IMPORTANT SECURITY UPDATE:Update mintAssistant to 2.5 and relaunch it from the mintMenu if you chose not to set a root password. See here for details. The bug is so serious that the ISO
is being was rebuilt ; I suggest waiting about three days (15 June) before downloading if you haven’t already done so. The new iso has been released. You can find it here.
The wonderful team over at Linux Mint has just released their fifth version (release notes, download) of the operating system, codename Elyssa, presenting yet another stable and elegant system. I’ve installed and used every version of Linux Mint since Celena (3.1), and have lurked around the forums for a while. I decided to write a review for this version as this will mark the first release for Long Term Support; I hate updating my system every six months, so I plan to make this version my main operating system for the next three years.
I’m lucky to have blindly bought a computer that is very compatible with Linux. Wireless and Compiz work automagically, even from the Live CD environment.
I decided to do a sort of mix between reviewing for Mint newcomers and for those who have used Mint in the past. This review is not intended for newcomers to Linux, however they are encouraged to download Linux Mint and see how they like it. Linux newbies (and Linux Mint newbies!) can download the user guide to see the system and its features.
This has been covered over and over; the installer has not changed for quite a number of releases, so please see a different review if you wish to have a step-by-step guide ;) . A few thoughts, though:
Choosing your timezone: Doing this sucks. You move your mouse over the map to select a city, and oops, you’re now in Australia. You’re careful to maneuver your pointer to eastern USA, and shoot, you’ve moved too far and are now in Hawaii. It’s faster for me just to choose a city from the drop down menu. Also: I had the entire Live CD freeze up on me (with the exception of the mouse) during this step while trying to listen to one of my songs. As a result, I had to restart my computer. Hopefully the cause of this was MPlayer and not the installer. This incident is one example of why you probably shouldn’t do ANYTHING while the system is installing. Don’t take any chances.
Using the manual partition scheme: This was the first time I’ve had to manually set my mount points, as I just recently moved /home to its own partition. (By the way, if you’re looking to do this, Linux Mint has an excellent tutorial on the wiki.) Manually setting this was fairly easy; I chose my 10 GB empty partition to be formatted as ext3 and mounted at / , and I chose my 120 GB partition to be mounted at /home. Simple as can be :) (for those who know about a little about partitions, anyway).
I didn’t time how long it took to boot, but thinking back, I believe this is one of the fastest boot times I’ve ever had in Linux Mint. And the boot screen looks delicious! It’s slightly different from version four (Daryna), but it looks cleaner and [therefore?] more professional. The default artwork is consistent; consistency is a quality that I hold very high.
Upon logging in for the first time, you are greeted with the mintAssistant, which asks you if you want to enable a root account (NOT recommended), and if you want fortunes to appear in the terminal. The fortune app is a great feature to enable; humor is always a good thing :) . In this release, the fortunes are read to you by various animals! Hit the “Show an Example” button to see. Unfortunately it might not be an accurate representation; the example box does not display with a fixed width font. The animal might appear squished.
As will be posted in many reviews, this is the default desktop for Elyssa:
The default theme, which has stayed similar since version three, does its job as a default: it’s sterile and unobtrusive, yet it has an edge. However, it’s not quite snazzy enough for my tastes. Not shown in the screenshot are the default icons that come on the desktop, which include “Computer”, “Home”, and any mounted harddrives you have. They can be removed through a program called mintDesktop, which I will discuss later in this review. One of the less important but still noteworthy features of this release is the quality artwork that comes with Elyssa. It’s absolutely stunning. The Mint Art Team has done wonders. This is how my desktop looks, and how it will stay :)
There really is something for everyone when it comes to the themes present in this release. All wallpapers come in standard and widescreen forms.
