20 Dec 2011

Mint Cocktail: Mojito or Molotov

My first approach to this Linux distribution took place about a year ago, in December 2010. It was one of the first distributions I've tried. Did I like it? Yes, I did. But not as a whole. The thing I did not like was actually one of the most important parts of desktop Linux. I did not like the menu.
How many Linux distributions do you know that develop their own menus? Other than this one, I can only name one, Mandriva 2011, which uses a menu from ROSA Labs, their sister company.
I later tried different Linux distributions from same team, and even had one of them installed on my laptop for some time. Have you already guessed which distribution I am going to talk about today? Yes? Yes!
It's Linux Mint. Their latest release is called Linux Mint 12 Lisa. It was officially published on the 26th of November 2011. As usual for Linux Mint, (at least their main branch), it is based on the latest version of Ubuntu, this time being Ubuntu 11.10.
Unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint does not keep the size of their distribution's ISO image to 700 MB. The latest release "weighs" about 1Gb. It is larger than a CD, so you need either a DVD-R(W) or a USB stick to get this operating system booted or installed.
I downloaded Linux Mint 12 Lisa from a torrent file. There are plenty of users who seed this image, so downloading was very quick. Once downloading was finished, I used Unetbootin to "burn" the ISO image to an 8GB USB stick.
Preparations are over. It's time to reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Let's go!


Linux Mint 12 Lisa, similar to an earlier Mint 10 Julia, booted very quickly. Yes, I know that there was a version 11 Katya between the versions I have mentioned. But I've never tried Katya.
Apart from Unetbootin's initial screen with boot options, I was not asked any other questions.
The network card on my laptop is an Intel 3945 ABG. It was found and configured automatically by Mint 12. After a few usual actions, my Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Pi 1505 was connected to my wireless network.

First impressions

Linux Mint 12 Lisa boots into a combination of GNOME2 and GNOME3. I'll keep this topic throughout my review. Lisa is actually a Mint “cocktail”. It is neither a clean GNOME2 nor full GNOME3 implementation. Just keep this idea in mind while I continue.
There are 2 panels on the desktop: one at the top and one at the bottom. The bottom panel is taken from GNOME2. You can find the taskbar on this panel, as well as the Menu and Show Desktop buttons. The virtual desktop switch is at the right hand side of the bottom panel. It works like the GNOME3 switch, where a new virtual desktop appears when a new window opens on the last available desktop. In other words, the number of desktops is dynamic like in GNOME3, but the desktop switch is located on a panel similar to GNOME2.
The same desktop switch is available in the native GNOME3 location at the right part of the Mint Lisa's screen, when the menu button is pushed in the top left corner of the screen. The top panel contains areas with current application name, system tray, clocks and a button with user name. The latter button calls a submenu for some configuration options and session management. In other words, this is more or less like a standard GNOME3 panel, apart from the Shutdown option, which is available in Mint, but not available in vanilla GNOME3.
Linux Mint Lisa comes with a couple of dozen different desktop backgrounds. Some of them are Mint-related, some come from GNOME3 and some are just good high-quality nature photos. There are 3 user interface themes, apart from the Mint-default customized theme. The Adwaita theme works very well for me.
The Menu button on the bottom panel calls up something very similar to the famous Mint menu. It is smaller this time, though. It works better for me, because I don't like menus covering the whole screen. But I still dislike the menu structure. To me, it is overcomplicated to have 3 columns in there.

