Review: Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce

Main Screen + Xfce Menu
The final release of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce hasn't even been officially announced yet, but despite that, I'm reviewing it now (and it is indeed the final release and not an RC). How is that possible? To be honest, I was quite anxious to get my hands on it, and earlier today I found that some mirror sites of Linux Mint had uploaded (though not others, which was weird, although as I write this, more mirrors have uploaded it). Well, in any case, now I'm trying it out.

The main editions of Linux Mint now feature the MATE and GNOME 3/Cinnamon desktop. I've checked out Cinnamon from time to time and have found it to be too unstable for my use, at least in a live USB session; plus, some extensions like the Auto-Move-Windows extension don't work as they should. That leaves MATE, which I tried over a month ago. I wasn't especially happy with it because of the issues with Compiz trying to work with MATE, and this surprised me considering that MATE should have replicated the GNOME 2 experience. That left me waiting for the KDE edition. Then I found out that Xfce would make an official return to Ubuntu-based Linux Mint, which was surprising given past statements by the developers that the Xfce edition would be exclusively offered with the Debian base. Now that this has happened, I want to see if Ubuntu-based Linux Mint with Xfce can effectively replicate and replace my current and ideal GNOME 2 setup on Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora".

I tested the 64-bit version of the live session through a live USB made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what it's like. Also, please note that because this is Linux Mint, I may be more biased in favor of it, but then again, I just couldn't overlook the deficiencies of the MATE edition no matter what, so this may or may not be an issue.

After the boot menu, I was greeted by a blank screen for the boot splash, as has become typical of Linux Mint. A short time after that, I came to the desktop. Weirdly, the first thing that started was the screensaver, but moving the mouse made that go away (and the issue never recurred when I subsequently logged out and logged back in).

Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
The desktop is fairly standard for Linux Mint with Xfce. There is a panel on the bottom that oddly seems to be a little thicker than I am used to seeing; indeed, the panel thickness is 25 pixels which is more than the 24 pixels I am used to seeing in GNOME 2 and MATE, and the difference is actually noticeable. Desktop icons for mounted and removable volumes as well as the home folder are present, and the nice thing is that there is no background color for the text labels under the icons; it's one of the things that makes standard Xfce still feel a little dated, and I'm glad Linux Mint does away with that. That said, unlike in GNOME 2 and MATE, the label text color is black rather than white, and there is no subtle shadow surrounding the text, so unless the user modifies the text color in a particular configuration file, trying to read the labels while using a dark background is an exercise in futility. The panel on the bottom has, from left to right, an Xfce menu, a button to show the desktop and hide windows, a shortcut to some places in Thunar, a window switcher, a notification area, and a clock. The GTK+, Xfwm4, and icon themes as well as the default wallpaper are identical to those from the MATE edition, and this helps keep a unified look for Linux Mint. Although the notification area icons are not the sliding ones from GNOME 2 in Ubuntu/Linux Mint, they work quite well. Better yet, the notifications are the pretty Notify-OSD style notifications rather than the standard ugly notifications in Xfce or MATE; that said, although they can be clicked through, they seem to linger on the screen for longer than usual. One visible issue from the RC of there being too much space between the borders of maximized windows and the edges of the desktop has been fixed in the final release, which is good. Overall, the desktop works quite well, which is to be expected of Linux Mint.

Mozilla Firefox is the default browser, and as this edition (as well as the MATE, Cinnamon, and KDE editions) of Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, it now gets updates at most a few days after a new version of Mozilla Firefox is released. Most multimedia codecs are included, and my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts worked, as have become standard practices for Linux Mint.

LibreOffice is the default productivity suite, even though this is the Xfce edition, and this follows with the idea that for a while now, Linux Mint has been shipping Xfce as a fully-featured desktop to be reckoned with rather than as a stripped-down alternative DE. LibreOffice, like Mozilla Firefox, gets updated through the Ubuntu repositories as frequently as the upstream developers release updates.

The other installed applications are fairly standard for either Linux Mint (e.g. VLC) or Xfce (e.g. Thunar). That said, I do feel the need to question some application choices. While I feel most comfortable using GNOME Terminal, was there really an issue shipping the more lightweight Xfce Terminal instead? Plus, it has GTK3 dependencies; then again, so do a number of other applications included. Along the same lines, why is Eye Of GNOME the default image viewer? (That said, despite the fact that on my main installation I usually use Gloobus-Preview to preview images and Viewnior for more options in viewing, in this live session, Eye Of GNOME does load faster than I remember, and it even loads faster than Eye Of MATE.) Moreover, why is Gthumb also included if it is never the default application for anything? Would users really have felt shafted if a more lightweight alternative like Mirage, Ristretto, or Viewnior (the last of which incidentally does not have official packages for Ubuntu) were used instead, given that all of those fulfill the basic needs of browsing images and making basic edits like cropping and rotating? And for music collection applications, why is Linux Mint sticking with the bloated beast that is Banshee instead of going back to Rhythmbox like Ubuntu?

Because this is a serious contender for a place on my desktop, I tested the full range of other applications too.
Linux Mint Menu + Gedit + Window Preview
Skype is included in the repositories. It is at version 2.2 while the latest version is 4.0, but that's OK because I feel that Skype 2.X for Linux is more stable anyway, and I'm not missing any features from version 4.0. It installed and worked just fine.
I was able to download and install the DEB file for Google Talk. That worked fine too.
I only needed to install one other dependency to be able to unpack and install the TAR file for Mupen64Plus 1.5. After that, I was able to use and configure the GUI for it just fine, and I was able to play all my games fine. Even better, the menu updated itself to reflect the installation of Mupen64Plus faster than I have seen anywhere else.
Redshift is also available in the repositories. It installed and worked fine too.
Finally, I tried to use SSH to login to the computing cluster that I use for my UROP. Although this did not work in the RC and did not work in a few other distributions like Sabayon 9 KDE (which is the only thing holding me back from am using the latter), it worked fine here, which is great.

Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce comes with the latest Compiz packages but no way to configure them. In any case, I added the PPA for pre-proposed Compiz packages by Mr. Daniel Van Vugt and updated the system. The installed Compiz packages are newer, so I was technically downgrading the installed packages to the versions in the PPA. This made the process a little more complicated: I had to uninstall all the Compiz packages, force their versions in the correct order to those in the PPA, and then install those. After that, I was able to configure and use Compiz just fine, and I am happy to report that the desktop cube works without any flashing or other artifacts. That said, the ability to set an image for the caps of the cube seems to have been removed; replacing it is the ability to set the caps to show a solid color, which is a little disappointing but not a huge deal by any means. Anyway, what this means is that I would have to lock the versions of Compiz installed to prevent automatic upgrades; this is not a huge deal because I don't anticipate too many dependencies being adversely affected by this, and more importantly, I don't think Compiz has too many dependencies in the first place that I would worry about.

But wait, there's more! If you've noticed, I haven't mentioned Emerald here at all. That's because ironically, the GNOME compatibility plugin in Compiz seems to work better with Xfce than with MATE. I was able to use the GTK Window Decorator and not get the ugly default decorations by installing GConf-Editor and setting the window decoration to be the Metacity theme of my choice. In fact, I specifically downloaded my customized EHomosapien Metacity theme and used it here. Just to complete the look, I downloaded and used the "Greybird" GTK+ and Elementary icon themes and changed the wallpaper to one of those from the "Caledonia" theme suite in KDE. Now I am no longer restricted to Emerald and can customize the look of my desktop almost as easily as in GNOME 2; plus, the GTK Window Decorator is less resource-intensive than Emerald, and I don't have to simultaneously run the Compiz Fusion Icon.

There were a few other modifications I made. I enabled Redshift and its GTK+ icon to start upon logging in. I configured Mozilla Firefox to my liking. I changed the format of the clock in the panel. I added some separators and the weather applet and replaced the Xfce menu and Thunar shortcut with, respectively, the Linux Mint Menu and a workspace switcher. I have to say that I like the look of the Xfce weather applet much more than that of the one in GNOME 2 and MATE; that said, they both don't look as nice as the ones in GNOME 3 or KDE. Anyway, the only issue with this was that the panel button for the Linux Mint Menu reflected the default GTK+ theme rather than the custom one that I had selected; this was easy to change by right-clicking the button, clicking "Preferences", clicking on the "Theme" tab, and selecting the current GTK+ theme using the given drop-down menu. While this means that changing the GTK+ theme each time necessitates manually changing the theme for the Linux Mint Menu, that isn't a huge issue because I don't anticipate changing the GTK+ theme much at all. The same things go for the Metacity theme for the GTK Window Decorator in Compiz, which can only be changed through GConf-Editor.

Thunar + Eye Of GNOME + Desktop Cube
With Compiz and Redshift running in the background and with the other changes that I had made, Linux Mint with Xfce used about 490 MB of RAM at idle. While this is quite a bit for Xfce, it's by and large reflective of what I see in my installed GNOME 2 system. Plus, given that Linux Mint has explicitly said that the Xfce edition should not be considered lightweight in any way, I'm not too worried about this. Also, as expected, Xfce was quite stable; more importantly, though, using Compiz in conjunction with Xfce did not cause any stability issues like the ones that appeared in the MATE edition.

There are only two other minor issues I have with the desktop as I have customized it. The first is that the clicking on the clock applet in the panel is supposed to bring up a calendar sitting just above the panel; however, enabling Compiz makes "sitting just above" become "hovering many tens of pixels above". The second is that with Xfce 4.10, Thunar appears to have dropped navigation buttons in favor of breadcrumbs; while that is generally OK with me, my problem is that when the size of the Thunar window is smaller as is the default setting and when I have clicked through a bunch of folders and I try to navigate back, sometimes the arrow buttons to show breadcrumbs forward and backward don't work correctly, so I have to expand the size of the Thunar window just to complete the navigation. This becomes especially problematic when a folder name is large, as this makes the breadcrumb quite long and unwieldy; this happens when accessing a mounted volume which Linux labels with a weird long string of letters and numbers.

That is where my time with Linux Mint ended. Well, folks, this could be it. Especially when compared to the MATE edition, Xfce as packaged by Linux Mint does an absolutely superb job of replicating my preferred GNOME 2 setup in every way. I'm not going to install it just yet because I want to see how it performs in a long-term review on my UROP desktop, but I have a feeling it will go well. Also, Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE is on the verge of seeing its final release as well, and given the good experiences I have had with KDE so far on my UROP desktop, I want to try that too as the subject of both a regular and a long-term review. That said, given how good the Xfce edition seems to be, the KDE edition will have to work hard to match that. In any case, I can give Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce my highest recommendation. It's interesting because although the MATE and Cinnamon editions are the official replacements of the GNOME 2 edition of Linux Mint, I believe that the Xfce edition is the real spiritual successor here. And I guess with that, I'm going with the current choice of Mr. Linus Torvalds himself!
This edition has not been officially released at the time of this writing, but you can watch for it here.