Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Linux Mint 12 Mini Review
Once again Linux Mint developers released their release candidate for Lisa and, as is often the case, made it available with no expected date for the final release. Fine by me... Mint RCs are usually very good in quality, very mature and stable, so I rarely wait for the final version to get to grips with it. Those who read my Linux Mint 11 REVIEW probably remember that I was not particularly surprised with it. It felt like a conservative step forward that didn't include that many surprises. In a sense, Katia was probably a safe bet to stay away from the brand new (and heavily unstable) Ubuntu's Unity interface and also to ensure the move to GNOME3 happened at the right moment. In that sense, Mint 11 was a great release and one of the best implementations of GNOME 2.32, with a very personal caracter and carefully designed aesthetics. Linux Mint 12 is probably the opposite, for it represents the transition to GNOME3 and GNOME Shell, the developers first attempt to swim in these cold, unexplored waters. How does it do, you ask? Let's take a look. A COCKTAIL OF SORTS In previous releases, it was easy to tell how Linux mint kept polishing their identity as one of the most characteristic GNOME 2.32 desktops out there. It was not simply an "Ubuntu improved" distro, but an alternative that included features of its own, such as its software center, its update tray agent, the very cool Mint menu, etc. Come this new release, Mint somehow maintains part of its essence, but it's undeniable that the move to GNOME3 and GNOME Shell has had significant impact. To begin with, the Mint 12 desktop heavily relies on GNOME Shell extensions, and given the very young nature of this technology, it's easy to tell that Lisa's looks have gone through more than a few compromises. There is a extension for the lower horizontal panel and something similar for the Mint menu, but it's got little in common with its GNOME 2.32 older brother. It's short in features, not as customizable and let's face it, plain uglier. The way extensions work is weird, because even with the lower panel and the "classic" menu available, the standard GNOME Shell interface is somewhat fully functional, so users get a mixture of the classic desktop paradigm and the new approach GNOME Shell is pushing forward. Aside from that feeling of having a desktop mismatch, there are many aesthetic inconsistencies, like the Faenza icon theme being used in some places and the old Mint-X being used in others, window decorations that feel a bit out of place, etc. Another element that does not help is that Mint's own applications, such as its very own Software center have not been migrated to GNOME3, so they feel like they are poorly integrated. As I kept using Mint 12 I thought I would get a popup window saying "Under construction" sooner or later, because that's what it conveys. More over, one can tell that the big majority of the development efforts in Mint 12 have concentrated around the transition to the new environment and trying to tame it a bit, which means that Mint's own applications and features return with little or no change. GIVE IT TIME Of all the latest Mint releases, I feel Mint 12 is probably the worst. Don't get me wrong, it does everything that has made it popular, it is stable and the transition to GNOME3 has been somewhat successful, but it would be unrealistic to expect such a big jump to be 100% successful on the first go. Indeed, Mint needs time, perhaps a couple more releases to settle down in the new GNOME3 environment and start gaining an advantage just like they did in GNOME 2.32. It also needs to continue to polish itself, and to regain its own character, which has diluted in the midst of transitioning to GNOME Shell. In my opinion, Mint developers have chosen the wrong path using extensions to try to mimic their old Desktop. I believe they should embrace GNOME Shell as is, improving minor things release after release, creating their own themes and becoming a reference in the GNOME Shell Universe, just like they did for GNOME 2.X. In fact, I think Mint 12 would have been better off concentrating on transferring its applications to GNOME 3, rather than adding tons of makeover to try to make GNOME Shell look like something it is not. I never was a big fan of Mint myself, but after my experience with Lisa, I think I am going to step back for a couple releases and come back to it a year from now. The changes it has absorbed are pretty severe and time is required for them to settle down and mature.