Linux Mint 15 KDE hands-on: A stumble on UEFI Boot

Mint 15 KDE is released, and looks good as usual — but it doesn't install on my UEFI boot systems.
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

Well, this has been a bit of an odd situation.  Linux Mint KDE and Xfce releases normally seem to follow the main Cinnamon and MATE releases by about a month or so.  This time, however, the release candidate versions of these distributions didn't even show up until a good month after the main release, and it was almost another month before the final Xfce release was available. The final KDE version was finally released another week after that.

I wonder if this is an indication of some specific problems, or if the Mint developers are simply getting overloaded? I didn't see anything in the release announcement for either version which shed any light on this.

My first experience with Mint 15 KDE was unfortunately not good: it doesn't install properly on either of my UEFI boot systems.

I find this really baffling, because the main release installed on UEFI boot systems with no problems — and, in fact, it's even more baffling now because, while the Xfce distribution also had serious UEFI boot problems, they were not at all the same as those the KDE versions has.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding something here, but it would seem to me that once the main distribution had UEFI boot working, all the other spins need to do is keep their fingers out of that bit.  Obviously it's not that simple.

Anyway, as I said, the symptom this time is different from the Mint Xfce distribution. This time the Live Media itself will UEFI boot just fine, but when I tried to install it, it died near the end, after informing me that the grub2-efi package failed to install, and the lack of grub could make the system unbootable (duh).

There was unfortunately no further information or details available, so I have no idea why it failed to install.  Then, to add insult to injury, the installer itself crashed. Sigh.

I got around this problem by enabling Legacy Boot Support on both of my UEFI systems, and it then installed properly on both.

If you are running a typical setup of Linux Mint only or Mint/Windows dual boot, you would have to leave Legacy Boot enabled to use the system, but because I have several other Linux distributions installed on the UEFI systems, I was able to configure it to boot the installed Mint KDE system as part of the grub multi-boot configuration of one of those, so I returned the BIOS setup to UEFI boot only (but still Secure Boot disabled).

Once I got it installed, this released looked good. 

Although Linux Mint itself is derived from Ubuntu, the Mint KDE distribution is not derived from Kubuntu.  The Linux Mint development team creates it, starting from the main Mint Cinnamon/MATE version. As a result, it has pretty much the same package/application/utility/codec selection that the main distribution has, with some adjustments due to the software collection that is included with the desktop manager. That means it has things like MintUpdate, the new Mint Driver Manager, Mint Software Sources and Mint Software Manager, MintBackup and the like.

So, what's new in this release? Check the What's New document for complete details, but here are a few of the highlights:

  • There is of course the updated Linux kernel, 3.8.0, and the latest KDE Software Collection 4.10, which together form the backbone of this system.
  • The new MDM (greeter/login manager) is included, which brings along HTML5 capability.
  • The new Mint Software Sources and Mint Software Manager utilities.
  • Finally, of course, lots of upstream packages have been updated — although I am disappointed to see that digiKam is still only 3.1.0 when a number of other distributions already have 3.2.0.  I assume/hope/pray that this will be picked up in one of the early Mint updates.

Oh, and speaking of updates, keep in mind that because this release has been rather a long time coming, there are a lot of updates to be installed as soon as the initial installation is complete. There were some 200 waiting when I installed it.

Of course, this wouldn't be any kind of 'Jamie's KDE Review' without me raving about the KDE Netbook version.  This time there was a bit of a surprise, though. 

I installed as usual on my Samsung N150 Plus netbook (yes, I still have it and it still works just fine — it might be on the way to Africa with a friend soon, to serve as a general travel system and digital camera unload/backup device, thus the disappointment with digiKam above).  This is a non-UEFI system, so installation was routine, there were no problems and everything worked just fine. 

But when I went to switch to the KDE Netbook desktop (System Settings/Workspace Behavior/Workspace/Workspace Type), the drop-down selection list was inactive and showed only 'Desktop' (ie standard KDE Plasma Desktop). 

It turns out that with this Mint KDE release you have to add the kde-plasma-netbook package if you want to use the netbook version.  I suppose that makes some sense, as most people seem not to use it, so why carry along the extra baggage.  It's too bad, though, because it really is an excellent interface on small screens.

Mint KDE Netbook
Linux Mint 15 KDE Netbook Desktop

I seem to vaguely recall that at one point when the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) was still alive, there was actually a point where it would be automatically enabled when the screen size was less than some arbitrary value (12 inches would seem a good candidate for this to me), but perhaps I am just dreaming, rather than remembering.

That really would be a nice feature for KDE though, in my opinion: the netbook desktop is already there, waiting to be used — if it detects a sub-12-inch screen on startup, and the user hasn't specifically configured a desktop, it comes up with the netbook desktop by default.  Not that I am biased or prejudiced in any way, mind you...

Mint KDE Netbook Windows
Linux Mint 15 KDE Netbook

As I haven't included anything other than a home screen shot of KDE Netbook recently, here is a quick look at some applications running on it. 

There has been some misinformation floating around that KDE netbook could only run or only access one application window at a time, and as can be seen here that is obviously false. 

When a new application is started, it automatically opens in full-screen (maximise) mode, including 'hiding' the KDE top panel.  But the window can then be un-maximised, and can be used and worked with just like windows on the normal KDE desktop, or pretty much any other desktop for that matter. Multiple windows, with multiple applications, changing stacking and active windows as usual. You can also list and select the active window through the KDE top panel, or of course using the standard Alt-TAB key combination.

So, to summarize about Linux Mint 15 KDE: if you have a UEFI-boot system, you might want to think carefully before trying it. If you have a normal or legacy boot system, or if you are happy leaving Legacy Boot Support enabled on a UEFI-boot system, then by all means, go for it. Beyond this UEFI-boot issue, the release itself is what we all expect from Linux Mint these days: good, solid, well configured with an excellent range of pre-installed packages and great Mint-specific utilities.

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