One of the strongest highlights about Linux Mint is the tools they have developed. The mintMenu is the most useful and efficient menu system I have ever encountered. It’s similar to KDE’s Tasty menu, but more competent. It allows you to quickly search for installed applications by name, title, or description (hitting enter after filtering calls Tracker to search for that item); it allows you to create a custom “Favorites” menu for even quicker access to commonly used apps; and in this release, it allows you to uninstall applications directly from a menu! Just right click -> Uninstall. Also with a right click, you can choose to have the program launch when you log in. By right clicking the menu button itself and choosing “Preferences”, you can customize the menu to your taste. Options include showing your recent documents, opting to click the application sections instead of hovering to reveal them, and changing the text shown in the menu. One complaint I have with the menu is that it doesn’t automatically update when you install a new application. You have to right click the menu button and select “Reload Plugins”. In fact, if the menu gives you any problems, this is usually the solution. Another complaint: the Edit Menu option sends you to GNOME’s menu editor (alacarte), which thoroughly sucks. Moving an entry to another menu duplicates it, and then leaves the original still checked! On my wish list: the ability to drag a menu item to a different section, and to remove and add items to a section, from within mintMenu. Also on that list is the ability to change what hitting enter does after filtering the results; this is possible to change from gconf-editor but not from the preferences dialog. And my last compliant (sorry): If any of the “Computer”, “Home Folder”, or “Networks” buttons receive focus, I can’t start typing an application name without clicking on the “Filter” text box.
Another integral tool to Linux Mint is the mintUpdate. This program adds to the stability of the system, as it puts classifications on the updates and by default disallows those which might harm your system (updates to X11, the kernel, etc.). Classifications range from 1 to 5, with 1 being the safest and 5 being “dangerous”. For descriptions of the various levels, click the Preferences button in mintUpdate. A few notes: after you first turn on your system, mintUpdate will “refresh”, but it needs to be running as root to actually see if there are updates (open it and it will ask for a password). From the preferences, you can set how often it refreshes. One thing that annoys me is the icon used for when Synaptic or apt is running: a broken lock. It worries me because I’d expect that icon if my dependencies were broken, something which has happened twice in my experience with Linux (both my fault). Maybe just an X over the lock would be better? Just a suggestion….
Subtle tweaks to the desktop are manipulated through mintDesktop. You can display which icons to show/hide (Computer, Home, Network, Trash, Mounted Volumes), choose the [annoying] “spatial mode” for the file browser, enable GNOME’s new composite engine (it’s okay, certainly not as good as Compiz), and restore splash screens to GIMP and OpenOffice (which are usually overwritten if they receive upstream updates).
I’m not using Synaptic to install applications anymore. mintInstall is integrated with the Linux Mint software portal, and allows you to get a tiny .mint file which contains instructions for installing the application. Among the applications available in the portal are Google Earth, Open Arena, and Skype. Searching for applications on the portal can be done either from the web interface or from mintInstall. Searching the popular GetDeb.net from within mintInsall is also possible, as well as apt itself. One thing that usually needs clarification: the .mint file IS NOT another package manager. It uses the apt protocol to install applications. Some complaints: no error was produced when attempting to install “somerandomapp” in the APT tab, and clicking “Search” gave me a window with an empty text box. However, the ability to search, show, and install applications from apt is a great feature of mintInstall. Another thing that nags me is that when installing an application, it will ask if you want to install using the Default or Local repositories. In my mind, Default == Local. Not so, however; “default” means the repository defined in the .mint file, and “local” means your own sources.list file. Maybe the label “mintInstall’s Repositories” or “Application.mint’s Repositories” instead of “Default Repositories” would suit better?
Linux Mint comes with its own solution to backing up your Home folder with mintBackup. You can choose which files/folders to exclude from the backup, as well as which hidden files/folders to include. To restore, simply double click on the backup file. You can choose to overwrite existing data. On one of my attempts I received errors on both the backup and the recovery, but both were successful. Upon double clicking the .backup file, the contents are unpacked to /tmp, so I suggest making sure there’s enough room (or not. Remember, I have a 45GB /home folder, and /tmp only has 7GB of free space). The file seems to be a simple tar archive. My one complaint: There isn’t a progress bar for backup or recovery. A minor issue, but it would be nice :) .
