The wait was finally over for the many Linux Mint fans who wanted R11 to become available when the release candidate was made public just a few days ago. For those who don't remember or didn't know, Linux Mint 10 RC went live soon after Ubuntu 10.10, but then it took quite a while for the final official version to be available. Users with the RC would get all the updates required and would eventually be at the same level as the final release version. Long story short, if you can't wait to get your hands on Linux Mint 11, there's no real need to wait for the final version to be available.
Please note that early download/upgrade/installation is not recommended for users who require a very stable environment. Such users are better off waiting a few more months before actually downloading or maybe even skipping the upgrade altogether.
AN UNUSUAL REVIEW
This review of Linux Mint is a bit special in that it will be a lot shorter than usual. The guys behind Mint have again done a great job summarizing everything that is new in this latest release, including relevant screenshots for new applications and features, as well as thorough descriptions of changes, known bugs, upstream dependencies, etc.
As I was taking my own screenshots and putting together the material for this review, I noticed how terribly redundant a lot of it was when compared with that official Linux Mint 11 feature list, so I decided to bound my review to my own experience and opinion, leaving the "facts" to them. Therefore, before you continue reading, I strongly recommend checking out the Linux Mint 11 official WHAT'S NEW page. It will help you understand Linux Mint 11 better, as well as give you a solid background to follow this review.
You may also find it useful to read my Linux Mint 10 REVIEW, which is still relevant because many areas have not changed much in these past six months.
MINT 11 IN ACTION
The Ubuntu influence is once more evident in the installation process, but in a good way, as is often the case. The carefully put together Mint branding adds an elegant touch while green tones take over from purple and orange. As usual, installation went by pretty quickly and worked out perfectly. It is a very solid and well-designed feature at this stage.
When Clement Lefebvre first ANNOUNCED that Mint 11 would not use GNOME Shell nor Unity, but still be based on Classic GNOME 3, a lot of us smiled and nodded in approval. Judging by the early demonstrations of GNOME Shell and Unity, neither of them looked a viable route, but incorporating the latest from GNOME inside the classic interface we all knew and loved felt like a great idea.
Unfortunately, that idea was short lived, for Katya is actually based on GNOME 2.32, just like Natty Narwhal. Not necessarily a bad thing, though, and it may prove instrumental in taking Linux Mint popularity to new heights as Ubuntu users who are not happy with Unity look elsewhere for an alternative. I must admit it was a bit of a disappointment for me, though. On the one hand I think it is good that they bet on stability and continuity, but on the other hand, particularly after testing Ubuntu 11.04 and Fedora 15, Linux Mint 11 changes feel not that exciting.
It couldn't be any other way, though: I like many things about this latest release, the Update and Software Manager new features being right at the top of my list. Indeed, the Software Manager has improved considerably in terms of Look&Feel and a more intuitive, informative and interactive interface. Have you used Apple's App Store? Well, I like this one better in many ways, that's how good it is. The Update Manager has also become sleeker and faster (a much needed improvement), and has at last received a fix to the unresolved dependencies problem it suffered from for some time now.
As is always the case with each new release, there are some Artwork enhancements. Katya includes a wide selection of high quality wallpapers, some minor updates to Mint-X icon and GTK themes, as well as the sometimes controversial new Ubuntu overlay scrollbars. Nothing revolutionary, but still nice.
In terms of application catalog, there are some interesting changes, most notably the switch from OpenOffice to LibreOffice, RhythmBox to Banshee, F-Spot to gThumb and the removal of Gwibber from the default image. Again, nothing groundbreaking here, but I particularly appreciate that Mint developers are listening to their user community and shaping new releases according to the feedback they receive.
Other minor changes include the ability to download a LiveCD image and then easily upgrade to the LiveDVD version. I am not so sure about this one, to be honest... Considering the upgrade to the LiveDVD version implies download and installation time, why would anybody interested in having those features download the LiveCD version in the first place? I am sure it will be a welcome feature for some, though, but I find it somewhat useless myself.
Classic Mint features like the Mint Menu are very much alive and return unchanged. No shame in that, really, for Mint Menu already covers most of the ground a menu can cover anyway. I personally would only change its behaviour when scrolling through application category entries, which sometimes feels inconsistent and ends up becoming annoying.
WORTH THE TRY?
After testing Linux Mint 11, one word comes to mind: Continuity. Katya does include several new features and enhancements which improve the product further, no doubt about it, but are they enough for Linux Mint 10 users to dump their current installation and upgrade? I personally don't think so.
I currently have Linux Mint 10 installed in one of my machines and it will stay there for another good six months, at least. I don't use the Software Manager that much, so I wouldn't gain much from its new features and other minor changes like Artwork and Application selection I could get manually anyway if I wanted to. Others may have different needs or may want to try Mint for the first time, and I would definitely encourage them all to go for it, but if you are currently happy with Linux Mint 10, you might be better off sticking to it for a while longer.