Review: Linux Mint 15 "Olivia" Cinnamon + MATE

It's that time of the year again. Linux Mint has just released the latest version of its distribution, and I'm going to review it.

Cinnamon: Main Screen + Cinnamon Menu
What has changed since the previous version? Cinnamon has gotten more bug fixes as usual. More importantly, its settings have been consolidated into one program, and it has become less immediately dependent on GNOME than before. Meanwhile, MATE has also been moving away from old libraries toward newer ones used in GNOME 3 as well, allowing for things like Caja to look a little more like Nautilus. There are other changes in store for Linux Mint itself, like new separate tools to manage software repositories and drivers, respectively (in opposition to how Ubuntu is doing it now).

I tested both of these as live USB systems made with UnetBootin. Follow the jump to see what they are like.


After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a boot splash; this one seems new, as it features the Linux Mint logo fading in from the black background. After that came the desktop.

Cinnamon: Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
The desktop is fairly standard for Cinnamon, but because I haven't reviewed a Cinnamon distribution in a while, I'll go over it again. There are desktop icons present. There is one panel on the bottom containing, from left to right, the Cinnamon Menu, a button to show the desktop, some quick launchers, a window switcher, a button to display notifications, a button to customize the panel, a shortcut to removable drives, a system tray with a clock, and a button to show all present windows. I think the themes (window decoration, GTK+) in Linux Mint have been improved since last time, but in any case, they look far less chintzy and a good deal more classy; this also may be because the effects in Cinnamon are present by default, whereas that is typically not the case in MATE. My only complaints are that the panel icons to show notifications and to customize the panel look a little cheap and could use some more work, but otherwise, the desktop looks quite nice and extremely polished (as should be expected of Linux Mint).

Mozilla Firefox is the default browser. As expected, proprietary codecs are included by default, as YouTube and Hulu worked fine, as did my laptop's volume keyboard shortcuts.
LibreOffice is included as usual. A very nice touch is that the icons are Faenza to match with the rest of the desktop; this is somewhat unusual because that is not an icon theme shipped by default in LibreOffice. The other application are fairly standard for Linux Mint.
Nemo has been the default file browser in Cinnamon for a while now. It now reminds me very much of Nautilus Elementary in its interface and functionality. There are a lot of nice little touches, like the tiny basic customization icons below the sidebar and the fancy-looking breadcrumbs. What I'd like to see now is support for something like Gloobus Preview or GNOME Sushi.

Linux Mint 15 "Olivia" Cinnamon used 230 MB of RAM at idle, which is quite low for a DE these days. The desktop effects provided by Cinnamon worked well, but I can't seem to find a way to choose which effects to enable anymore; that setting seems to have disappeared from the Cinnamon Control Center.
Cinnamon: Nemo + Eye Of GNOME
Speaking of which, that program now houses all the settings that can be changed graphically in Cinnamon, obviating the need for the GNOME 3 Control Center/System Settings program, which is nice. I tried to install new panel applets like the GNOME 2-style Linux Mint Menu as well as a window switcher with previews, but the former couldn't install at all, and the latter couldn't be found anywhere on the panel once added. That made the whole customization exercise a little useless. Furthermore, my attempts to customize the desktop resulted in the desktop freezing on two different occasions. Thankfully I was able to restart Cinnamon using 'CTRL'+'ALT'+'BACKSPACE'; this also let me see the updates to the MDM login screen, which looks way more classy and is much more customizable than it was just a year ago.

That's where my time with the Cinnamon edition ended. Overall it seems like the stability of Cinnamon on Linux Mint has only marginally improved and still leaves a bit to be desired. I'm leaving the discussion for installing my preferred applications and customizing the desktop further for the review of the MATE edition, which is just below this.


MATE: Main Screen + Linux Mint Menu
Most of what was discussed regarding things like the boot splash and applications are the same as in Cinnamon. Besides that, the desktop is obviously a traditional MATE desktop for Linux Mint; also, I can confirm that the reason why the desktop themes look a little more chintzy on MATE is the lack of desktop effects by default.

Caja now looks a lot like Nautilus, though its top toolbar is still quite cluttered. I'm also hoping that Caja gets a file previewer like Gloobus Preview or GNOME Sushi, but that may not happen so soon.

I was able to install Skype and Redshift using the Synaptic Package Manager. Both of those installed and worked fine. I will say though that the Synaptic Package Manager seemed to exhibit a little latency, and it never closed properly; I had to force its closure, and then issue the command "sudo killall synaptic" to properly finish the job. This is probably the first time I have encountered that issue.
Mupen64Plus 1.5 was installable via the route that has become typical for me. There were a couple of things troubling about it though. The first was that it never appeared in the Linux Mint Menu. The second was that it didn't come with the "Rice" video plugin which renders video smoothly but instead comes with the inferior "Glide" plugin, and it doesn't come with a configurable input plugin which essentially makes the GUI worthless to me.
Google Talk was installable through its DEB file from the website accessible from within Gmail. It installed and worked fine.

MATE: Caja + Eye Of MATE
Linux Mint 15 "Olivia" MATE used about 230 MB of RAM at idle, which is the same as the Cinnamon edition. Both are quite good numbers, but MATE had no desktop effects running, while Cinnamon had all the available ones enabled, so I would say Cinnamon performs better. Furthermore, I felt throughout my time reviewing the MATE edition that the desktop didn't feel quite as snappy as I have become accustomed to over the past couple of years, as windows seemed to lag a little while being moved around (and the feeling of latency was heightened with the issue with the Synaptic Package Manager).
Speaking of desktop effects, I was unable to get Compiz to run the way I wanted. Compiz does run, and it is possible to customize the settings in the default plugins that are chosen to run and for those specific customizations to stick around. However, for some reason, Compiz no longer seems to respect the user's choice of which plugins to enable or disable, meaning I could no longer run the lovely desktop cube as I pleased. It seems like this is a well-known issue with no known solution for Ubuntu 13.04 "Raring Ringtail" and its derivatives.

That is where my time with the MATE edition and with Linux Mint 15 "Olivia" overall ended. I still feel like I can't really recommend the Cinnamon edition because of its instabilities, though this is the first review of it in Linux Mint where I have been able to do enough in it that I feel is worth documenting. I can certainly recommend the MATE edition to newbies, but because of the overall slightly sluggish behavior as well as the issues I encountered with the Synaptic Package Manager, Compiz (though this is not a Linux Mint problem per se), and Mupen64Plus, the confidence I have in giving the recommendation is slightly lower than usual (though still fairly high). I'm hoping that by the next LTS release, the remaining issues with Compiz will be ironed out and Mupen64Plus will again be workable. Otherwise I'm going to have to seriously look into alternative distributions and programs for the future; thankfully if nothing else, I'm covered for 5 years with my Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce setup.
You can get it here.