Hands On: Linux Mint 17 Release Candidate

The next release of the very popular Linux Mint distribution will arrive soon. Here is a look at the Release Candidate, with Cinnamon and MATE desktops.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

The Release Candidate for Linux Mint 17 (Qiana) was released a few days ago. A lot of people have been looking forward to this release, and I am one of them. So I have downloaded both the Cinnamon and MATE versions, and installed them on several of my laptops and netbooks. As is pretty much always the case with Mint, everything went very smoothly, and it all appears to work very well.

There are separate release announcements for the Cinnamon and MATE desktops, and they are definitely worth reading through: lots of changes and improvements in this release, not only in the desktops themselves. If you are really interested in the Cinnamon desktop, it is probably also worthwhile to read the Cinnamon 2.2 announcement in clem's Segfault blog. A lot of the information is the same as in the Mint release announcement, but there is even more detail in segfault.

The ISO images weigh in at about 1.2GB, and they are hybrid images so they can be burned to a DVD or simply copied to a USB stick using dd. Good news: they support UEFI boot systems. Bad news: the UEFI boot directory is still called 'ubuntu', so don't try to install this distributions onto a UEFI system that already has Ubuntu installed (or vice-versa), unless you know how to avoid the conflict. No news: I doubt there are all that many people in the world who would actually want to do this, so I assume it is not a big problem.

The Installer is derived from the Ubuntu installer (ubiquity), which is adequate but is a long way from being my favourite. I wonder why they don't use the Mint Installer that is used for the Linux Mint Debian Edition distribution? In my opinion it is much nicer, more powerful and flexible. For example, it lets you see and change the EFI boot partition. I think it is graphically more appealing too. Perhaps there is some functional reason that they have to stay with the Ubuntu installer. Comments on this welcome...

I have one minor complaint about the installer. The time zone selection requires clicking on a world map to select your location. When you are working with a rather small map, and you are trying to select a rather small country (Switzerland) it can be tedious. You can type into the text bar at the bottom of the map window, and it will perform some kind of strange text matching - I say strange because when I typed 'Zurich' it showed all sorts of bizarre possibilities, but the correct one (Zurich, Switzerland) didn't come up at all until I had typed the entire name. Odd.

Once the installation has completed and you reboot the installed system, you will get a nice shiny new Cinnamon 2.2 desktop:

Mint Cinnamon
The Linux Mint Cinnamon Desktop

This is the very latest Cinnamon development; I included a link to the Release Announcement above.  I continue to be impressed by the amount of work that clem and his crew put into Cinnamon, and even more impressed by the results that are coming from all that work. It is becoming faster, more flexible and more reliable with every release. They have come a long way from the Mint Gnome Shell Extension (MGSE) that was their first reaction to the release of Gnome 3. Just to hit a few of the latest Cinnamon highlights:

  • Settings Screen has been dramatically improved. It is more consistent and better categorized.
  • Hot Corners and HUD. You will not hear me heaping praise on this particular set of features, because for the most part it is not my style. But it does seem to be the latest hot trend, and perhaps the wave of the future.
  • Screensaver Settings and Power Management have been cleaned up and rationalized. They needed it.
  • Date and Time Settings have been improved, made more sensible and consistently applied
  • Systray Icons in the Cinnamon Task Bar have been made more open and flexible
  • HiDPI (Retina) support has been added. I'd love to see what this looks like...

As I said, these are just what I consider the highlights based on my own use.

On the other hand, if you installed the MATE version, you will get a desktop that looks like this:

The LInux Mint MATE Desktop


This is MATE 1.8, and while it is not as brand spanking new as Cinnamon 2.2, it was just released at the beginning of March. The release announcement gives a good overview of the changes and improvements. I have installed this version on my Samsung N150 Plus netbook, and the performance is very good. There are some situations where MATE could be a good choice for you - as in my case, on a netbook with limited CPU and graphic controller resources; if you still prefer the Gnome 2 style desktop and menus; or if you just don't care for the Cinnamon desktop.