First acquaintance - first issues

Just after starting my experiments with Linux Mint 12 Lisa, I found some issues which I'd like to list here.
  • Icons in the system tray are very small, but their placeholders are rather large. You get lots of unused space between the tiny icons. I'd rather have the indicators themselves larger.
  • Windows have a standard set of control elements. If you remember, GNOME3 lacks minimize/maximize buttons. The Mint team put them back, which made windows look better for people like me who used to have minimize and maximize buttons. There's some strange behaviour, though. The taskbar is on the bottom panel, while minimizing action has an animation towards the top panel. Why? However, maximizing a window does not have any similar animation at all.
  • Some sections of the menu, like Accessories for example, have long lists in the right column. In this case you have a scrollbar in the list. This scrollbar does not work! You can't drag it. Touchpad scrolling works there, though.
Of course, a menu is also available via the top panel button, and it works in GNOME3 style. You still need to switch from Windows to Applications sections, and then navigate to the application you like.
  • The Menu button in the top-left corner has a strange mathematical sign on it. It is the Infinity symbol. What does it do? What do Infinity and Linux Mint have in common? This icon has a transparent background, so you might think that this is just a d├ęcor detail, not an important system control element.
  • Search is available from both menus. But I suspect there's still the same issue with it which I noted in Ubuntu 11.10, where Chrome and Firefox appear in search results for 2 different keywords: internet and browser, accordingly. I could not check it in full in Linux Mint Lisa, because of a Chrome installation issue, which I will talk about a little later. But search for Firefox worked in exactly the same manner: it can be found by word "internet", but not "browser". This is likely to be an upstream issue, not directly related to Linux Mint. Although, the Mint developers might try to fix it.
  • The same application can have different icons in different parts of the system. The best examples are Firefox and Nautilus. It is rather confusing. Of course, pop-up balloons with applications' names are useful, but I'd prefer unified icons throughout the system.

What is in the box

Linux Mint is famous for the set of included applications right out of the box. This distribution is aimed at the first-time Linux user who might be disappointed with the requirement to install something new for such obvious tasks as Internet browsing, multimedia playback, etc. In other words, for the users spoiled by products from Redmond, WA and Cupertino, CA. Let's see what Linux Mint 12 Lisa has to offer.
Firefox 7.0.1 is the default and only browser. But it is slightly altered by the Mint team. DuckDuckGo, not Google, is the default search engine. Moreover, Google is not mentioned in the list of search engines at all. It is slightly inconsistent, since GNOME's search function offers search by Google anyway.
As part of my experiment, I downloaded Chrome browser from the official Google site. While installing, it asked me for 1 additional package, libcurl3. Unfortunately, I could not find Chrome in the menu after installation. I managed to start it manually from /opt/google/chrome directory. Similar story to Ubuntu, isn't it?
While looking for Chrome in the directory structure, I found one more abnormality. Directory /etc contains subdirectories for Firefox 3.0 and 3.5. These are rather old versions, and I am not sure why these subdirectories are in the ISO image of Linux Mint 12.
Other items in the Internet section of the menu are Transmission, Pidgin, Thunderbird mail, xIRC Chat and a couple of others. Not a bad selection, enough to get you up and running with usual tasks. The full set of LibreOffice applications make up the Office part of the menu. Quite an expected decision.
The Graphics section of the menu contains GIMP, LibreOffice Draw, gThumb, Image viewer, Scanner program and others. In other words, you are well equipped on this front, too.
The Sound&Video section of the Linux Mint 12's menu contains several players for different tastes: Banshee, GNOME MPlayer, Movie Player and VLC. I am not sure why you would need so many, but the choice is yours. My favourite in this area, of course, is VLC. Other than players, there is the Brasero disk burning tool, volume control and 2 (two!) sound recorders. I am not sure why you would need 2 recording utilities. Most likely the second one is taken from Mint's GNOME2 fork called MATE. I have not tried this fork, but I have proper grounds for my suspicion, because error messages from the second Sound Recorder menu item mentioned MATE.
The Accessories menu section in Lisa contains more or less the usual items: disk usage analyser, gedit, calculator, archive manager, and so forth.
The System Tools menu in Mint 12 has several Terminal options, GDebi installer, System Monitor, Configuration editor and a few other items.
There is also a section called Other, which contains items which I would rather see in the System Tools menu: Update manager, Synaptic, Firewall configuration, GParted and so forth.
As you can see, Mint team does not fail to deliver, as promised, an all-round solution this time. Each part of the menu contains nicely cherry-picked and useful applications.
Nautilus is the default file browser in Linux Mint 12 Lisa. I was able to display my external network drive using the Browse Network function in it. Then I was able to navigate through my remote partition, and even to make bookmarks in the panel. Files with Russian characters in the file and directory names were shown correctly.
I was able to play MP3 files from a network location immediately, without installation of any additional plugins or codecs. Both Banshee and VLC were able to do so.
Linux Mint 12 Lisa with Firefox, Chrome, VLC.
Flash works out of the box.
Flash player is also included out of the box: I could play YouTube videos straight away both in Firefox and Chrome.
Linux Mint, as you may know, uses its own Software Manager. It is a different tool than Ubuntu's Software Management Centre, although the default software sources are Ubuntu's. That's why I won't take much of your time listing what is available and what is not. If something is available for Ubuntu, you get it in Mint, too. Additional sources are Medibuntu.org, Getdeb.org and local repository.
Just as further tests, I installed Midnight Commander, Qutim and Skype. Installation took ages to complete. Most likely because the downloading server was busy and connection speed was far from ideal. When installation was over, none of the applications I installed appeared in the menu. I was not able to locate them in the filesystem, either. That's why I can't tell you if they worked for me or not.

