Cinnamon has always had two shortcomings: it requires hardware acceleration to work well, and it has a number of configuration dialogues that can be a nuisance to pick through.
Mint 15 doesn't eliminate the hardware acceleration requirement, although users are notified at login when it is absent. The notice suggests that you only use Cinnamon "for troubleshooting purposes," which is possibly unnecessarily cautious. In my experience, Cinnamon without hardware acceleration is merely slow, not unstable.
However, Cinnamon 1.8 does reduce the number of configuration dialogs. Instead of using both the GNOME System Settings and Cinnamon settings, the latest version includes its own System Settings dialog, divided into settings for Appearance, Preferences and Hardware. This is definitely a step in the right direction, although with eighteen icons, the Preferences settings could stand division into two for quicker scanning.
Another new feature in Cinnamon 1.8 is desklets—small utilities that sit on the desktop and are the equivalent of KDE's widgets. Only three are installed with Mint—a generic launcher, a clock and a digital photo frame—but the possibilities for additional customization are obvious.
Mint 15 also adds to Cinnamon a screen lock that includes the ability to leave an away message and a screen saver—a feature that earlier versions of Mate already had. Technically, of course, the screen saver is not needed, so I suppose it is another example of giving users what they want, even if it seems like a low priority.
None of these changes are revolutionary, but they do add up to an impression that Cinnamon is reaching early maturity, removing the worst of its rough edges, and becoming less cumbersome to work with—provided, of course, that your video drivers have the necessary hardware acceleration.
Linux Mint 15 is a solid release, but not an end in itself. Rather, it is part of the ongoing process of refining Cinnamon and Mate while minimizing innovation to keep users comfortable. With this release, the process is starting to meet some of its early promise, but remains ongoing.
It is still uncertain whether any distribution with Linux Mint's goal is capable of more than mild innovations. Users, perhaps, might consider this limited scope a good thing—and, after some of the events of the last few years, I can understand this attitude.
At this point, many users must be weary of thinking so much about their desktop environments. Such users have settled on Linux Mint precisely because it allows them to forget about their interfaces and concentrate on their work.
Yet, for all the comfort it offers, the current lack of innovation on the Linux desktop is also a concern. In the last few years, developers seem to have veered from an urge to innovate very sharply. Some might call it timidity or even irresponsibility because it means promising possibilities may have been missed.
Linux Mint has taken advantage of this change for two years now. So far, it has escaped any criticism about missed opportunities because it has been busy bringing its code up to maturity
However, Mint 15 suggests that this stage in the distribution's development is drawing to a close. Another release, maybe two, and it will have reached its initial goals. When that happens, we may finally see if Linux Mint is capable of experimentation and whether it is possible to risk major change while giving users what they want now.
Currently, Linux Mint fills its chosen niche extremely well. But questions remain about what it can do when that niche has been completely filled—or even if it should do anything except maintain what it has developed.