Revisited: Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" KDE + Xfce

The KDE and Xfce editions of Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" recently came out. Over a month ago, I had reviewed the MATE edition, and while I was generally happy with how it worked, there were a handful of minor usability issues and other niggles that detracted from the experience enough that I couldn't recommend that a newbie install it by him/herself. Given that, I wanted to see if maybe the KDE or Xfce editions could make up for the deficiencies that I observed in the MATE edition. Follow the jump to see what each is like. Given that the main base of Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" is common to all of these editions, I'm not going to spend too much time rehashing things like application installation for their own sake; instead, these reviews will be shorter, and will focus on the differences relative to the MATE edition.


KDE: Main Screen + Kickoff Menu
After getting past the boot menu and splash, I was greeted by the main desktop. It is a fairly standard affair for KDE Plasma 5, with no particular modifications that I could see (beyond the wallpaper), and with no desktop icons; in fact, even the KDE Kickoff menu icon is the stock KDE icon (though, to be fair, the Linux Mint developers acknowledge this change compared to past KDE editions of Linux Mint). The default themes and icon sets seem to work quite well too.

However, there are a few usability issues that I can see. One is that when I move the cursor or click on certain applications or widgets, there's a little bit of a lag, and sometimes trailing cursor artifacts appear on the screen. (This is especially noticeable when trying to add or modify Plasma widgets.) Another is that when a window or Plasma widget (like the KDE Kickoff menu) opens, it may not immediately be active, so it might appear to be translucent even when it is in front of all of the other windows; I have to minimize and restore the window to make it active again, which is a bit annoying. Finally, although KDE/Qt applications treat scrollbars sanely (in that clicking in the space below the scrollbar cursor simply scrolls down consistently by several lines instead of jumping to the clicked location), Linux Mint uses a lot of GTK+ applications which do still feature the scrollbar issue that I pointed out in my review of the MATE edition.

In terms of applications, my experiences were largely the same as with the MATE edition, and things generally worked; additionally, I had learned my lesson and was more patient with the finding and installation of additional multimedia codecs. That said, there are two things that I would like to further point out. One is that the DE-agnostic utility applications present in the MATE edition are absent from the KDE edition, as the KDE edition instead features the standard KDE utilities, like Gwenview, Kate, et cetera. This is probably for the better in terms of overall KDE integration, and those applications are quite powerful and customizable as they are. The other is that the file manager Dolphin seems to be a bit harder to use and customize. The issue that stuck out the most in my mind was that the default click behavior was to single-click to open files and folders, and I could not (without searching online, of course) find the option to change that behavior; I'd imagine that this would be rather frustrating to certain newbies who would be more used to double-click behavior.

The KDE edition used about 300 MB of RAM at idle according to the command "free -m", which is quite light for a KDE distribution. Additionally, it was able to run desktop effects like the cube and others through KWin, though there were two issues that I encountered in that process. One is that the cube and similar effects occasionally lag a little bit (in a manner similar to the general occasional latency that I would experience in this distribution). The other is that when the desktop cube and desktop wall effects are invoked (separate from their short animations when switching desktops), there is no way to move the cube or wall or to select a desktop with just the keyboard; the mouse is required, which I think rather defeats the purpose of those effects from a functional standpoint. I figure that those are things that can be further configured, but there isn't much point in doing so anyway.

That is where my time with Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" KDE ended. In addition to not resolving any of the issues from the MATE edition, it introduced certain usability issues of its own. I feel like it's a decent distribution that is mainly made for people who really like KDE but want to be able to use the goodies that Linux Mint provides out-of-the-box, but for newbies, I see no particular reason to recommend this over the MATE edition.


Xfce: Main Screen + (Customized) Whisker Menu
My experiences with the Xfce edition were almost identical to the MATE edition, so I'll just briefly go over the main differences that I saw. One is the panel: it is a lot thicker and has a few more applets than the MATE panel does (but this is fairly typical of how Linux Mint presents Xfce). Another is that Thunar is the default file manager, as is standard for Xfce; I was able to successfully install Nemo (the file manager for Cinnamon, which I find is more powerful than Thunar and has a nicer interface than Caja) and use it as the default file manager, along with various extensions for it. Next, the Whisker menu is not identical to the Linux Mint Menu in MATE, but it can be customized to be fairly close in terms of appearance and functionality. Finally, with Compiz running, the Xfce edition used only 230 MB of RAM at idle, according to the "free -m" command. Given all of this (and given that the rest of the experience, with all of the positives and negatives, was identical to that of the MATE edition), I could recommend Linux Mint 18 "Sarah" Xfce to exactly the same degree as I did for the MATE edition.

You can get both here.