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Hands-on with Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon and MATE

Cinnamon and MATE, UEFI and Legacy Boot, I've tried them out and here are my results.

The final rease of Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon and MATE was announced this weekend. I have picked up both versions, and I have installed them on a number of computers around here, with both legacy (MBR) and UEFI boot. The results have been very good, as expected.

As anyone who has been around Linux much probably knows, Linux Mint (numbered) is derived from Ubuntu. However, starting with Mint 17 the releases no longer track the latest Ubuntu releases. Mint is now based on the Ubuntu Long Term Support (LTS) releases and will update their own distribution as they see fit. 

That means that although Ubuntu recently released 14.10, this Mint release is still based on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS, and the new Mint numbering system indicates that (this is 17.1, not 18), although the name change is a bit contrary to that (17.1 is called Rebecca rather than Q..., but I guess Q-names are not easy to come up with.

One of the major advantages of this switch to LTS-basing is supposed to be that upgrades to point-releases can be done much more easily without requiring a complete reinstallation. This release will be the first test of that, and the release announcement says that upgrading "will be easy", and details will be announced in the near future, so just sit tight. 

Those who installed the Release Candidate also do not need to reinstall the final release, just make sure that all Level 1 updates are installed by the Update Manager.

All right, getting down to business. There are two versions being released, so there are two sets of associated documents.  The release announcement (Cinnamon/MATE) gives a brief overview of what is new, different and important in this release.  The release notes (Cinnamon/MATE) cover details of known issues for each version, and 'What's New in Linux Mint 17.1' (Cinnamon/MATE) describe the new features and improvements in this release, with lots of pretty screen shots.

The ISO images are pretty typical in size for Mint, about 1.4GB for Cinnamon and 1.5GB for MATE. They are hybrid ISO images, so you can either burn them to DVD or just copy them directly to a USB stick (using dd on Linux). The resulting installation media can then be booted either on Legacy (MBR) or UEFI firmware systems, and on UEFI systems it can be booted with Secure Boot enabled or disabled (or even via Legacy Boot on UEFI systems if you really wanted to). It doesn't get much easier than that.

Unfortunately, this release still has what I call the 'Linux Mint Ubuntu UEFI Boot Curse' - that's a mouthfull, isn't it?  Why say it simple when you can say it complicated: what this means is that Linux Mint 17.1 still installs its UEFI boot files to a directory named 'ubuntu' (/boot/efi/EFI/ubuntu, to be specific). 

That means, if you already have Ubuntu installed on your computer, and you then install Linux Mint... well, you aren't going to be happy with the result. That's unfortunate, but I suppose there aren't that many people who would actually want to have both Mint and Ubuntu on the same system, so it's not tragic.

Other than that, the installation is smooth and easy, and goes relatively quicky.  I installed the Cinnamon version first, on my new (and current favorite) Acer Aspire E11 sub-notebook.

Mint17.1 Cinnamon
Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon Desktop

 

Total time from booting the ISO image to rebooting the installed system is certainly less than 30 minutes, and will more typically be around 15 minutes on recent hardware. There are only a few screens and a few questions required to prepare for the installation, and if you have an active internet connection during the installation, the installer will determine your location and make a good guess at the likely keyboard layout for you.

Mint Driver Manager
The Mint Driver Manager

After booting the installed system it was fairly easy to get the (pain-in-the-rear) Broadcom 43142 driver installed, just run the Driver Manager utility and select the 'bcmwl-kernel-source'.  It doesn't even require a reboot, wireless networking connections are available as soon as the driver installation is complete.

The New Features in Linux Mint Cinnamon contains more information and more details than I care to include here, so please take the time to read that.  I will only mention here that the biggest news is the latest version of the Cinnamon desktop (2.4), and according to the document above it is smoother, more responsive, has fixed some memory leaks, has more polish, more settings and hardware support: It slices, dices and makes Julienne fries, so get your Bass-O-Matic '76 today!

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there: but the truth is, Cinnamon 2.4 is a nice improvement, in usability, stability and features. Clem's SegFault blog announcement includes a lot more information and screen shots.  It's worth a look.

With the Cinnamon version installed and running on a UEFI boot system, I decided to move on to the MATE version, and a legacy boot (MBR) system. I decided to start with my Samsung N150 Plus, as this will also give me an idea of how Mint 17.1 performs on a much less powerful system, with an Intel Atom N450 CPU, 2GB of memory and a 10" 1024x600 display.

The installation process was narly identical to the Cinnamon version (duh), and although it took a bit longer it was still done in less than 30 minutes.

Mint MATE
Linux Mint 17.1 MATE

Good news, this time there were no problems at all with device drivers, the Broadcom 4313 wi-fi adapter was recognized and configured with the FOSS bcma driver. The significantly lower screen resolution makes things feel a bit more cramped, as you can see above, but it didn't cause any problems with the installation.

As a final step, I installed the MATE version on my Lenovo Thinkpad T400 (also legacy boot), and again everything went smoothly.  After installation it worked perfectly with the docking station, and the external monitor configured as an extended desktop.

Mint Kernels
Kernel Info/Selection List

There's one last thing I want to mention before finishing up here.  One of the things that Linux Mint (and Ubuntu) has been criticised for is moving too slowly to track kernel updates (or basically staying with the same kernel version through an entire release cycle).  Some time ago Linux Mint added a new feature to the Mint Update program that gives users more flexibility in this area.

In the Mint Update Manager, under the View menu it has Linux Kernels.  This brings up a new window which lists available kernel versions.  While the new release is running 3.13.0-30, the list goes back as far as 3.13-x, and forward as far forward as 3.16.0-25.  For all versions up to the current default it lists the fixes and known bugs, problems and regressions.

Any kernel version in this list can be installed by simply selecting it and then clicking Install.  As a test I selected 3.16.0-25, and after it completed a good bit of downloading, installing and configuration I was able to reboot to the new kernel.  Very nice.

In summary, the new Linux Mint 17.1 release is exactly what we have come to expect - easy to install, easy to use, and solid as a rock.

Further reading