Mint Update Manager
The Linux Mint Update Manager

The first thing you should do after installing is pick up the latest patches and updates. The MintUpdate icon on the task bar will remind you to do this, of course. Linux Mint has recently taken some criticism about not installing certain kinds of updates, most notably kernel updates. While this is totally unjustified in my opinion, and is only being spouted by people who don't understand the Mint update mechanism, the Mint developers have made a change in this release which might make this a bit more transparent. Automatic update selection is based on levels, where each change is assigned a level based on its importance and associated risk. Until now, Mint Update only showed updates which would be installed;  if they weren't selected as candidates for installation, you might not have known about them at all (unless you went looking, which wasn't that hard).  Now, Mint Update will show updates which haven't been automatically selected, so you will know they are there, and you can click to select them for installation if you want.

Mint Drivers
Linux Mint Driver Manager

This release of Linux Mint also brings a new Mint Driver Manager utility, replacing the Ubuntu Jockey utility. Jockey was a major step forward when it was introduced, and it has been a decent tool since then, but this new Mint Driver Manager looks better and at least in my initial tests it seems to work more reliably as well. I had previously run into trouble with jockey when installing the proprietary ATI/Radeon graphic driver on some of my netbooks and subnotebooks with AMD/ATI combined chipsets. I have tried those with the new Mint Driver Manager, and it seems to work just fine, they all installed properly and came up working normally.

I suppose that I also need to include the usual info on various versions, although any of these could change by the time the final release is made:

  • Linux kernel 3.13
  • X.org server 1.15.1
  • Cinnamon desktop 2.2.1
  • MATE desktop 1.8.0
  • LibreOffice
  • Firefox 29.0
  • Thunderbird 24.5.0
  • GIMP 2.8.10
  • Banshee 2.6.2
  • VLC Media Player 2.1.2

I have now installed this Release Candidate on pretty much every computer I have around here. That includes both UEFI and Legacy Boot systems, sizes ranging from netbook to full-size full-power laptops, CPUs from both Intel and AMD, graphics from Intel, ATI/Radeon and nVidia, wireless networking adapters from Intel, Broadcom, Atheros and Rallink, and lots of other miscellaneous hardware. I have not had a single problem, not one installation failure, no missing devices, no drivers that had to be found and manually installed after installation. Everything just works, as it should.

Past release cycles indicate that the final release will probably be made in another week or two. Good news!

One last thing: the release notes also make a brief mention of something that has gotten wide attention both specifically within the Mint community and across the wider Linux community in general. With this release, Linux Mint is changing to be based on the Ubuntu LTS distributions, which means that this release will get security updates for five years, until 2019, and will get major package updates and backports for two years, until 2016.

During this "Long Term Support" period, there are expected to be a number of "Point Releases" (Mint 17.x).  I have slightly mixed feelings about this.

On one hand, if this change really does free up more of the Mint developer's time to work on their own projects, rather than spending so much time preparing for a major release every six months, then it will definitely be a good thing. 

But I'm a bit concerned that the lag in getting new packages incorporated might turn out to be a problem, that sort of thing seems like it is always easier said than done. There could also be a problem as time goes by with installing new systems from scratch — the longer it has been since the last major release, the more updates you have to install after doing the base installation. But the "Point Releases" should reduce this problem, if they are done on time and are really complete roll-ups of all updates and additions since the last major release.

Only time will tell how all this works out. I hope it is positive, and I believe that it most likely will be so. But some of the things that we have been through over the past few years with Linux Mint Debian Edition have not been terribly encouraging with regard to these kinds of issues.

My personal opinion is that the best possible outcome of this change is that the Mint developers really do gain a lot of time from this, and they put that time into Mint Debian, and Mint Debian continues to develop and improve, to the point where it becomes the better and more important Mint distribution, rather than the Ubuntu derived version. This was what I was hoping for when LMDE was originally announced: it's still only a daydream, but it would be nice.

Further reading

Editorial standards