was unfortunately unsuccessful in enabling Compiz effects. According to the release notes, this is a known problem. I suspect that this has to do with stuff upstream (Ubuntu/Unity), but in any case, it's a shame that I can't use my pretty desktop cube anymore, and this is certainly a regression in functionality compared to previous versions of Linux Mint.

Partitioning in Installer
After this, I tried out the installation. As I found out, aside from a slightly modified partitioning step, Ubiquity hasn't really changed. The installation was fairly quick except for the downloading of new packages, which I skipped due to my poor wireless Internet reception; that was no fault of Linux Mint.

After installation, I rebooted the virtual machine. There was no boot menu; I was led straight into the boot splash and then into a standard GDM screen. After that came a desktop identical to that of the live session, except for one thing: the Linux Mint Update Manager was present in the installed system, and that's when I realized that it wasn't present in the live system, which makes sense, and I'm glad the developers made that so. That's basically where my time with Linux Mint ended.

In conclusion, there's nothing truly wrong with Linux Mint 11 "Katya" GNOME except for the Compiz issues which, as I said earlier, I suspect linger from Ubuntu. The other beefs I have mostly do with aesthetics/polish, but for a distribution renowned for those things, these issues honestly made the whole experience feel a bit subpar. For new users looking to Linux Mint, I would give a higher recommendation towards the longer-supported Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora", or better yet the rolling-release Debian-based Linux Mint GNOME. Linux Mint 11 "Katya" GNOME has unfortunately left me a little cold, but that may just be because of my ridiculously high expectations of Linux Mint, having used it for a little over 2 years now.

22 comments:

  1. Don't look for the Compiz Cube, because Mint 11 has only ONE workspace. Oh, you can right-click the panel and pretend to get four, but as soon as you try to move to another workspace, Mint will freeze. The "other workspace" simply isn't there.

    Do you know why? It is so that converted Windows users won't experience the shock of having their work suddenly vanish if they happen to activate a key combination that changes workspaces. For the sake of protecting uninformed newbies, the entire option of workspaces, one of the most valuable features of so many Linux distributions, has been removed entirely. Deprecated.

    No workspaces, no Mint for me.

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  2. Two points regarding your review: 1> for someone posting reviews that others may consider 'expert', it would be good if you actually read the release notes -- you would then KNOW about the compiz problem, and 2> personal preference regarding visual aspects of a distro hardly should really account for the overall value of the user experience -- beauty IS in the eye of the beholder.

    All in all, it is good that you have found a 'nit' to pick. Otherwise, how could you have justified the time taken to create this 'review'?

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  3. @Emery: That's interesting, because when I switched workspaces (desktop cube aside), I was able to use all four available ones fine.
    @Anonymous: I understand that the problems are mentioned in the release notes. However, with regard to the window border issue (which I experienced but for some reason (that I'm not remembering at the moment) I didn't mention), the suggested solution didn't work at all. Even so, even though the Compiz problem is mentioned in the release notes, that doesn't make it any less annoying. Plus, I did say that I figured anyway that this would be related to upstream issues, and that is confirmed by the release notes as well. Furthermore, while it is true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the visual aspects of the distribution have typically been one of the selling points of Linux Mint (among other things, of course). That's why I obsessed over those issues so much.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  4. @PV -- I guess the point that bothers me most about your review is its narrowness. The user interface issue is much more complicated than picking an initial 'look' for the newest edition of Linux Mint. The major desktop players (KDE, Gnome, AND Ubuntu) are making major changes in their desktop experience. Most, in my opinion, are trying to 'dumb down' the user interface in an attempt to attract more cell phone and tablet users over to the Linux desktop experience. Linux Mint has chosen to preserve the current user experience with Gnome 2 until the dust settles in this changing landscape. I think this is a courageous position that deserves some recognition, not criticism.

    Second, current Linux Mint users enjoy the ease of changing the 'default' desktop that Linux Mint devs provide. The attaching thread in Linux Mint forums, regarding user customization of the Linux Mint desktop, has enjoyed approximately 200,000 views and 6,000 posts:

    http://forums.linuxmint.com/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=10828

    This seems to indicate a community that isn't deterred by what the distro devs provide as a first look.

    I commend you for taking the time and effort to provide the reviews that you do, as well as your willingness to take a public stance on your beliefs. I just wish you had taken a little larger perspective on the considerations most major distros are having to wrestle with.

    Hawkeye52@gmail.com

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  5. Give Pinguy OS 11.04.1 a try.

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  6. To get the desktop switcher on the panel right click to add to the panel. You won't see switcher as an option but will get it by typing switcher in the search box.

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  7. I'm confused I have never had a problem with Linux Mint sooner, But one of my machines is behaving so weird with this system that after four days installing back Linix Mint 10 Julia who works 100% in all of my machines.this feels like a Rc or (nightly build)version.

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  8. It works fine for me. Except for Debian or Redhat you should not expect to not have any issues one a distro is live. It needs some time to settle. Regarding the review, I think it's a waste of time. Linux is not about graphics. If you need a beautiful OS go get another one. There are plenty in Distrowatch. But they are not worth a dime.

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  9. beyondtherainbowJune 3, 2011 at 7:45 AM

    Hi, Katya 64 works fine on my AMD64 four kernel system with 6 G Ram and different HDs (Samsung / Seagate).
    I made a fresh installation on an empty Harddisk with BTRFS and EXT4. My first installation: I tried with btrfs as root. I had different errors. It ends with an unrecoverable error on the btrfs in my root / home directories. So btrfs is at the moment not use able for any productive system! That's my experience!
    I did a fresh installation again - and it runs fine. I have four different workspaces and can switch between.
    I don't use any of these fancy Compiz effects. I switched it all off - because I want the power for other things and not any wobble windows - the same with: show windows containt when move etc ..
    From my point of view: I can recommend Linux Mint 11 Katya to everyone which need a stable base.
    Rgds beyondtherainbow

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  10. Try Mint XFCE which is fully rollon version of Mint. Releases and code names have lost their sense there...