Support for multilingual users

I am Russian, and I need to use a Russian keyboard layout regularly. It means that I have to have at least 2 layouts active on my laptop: one with Latin symbols, (English UK in my case), and one with Cyrillic symbols (Russian).
Linux Mint 12 Lisa uses GNOME3 features for configuring layouts. Keyboard Layout is a separate item in the System Settings panel. It took me about a minute to change the layout from default English (US) to a combination of English (UK) + Russian, with Ctrl+Shift as the change layout hotkey. Nice and easy.

Mojito or Molotov?

Linux Mint Lisa is definitely a cocktail, derived from Ubuntu and Mint team developments, and a cocktail of GNOME2 and GNOME3. It is a rather confusing combination for me. This Linux distribution takes GNOME2 and GNOME3, mixes them up into a hellish cocktail, and shows up the benefits and issues of both.
How should I describe this?
You can enjoy this operating system, and think it is a nice Mint-flavoured Mojito. Or, you can steer clear from it, like you would a bomb or a Molotov cocktail.
What do you think?
Image by quinn.anya
vs.Molotov Cocktails
Image by simononly

This post was edited by djohnston.


  1. Your Chrome issue is due to your method of installation, Had you installed from the repository then that version would have added the appropriate icon in the menu. BTW a better choice would have been Chromium so as to use non-proprietary code, or SRWare Iron so as to block Google spying...both use the Chrome codebase.

  2. @Gladys:
    Yes, Chromium is in repository of Ubuntu, hence Mint.
    But I intentively wanted to check whether Mint team fixed an issue with Chrome installer. They did not.
    If you look at my Adventures in Ubuntu 11.10 Live, you would notice that Chrome appeared in the menu after reboot (persistence enabled). I assume Mint would behave similarly.

  3. I'll just ait until MATE is mature, then I'll upgrade to the latest version of Linux Mint.

    Until then, if MATE is not mature enough by the time Linux Mint 13 arrives (it's the next LTS version), I'll upgrade to Linux Mint 11 (the last version with a pure GNOME 2 Desktop), and wait until Linux Mint 14 or 15 is released, by which time hopefully MATE will be mature.

    Outside of a Tablet, or possibly a small screen, single monitor laptop. I wouldn't touch GNOME 3 Shell with a proverbial barge pole. On my high resolution multi monitor rig GNOME3 shell and UNITY are abominations.

  4. @tracyanne:
    I hope you mean de-grade to Mint 11, not upgrade in this case.
    I see your point about barge point. But there are large distributions with support of large companies (I mean Canonical -> Ubuntu, RedHad -> Fedora and Novell -> OpenSuSE) who push for new-wave interfaces.
    I doubt many distributions will withstands the push.

  5. I use it on a Dell Inspiron that previously had Vista and it was seamless in it's installation and subsequent use. Love it greatly.

  6. @Ray:
    Have you tried any other distributions on that laptop? What is comparison?

  7. (I didn't have time to write my own review, sorry.)

