Comparison Test: Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE vs. Netrunner 4.1 "Dryland"

Linux Mint: Main Screen
Both of the latest releases of these particular distributions came out this week. Also, Linux Mint now has a partnership with Netrunner for Linux Mint with KDE; hence, this comparison test may be the last meaningful one between the distributions while they remain as separate as possible, because I think they will converge in the coming months. Finally, Kubuntu just lost its funding at Canonical, so like Xubuntu, Lubuntu, and Edubuntu, after (but not including) version 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin" it will be recognized by Canonical as an official derivative but will only be supported by the community. This means that there will need to be a new top dog for Ubuntu-based KDE distributions, and these two distributions seem like the most likely candidates. That is why I am comparing these two distributions now.

Linux Mint of course needs no introduction here. Interestingly, considering that for almost all of its history it has made Ubuntu with GNOME better and more usable, it actually started out in version 1 "Ada" as a KDE distribution, and KDE was still prominently featured until around version 3.1 "Celena" (and that is also around the time KDE made the transition from version 3 to version 4, which caused many users to move away to other DEs). After that, though, GNOME became the really prominent DE in Linux Mint, and KDE has almost become a second-class citizen in Linux Mint; in the last few releases, though the main GNOME edition has received extensive customizations, the KDE edition has been just a lightly-rebranded version of Kubuntu with a few other small customizations here and there. I will see whether or not that continues to be the case.

Netrunner: Main Screen
Netrunner, despite the name, is not a cloud-oriented distribution. It is a traditional desktop distribution like any other, and it aims to provide KDE mixed with useful tools taken from GNOME along with other helpful installed programs and customizations.

I tested both using a multiboot live USB made with MultiSystem. I did not test the installation processes, because both are based on Ubuntu so there is really no need; all I am really comparing are the first impressions created by each distribution (so the whole post may seem a bit superficial), because soon they will more likely than not converge. Follow the jump to see what each distribution is like.

Linux Mint

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a black screen for the boot splash, as has become the norm for Linux Mint. After that came the Linux Mint-branded KDE splash screen, but while the cursor remained visible, the splash suddenly became black, which was a little disconcerting. Thankfully that quickly gave way to the desktop.

The desktop is literally the same as the one found in Kubuntu, save for the Linux Mint-branded wallpaper (which oddly looks a little too wide) and Kickoff menu icon and the replacement of the KDE Activities and workspace switching panel widgets with, respectively, shortcuts to show the desktop and launch Dolphin. There really isn't much to say here, so I will move on.

The default browser is Mozilla Firefox, which is good because there are still some things that I feel Rekonq can't do yet. Multimedia codecs are included, which is the norm for Linux Mint, and all my laptop's hardware seemed to be recognized correctly.

Linux Mint: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
+ LibreOffice Calc
Other installed programs include LibreOffice, digiKam (and its myriad plugins that can also be launched as standalone applications, such as ExpoBlending and others), Mozilla Thunderbird, Amarok, K3B, GNOME MPlayer, VLC, Minitube, and others.

Desktop effects worked and were in fact enabled by default. Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE used about 420 MB of RAM at idle; considering that KDE at versions 4.7 and 4.8 is a lot slimmer than it used to be in terms of resource usage, even though this is with desktop effects on, this is still honestly a little disappointing.

Of course, as this is Linux Mint, the usual Linux Mint tools are included. This means that the Muon Software Center and Muon Package Manager in Kubuntu are replaced by, respectively, the Linux Mint Software Manager and the Synaptic Package Manager. The latter worked great, and there were no problems. Unfortunately, the former kept crashing two seconds after launching it, and there was no way I could use it, which was a pretty big deal.
In addition, the update tool in Kubuntu is replaced by the Linux Mint Update Manager, which is good, as that worked quite well even in the live session. Other tools include the Linux Mint Domain Blocker (MintNanny) and the Linux Mint Welcome Screen (MintWelcome).