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  11. I too can do with out compiz. The new scroll I can live with out, and do.
    But did I miss something? Isn't the lack of a "theme" being mounted kind of important. I mean, I really like to have the close, minimize and maximize icons. And as I decipher the release notes, that issue is unresolved.

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  12. Workspace is a terrible thing. I like always having a crystal-clear conception about the opened windows.

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  13. @Anonymous 1: I did try out Pinguy OS 10.10, and I liked it a lot. I will be sure to give version 11.04 a try too.
    @Anonymous 2: I know that, but I was too lazy to do it because I knew what the keyboard shortcuts for switching workspaces were already.
    @Anonymous 3: I didn't know that Linux Mint put out nightly builds, but yes, it doesn't feel quite as finished/polished as Linux Mint 10 "Julia".
    @Anonymous 4: If you read the Linux Mint website, you'll see that one of their goals is to make Linux pretty, presentable, and friendly to use. I'm saying here as a 2-year Linux Mint user that this version seems to have failed to meet that goal.
    @beyondtherainbow: I could also do without fancy Compiz effects, but it's a shame that there are options present to enable effects that could potentially break the system.
    @Anonymous 5: I have reviewed Linux Mint Xfce 201104 on this blog, so please do check that out.
    @Anonymous 6: I've always had issues with Compiz removing titlebars, but they've always been fixable by reloading the WM through the Compiz Fusion Icon...until Linux Mint 11 "Katya". That's why I'm so disappointed.
    @int0x: To each to their own. For a long time, I didn't need workspaces either, until I found out how to automatically assign different applications to different workspaces with Compiz. Now I can't do without them.
    Thanks for the comments!

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  14. @Anonymous (from way back when — it seems that your comment got caught in the spam filter, so I apologize for that): I've seen that thread, and they all look beautiful. That said, I have also seen plenty of comments in other forum threads praising the Linux Mint developers for creating such an awesome default desktop. Also, if you have read my previous articles on the issue, I have repeatedly praised Linux Mint for sticking with GNOME 2 or customizing GNOME 3 (which was the initial plan) to be more like GNOME 2. I am not trying to compare Linux Mint to other distributions here, though. I am implicitly comparing Linux Mint 11 "Katya" to previous versions of Linux Mint, and I have come to the conclusion that while there's nothing fundamentally wrong with it, the aesthetic and Compiz issues are enough for me to say that it's not worth an upgrade for current users, and new users may be better served by the longer-supported Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" or the rolling-release Debian-based Linux Mint. Thanks for the comment!

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  15. I came across this post because of the couple of comments about Pinguy OS. If people are having issues with Linux Mint 11 its will be because of Compiz. Linux Mint 11 as well as Ubuntu 11.04 ship with the Compiz 0.9.4 that is still being developed. Compiz 0.9.4 is a complete re-write so is going to take awhile until all the bugs are ironed out. Ubuntu needed to use the new Compiz because the older stable versions don't work with Unty.

    What I don't understand is way Linux Mint 11 shipped with the new unstable Compiz when they don't have Unity installed.

    Pinguy OS comes with the sable compiz 0.8.2 So if you are having issues with Mint you will probably won't face them in Pinguy OS.

    For the people that don't like the idea of all the pre-installed apps Pinguy OS ships with there is now a Mini version released that is pretty much just a Pinguy OS base system with all the tweaks and fixes that are done on the full version do to them.

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  16. @Pinguy: I'm going to do a review of Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini soon, so look out for that! Thanks for the comment & the clarification!

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  17. @PV Thanks for taking the time to look at Pinguy OS. I really appreciate it.

    The mini was done to sort of show case what I have done with the base of the OS and to give the people that hated the full version because it came with to many things they deemed unnecessary a stable base to use/work from.

    The main version is the one that I try to recommended using as it is a fully working out of the box OS. You just install it and you are ready to go. Pinguy OS takes most of the choice out of choosing apps. Its great that any and every program is just a click away in Synaptic, the problem is there is a lot to choose from and people new to Linux are unfamiliar with them. So trying to pick the right app for a task can be a bit intimidating. You can still add and remove any programs that you like in Pinguy OS, I have just made it so people have a good base to start from.

    If you are at all interested about the Compiz bugs there is a pretty interesting read on the bug tracker. The maintainer of compiz has pretty much come out and said he has dropped the ball when it came to Compiz.

    https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/gnome-panel/+bug/767095/comments/148

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  18. @Pinguy: Well, I've finally posted a review of Pinguy OS 11.04 Mini. Please do read that and leave comments. Thanks for the comment!

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  19. I tried Mint 11 after my installation of Pinguy crashed, but decided to go back to Mint 10. However Mint 10 has always had problems with one of my printers, so I tried Pinguy 11, but I could not get a network connection with it, which I gather is a common problem, so I'm now back to Mint 11 which seems to be working well. i think the updates may have sorted out the compiz problem but as I do not want wobbly windows I could not care.

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  20. @Bernie's Art: Well, it's good that you have something working now. Thanks for the comment!

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  21. I run linux mint 11 katya...i have 4 workspaces not just one like you are referring to

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  22. @Anonymous: I know of course that it's possible to have more than one, because I use 4 as well in Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" GNOME. What I'm saying is that there's no workspace switcher applet on the panel, so it looks like there's only one workspace available. Thanks for the comment!

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