Linux Mint 15: Solid, But Unsettled

Linux Mint is maturing, which means that the question of what's next is starting to loom.
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Linux Mint has thrived on giving users what they want. Linux Mint 15, codenamed Olivia, is no exception.

Although billed in the release announcement as "the most ambitious release since the start of the project," it breaks little new ground. Instead, it is more concerned with polishing and minor extensions of functionality.

This orientation is very much in the tradition of past Mint releases. Linux Mint has always opted for convenience over principle, shipping with proprietary software and including both Debian and Ubuntu versions. Maybe a few users can tell Debian from Ubuntu, but what matters is that many have demanded the choice.

Mint's following of this path has proven especially successful in the last eighteen months. By offering two versions of the GNOME 2 experience—Mate, a GNOME 2 fork, and Cinnamon, a GNOME 2-inspired shell atop GNOME 3—Linux Mint has become a refuge for those who reject the changes made to KDE, GNOME and Unity in the last five years.

In the process, Mint has emerged as one of the most popular Linux distributions among the experienced, with an enviable reputation for keeping faith with users. The latest release cements that reputation, offering increased choice and incremental improvements in its efforts to recreate the GNOME 2 experience—and nothing whatsoever to disconcert the most traditional user, regardless of whether they choose Mate or Cinnamon.

Shared Features

Both Mate and Cinnamon editions have a number of features of common. Which edition had which features first requires careful comparisons, but what matters is that neither is being greatly short-changed in the latest release.

The two editions do share a number of new dialogues, some obviously inspired by similar features in Ubuntu. These dialogues include the following:

  • Software Sources: sets the repositories and mirrors used by the package manager. According to the release notes, the package manager will switch to a faster mirror if one is available.
  • Update Manager: tracks the available updates. It now updates automatically.
  • Driver Manager: a euphemism for "Proprietary Driver Manager."

On the whole, after going through most of a year being developed largely independent of each other, Mate and Cinnamon seem to have been developed more in tandem in Mint 15. However, there are still inconsistencies, such as the maintenance of different collections of login themes and desktop wallpapers.

More importantly, Mate and Cinnamon retain differences in emphasis. In places, they each have features that the other does not. These unique differences are not completely slanted towards Cinnamon, as might be expected since it is the newer code base. Once or twice, Mate actually includes a feature that Cinnamon lacks.

New Additions to Mate

Mate's dependency on the increasingly obsolete GTK toolset must make updates hard at times. However, Mint 15 goes to some lengths to match its versions of Mate and Cinnamon. Behind the scenes, it has also converted several key Mate libraries, presumably starting a process of modernization that will continue over the next few releases.

Some features, such as desklets have yet to find their way into Mate, if they ever will. However, Mate is not being neglected, either.

To start with, Mate 1.6, the version in Olivia, includes a new greeter. Supporting CSS, HTML 5, Javascript, and WebGL, the greeter opens up possibilities for animated and interactive themes on the login screen. For now, though, the themes installed with Mate only hint at the new possibilities.

In addition, Caja, the file manager, continues to be overhauled—a priority that, perhaps, suggests the type of experienced user to whom Mate is supposed to appeal. A close examination shows minor rearrangements of the sidebar, while the release notes list improved thumbnails thanks to Cinnamon's Nemo file manager, and a Connect to serve dialog thanks to GNOME's Nautilus file manager.

Probably the most useful change is the Notifications Settings dialog. This window sets the corner in which notifications display and includes the option of setting which monitor to display them in if more than one is present. No context menu on the panel currently lists to the dialog, but at least the functionality is there—which it is not so far in Cinnamon.

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Tags: open source, operating system, Linux Mint, desktop, Cinnamon, MATE

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