    My default in Linux mint is different, I am kind of surprised of your review.
    I have a pure Gnome-shell out of the box (I downloaded the DVD version, maybe that's it?).
    Gnome-shell is much more stable than Fedora 16's. Fedora's shell kept crashing when I turned on combinations of features in gnome-tweak-tool. Also, in Mint gnome-tweak-tool is installed by default.
    GTT in combination with the shell-extension website (https://extensions.gnome.org/) is almost perfect for my needs.
    I have istalled from there: Alt Tab, CPU Temperature Indicator, noa11y, Overlay Icons (and modified it to my needs), User Themes, Workspace Navigator and Frippery Shut Down Menu.

    I have tried MATE briefly and I think it is pointless. I find it identical to KDE3, which I didn't like at all. I can't see why something like this is developed at all. Maintaining KDE3 would have probably been easier faster and cheaper.
    I am also a little disappointed by the oldish firefox version. I use Firefox nightly build from PPA, so it isn't a issue really, but it could be better.

    What I find most surprising, is that Mint 12 is not "mint" anymore: it lost that overall polished and consistent look even Fedora beats it at that. What it gives now, is the best gnome-shell setup I could find.

  8. @Bruno9779:
    Pity you have not got full-scope post.
    Thanks for mini-review, though.
    Your point of view is very much different from Deidomedo. He thinks that MATE is good while others are below his standards.
    I've only tried one version, so I can't comment.

  9. I have take 3 screenshots of Gnome-shell:


    And 2 of MATE:


    I have tweaked the look of gnome-shell, while MATE has the default look.
    Honestly, isn't that KDE3?

  10. Here are same links in clickable format:


  11. @Bruno9779, no it's MATE (or GNOME2) with the panel at the bottom. And, unlike GNOME3 shell, it works properly on my Multi Monitor High resolution rig.

    The biggest difference between your setup of MATE and mine is the desktop icons... I don't use any, nor do I ue the desktop applets. I can't be bothered minimising and unminimising my windows just to find something on the desktop.

  12. @tracyanne, of course it is MATE (note the gnome apps) waht I meant is that it looks EXACLY like KDE3 did.

    I have one Full-HD monitor and shell works fine with it.
    I understand that their "hot corner" approach is bound to be a pain in the ass for multi-monitor setups. I wonder if they'll ever get around that issue.

    Desktop icons aren't there to be quickly accessed. They are there out of laziness or to remind me they exist.
    For me a desktop is just that: a place where to empty my pockets when I am in a hurry or I am going to bed ...

    Back to MATE, I can't see anything good with it. Older technology is bound to have less issues to workout, but it is just that.
    I particularly hate the name as well. I lived in London for years and calling an ugly panel "mate" feels awkward; here in Argentina mate is an extremely popular stimulating infusion (much more popular than coffee) so it feels awkward too.

    Nonetheless, if I were forced to choose it would be MATE over Unity

  13. @tracyanne:
    >I can't be bothered minimising and unminimising my windows just to find something on the desktop.

    You can switch to another desktop without open windows for a sec.

  14. @DD, no for me Mint 11 is an upgrade. I'm currently using Mint 9, it's an LTS release that reahes end of life in April 2012.

    @Bruno9779, I'm an ex KDE3 user, no it doesn't. The paradigm is similar, which is why I switched to Mint from KDE3

    @DD, But why switch to an unused desktop to double click on an icon, I have the filenamager open all the time, why not use that instead, a sinle mouse click brings it to the top of the oter windows, where as desktop applets and icons can never be brough to the top. And you cant store very much on a desktop before it becomes so cluttered it defeats the purpose. So it's a habit I never got into, even on Windows (especially on Windows).

    The chances are when I switch desktop it's to go to an already open Window.

  15. @Bruno
    quote::Back to MATE, I can't see anything good with it. Older technology is bound to have less issues to workout, but it is just that.

    Actually MATE will be upgraded to the GNOME3 Libraries, so it will be current technology.

    Quote::I particularly hate the name as well.

    I couldn't give a rats, so long as it provides me with a decent desktop.