One of the things I still miss from these newer distributions is the Linux Mint Menu. The closest thing to it is the KDE Lancelot main menu, and I do believe the KDE Lancelot developers have collaborated on development with the Linux Mint developers. Therefore, I find it rather strange that the KDE Lancelot menu is not included or used at all. Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE feels rather generic instead of special as it stands right now, and I feel like using the KDE Lancelot menu (along with possibly different KDE Plasma and icon themes, as was originally proposed for Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE/Debian-based Linux Mint KDE) would go a long way in terms of helping Linux Mint with KDE stand out. Anyway, that's where my time with Linux Mint ended.


After the boot menu, I was greeted here too with a black screen for a boot splash. That gave way to a Netrunner-branded KDE splash screen, which quickly gave way to the desktop.

The desktop actually reminds me a lot of PCLinuxOS. There are two desktop icons, and they use the "Folder View" rather than "Desktop" KDE Activity, so they act like traditional desktop icons. There is one panel on the bottom, and it contains, from left to right, a KDE Classic menu, shortcuts to Dolphin, Konsole, Mozilla Firefox, YouTube, and Facebook, a window switcher, shortcuts to KDE System Settings & Synaptic Package Manager, a system tray, a clock, and a shortcut to show the desktop. The KWin and Plasma themes are made to emulate the look in Microsoft Windows 7. The icon theme is the old Oxygen theme (before the folders were made to look less glossy/more plain). Overall, the desktop sets itself apart from vanilla KDE.
The KDE Classic menu is somewhat interesting, as its layout is not traditional in that traditional categories are not the first thing visible. The visible categories are "Software", "Web-Apps" (so I guess Netrunner does live up to its name after all), WINE, "Games", "Utilities", "System", "System Settings", "Run Command", and "Leave". For some weird reason, games, utilities, and system tools are not included under "Software", though graphics, Internet, multimedia, and productivity applications are there. Also, the menu makes the cursor a little more jumpy than usual, so it is difficult to stay on a particular category for more than a fraction of a second with the mouse; using the keyboard makes this moot, but it is still annoying.

Netrunner: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
+ LibreOffice Calc
As stated before, Mozilla Firefox is the default browser, and it seems to have codecs included as well. Furthermore, my laptop's hardware seemed to be recognized just fine. That said, I think the Netrunner developers took the Microsoft Windows 7 motif too far, because Mozilla Firefox is customized in a manner reminiscent of that bad browser past (Microsoft Internet Explorer 7), what with the "Awesome Bar" combined with the menubar, the navigation buttons littered with buttons for extensions, and the suggestive icon theme just for Mozilla Firefox. Even worse than that, even the file chooser dialog in Mozilla Firefox is themed to replicate the experience in Microsoft Windows.

The other included applications are the same as in Linux Mint, along with Pidgin, Skype, AcetoneISO, Dragon Player, and WINE. This was great because I was able to talk with my family this evening without needing to install Skype first; I was able to sign on directly.
The web applications included are Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox, and a few others. Opening one of these simply opens a new tab in Mozilla Firefox, unless that is not already open, in which case a new instance of Mozilla Firefox opens to that site. This is better than in some other distributions where a new instance of the browser opens regardless of whether an instance is already open or not.

The Muon Software Center, Muon Package Manager, and Muon Update Manager worked the same as they did in Kubuntu, which is to say they all worked well (in contrast to the eponymous Software Manager which crashed in Linux Mint). Interestingly enough, Synaptic Package Manager is also included, and that worked well too.

Desktop effects were enabled out-of-the-box in Netrunner to emulate Microsoft Windows 7 (again). Netrunner used 380 MB of RAM at idle with desktop effects on; while this is not as bad as Linux Mint, it is still on the high side. Anyway, that is where my time with Netrunner ended.

Yes, this was a fairly shallow comparison, but I just wanted to compare the two out-of-the-box experiences while the distributions remained somewhat different. With that in mind, it is obvious that Netrunner has made a greater effort to differentiate itself from the pack; Linux Mint is really just Kubuntu with the Linux Mint branding and tools thrown in. That's why I think it is beneficial for both organizations that Netrunner and Linux Mint are now partners in developing their KDE distributions. For now, though, Netrunner has won this one.
You can get Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" KDE here, and you can get Netrunner 4.1 "Dryland" here