One last tool that isn’t mentioned in many of the reviews that I’ve read is mintUpload. Right-clicking a file and selecting “Upload” will allow you to upload any file which is under 10MB to Linux Mint’s server. Select the Default upload service, choose your file, click upload, and you’ll receive a link to your file which will be kept on the server for two days. It beats using Rapidshare for quickly sharing a file ;) … It is also integrated with mint-space, a web hosting service provided by Linux Mint (Note: the Linux Mint Store seems to be closed, so I’m not sure if the ability to purchase an account on mint-space.com is possible at this time).
Most of the software present in Linux Mint is standard in major distributions: Firefox web browser, GIMP image processor, Pidgin IM client, OpenOffice office suit, Tomboy note taking application, XChat IRC client. EnvyNG is provided for those who need to install drivers for their graphics card. Like Ubuntu, Linux Mint included the Transmission BitTorrent client (I’ll most likely install KTorrent) and the Brasero disc burner. Thunderbird is used in Linux Mint for email. Tracker is there for searching files, but I will probably end up using Google Desktop. I’ve never had any luck with Tracker, or even Beagle. PPPOE was added.
Gnome-Do was also included in Elyssa. It’s a nifty little application (start it up with Super+Space), but it takes some getting used to. Play around with it to see what I mean. It seems super-efficient once learned.
I was disappointed when I saw the beta/RC of Firefox 3 was included instead of the more stable version 2. This was a decision made by both Linux Mint and Ubuntu. The Linux Mint team has fixed Firefox from crashing when Flash does, however I was not able to get Flash to work again by simply refreshing the page; I had to restart Firefox. Linux Mint 5 uses Firefox RC1 with Flash 10. I really like bleeding edge software, but for goodness sake, it’s supposed to be an LTS release! Yeah, I understand version 2 of Firefox probably isn’t going to be supported up to three years from now, but it would have shown seriousness by the distributions to be stable.
Another disappointing decision made in this release was the replacement of Amarok with Rhythmbox. Rhytmbox pales in comparison to Amarok’s abilities. Changing the ID3 tags is a hassle in Rhtymbox (you have to do it through a dialog box), there are no Global Shortcuts (sorry, you have to stop what you’re doing if you want to change the song), there aren’t nearly the amount of features present in Rhythmbox as there are in Amarok, and being able to see only fifteen songs at a time in my 5000+ song collection is annoying (I saw no option to change the font size). I suppose I’m ranting because I’ve used Amarok for so long. All is well though; removing Rhythmbox with mintMenu and installing Amarok with mintInstall is fairly simple ;)
The terminal got a boost of color. Users see their name in green, while root shows up as red. Using grep highlights the results in red. This is a very cool feature which spices up one of the blander things about Linux (this as well as the fortune application). I’m going to steal this screenshot from the release notes
because I’m lazy and don’t want to open up GIMP to blur out my name ;) :
You can now open a folder as root from within the Nautilus file browser through the context menu. Doing so will open the radically different XFE file browser to ensure you know that you’re browsing as root. A very nice feature, I must say.
Linux Mint 5 Elyssa is the best release I’ve seen to date and is something that I would feel comfortable running for the next three years. It feels very stable (apart from Firefox 3 and the hiccup from mintAssistant), and it’s definitely a distribution I could recommend to the young and old alike. It’s polished, consistent, and well thought out. I’d like to thank the people who run the distribution for their hard work and continued efforts to make the best desktop OS yet!
NOTE: I wrote a lot of this review while under the second release candidate of Elyssa. Please correct me if I am wrong on any of these points. As always, comments are welcome.
UPDATE: I was stupid and didn’t include a download link! You can find the download here.
UPDATE 2: A reader suggests that Linux Mint cannot dist-upgrade. It can, but it’s not recommended. See the upgrade instruction section of the release notes.
UPDATE 3: See this thread on the LM forums for someone’s experience doing a dist-upgrade.
UPDATE 5: Fixed the download link