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.

6 comments:

  1. Ubuntu and Mint have something in common. It seems that Ubuntu is not listening to its users and you have Unity and Mint is listening to its users, so you have this mixed interface.

    I think Mint should focus on Gnome 3 just like Fedora does at least for the main edition based on Ubuntu. They should make a better and default Gnome Shell experience that could be better for Ubuntu users if they want Gnome 3 but without the Unity overhead.

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  2. Forgive me for saying it so bluntly but I can not understand your whining about LM 12 being the 'worst'. I have not used the previous releases so maybe that's why but for me the New Mint is the way Gnome 3 should look from the beginning. They achieved something awesome, they actually made gnome 3 work.

    After few months worth of suffering on Unity, Switching to Mint made my PC work again.

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  3. saisilence: "Worst" sounds a bit harsh there, I admit it, but that's what I meant... Mint 12 is simply worse than other releases that preceded it.

    As for making GNOME 3 work and what you mention that that's how it should have been from the start, I disagree. The biggest chunk of integration took place thanks to Ubuntu developers, Mint is simply building on that. GNOME Shell is a paradigm shift in DEs, and I personally find it is great. It is way better than Unity (at least currently) and has been since it first came out. I personally believe that trying to force a classic desktop approach on top of GNOME Shell is defeating the purpose, does not make sense, and will never work as good as a DE that was designed like that from the start.

    If you like the classic desktop approach, I recommend you switch to KDE through Kubuntu 11.10. If you have never used it, it will likely take a bit of getting used to, but once you get to grips with it, it is awesome.

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  4. I think this initial review is premature and ill-titled: The RC in the case of Mint12 has been largely received as more unpolished than usual, on the understanding that the Mint team is seeking feedback from the community earlier in the process. Based on that feedback they have recently announced significant improvements toward the actual release...

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  5. As I read everywhere I also read it here: Mint (and other distributions) have to make Gnome 3 ready to be used. Does anyone ever think about this, about what is going on here? Gnome decided to ruin computing by making an interface which resembles a tablet or a smartphone, two items I don't own and will never own.
    Now the OS-makers have to work month after month to change it back to what it was because that is what people want.
    Think about this absurd situation. If you ever talk about wasting good money, this is it.
    Gnome changes from A to B and the OS'es change back from B to A. And we all except it blindly. Well, we all minus me.
    What should be done is this:
    We, all of us Linux lovers around the world, should just abandon Gnome completely until they come crawling back with the Gnome we all want. As long as they keep working on these gadgets (because that's all it is) we have to stop using it.
    Result: either they change again and we are happy because we can use Gnome again, or they go bankrupt and nobody sheds a tear because nothing is lost.

    It is ridiculous that so many OS developers have to work many months just to repair what Gnome had broken. I wrote them that and received very arrogant answers.
    Be wise and abandon Gnome until they come back crawling with their tails between their legs begging us to please use their product again.
    If not we will be stuck with the hell that is Gnome3.

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  6. DeMus, I am afraid I don´t agree with you.

    GNOME Shell is a great DE which can do as much as GNOME 2.x, plus it is way more consistent and stable. Yes, effects and customization are not there, but so what? GNOME aims at a simple to use DE, one that does not get in the way and allows its users to get the most out of it, and it very much succeeds.

    The notification system, remote accounts and dynamic desktops are just a few examples of things that used to be toys being put to serious work, and they are also examples of the Linux desktop leading the way with great creative ideas that simply work.

    I suggest you take some time to learn the few basic concepts that make a HUGE difference when using GNOME Shell (Tweak tool, keyboard shortcuts, extensions, how to customize themes, etc.) and then spend a week or two working with it, using nothing else. If you are interested in more than eye candy, I guarantee you will appreciate GNOME Shell.

    On a different note, the fact that people are lazy and comfortable with something old and known does not mean that old thing is good. Classic GNOME was great in many ways, but was also bad in many ways.

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