Linux Mint is a GNU/Linux distribution to which I have witnessed a great deal of respect. It is a solid operating system that comes with a desktop environment of its own (though it is based on Gnome Shell & its applications) and when it comes to usability & control, it really puts the users at the top.
So as soon as Linux Mint 15 ‘Olivia’ got officially released, I downloaded it and as usual, ran few tests, took few measurements, and came up with this review. Linux Mint has two flavors, featuring ‘Cinnamon’ (1.8) & ‘MATE’ (1.6) desktop environments. This review is based on the ‘Cinnamon’ edition.
But please remember that I will not be able go through all the slight changes, but will mention some of the easily visible changes of the desktop & ‘Nemo’ (file manager). Then towards the end, I will also present you with performance based statistics that I have gathered as well.
*. Context Menu …
The desktop context menu has slightly changed & has received two new sub menu items. One is because of the improvements done to ‘Nemo’, and the other is due to the newly introduced ‘Desklets’ feature (more below).
Users can now enable or disable showing hidden files & add ‘Desklets’, through the context menu.
*. ‘Desklets’ …
‘Desklets’ are small applications (applets) that run on your desktop, usually designed to perform a single, simple task. MS Windows calls it ‘Gadgets’, KDE calls them ‘Plasmoids’ and few years back, Gnome 2x users also had access to similar applications through a third party API called ‘gDesklets’.
Anyhow, as shortly mentioned above, adding or removing ‘Desklets’ in ‘Cinnamon’ is pretty easy.
Linux Mint 15 comes with only three of them, but more can be added through internet (they only have 4 of them but that will change in the future).
*. Improved ‘Hot Corner’ & a Desktop Overview Window …
‘Cinnamon’ has an awesome feature called the ‘Hot Corner’ (KDE & GnomeShell also has a similar concept), which is set around the top-left corner of your desktop by default. When a user moves his/her mouse pointer over that corner, it gives an overview of the opened windows and workspaces.
Users can move application windows around workspaces, bring them to front etc, but in the past, we could not simply close a window from this ‘overview’ window, other than dragging windows toward the large ‘Trash Can’ that appears around the middle of the bottom area.
But as you can see, now we can close any opened application by simply clicking on the ‘Close’ icon that appears on it. The overview window also puts large (somewhat) symbolic icon of each opened application window for ease recognition as well. I find them to be subtle but very useful features.
*. Improved notification messages …
The notification messages, such as the one that you get when connecting to a network for instance, have also undergone few subtle changes. They are a bit puffed up which I find to be more attractive …
… and you can easily disable annoying messages from popping up in the future by clicking on the ‘Don’t show …’ message box too.
*. Artwork & Wallpapers …
Just like with LM 14, I am really impressed by the beautiful collection of wallpapers that are included in LM 15. In terms of themes, nothing seems to have changed (at least in my experience), pretty much the same icons, colors etc. However, the number of themes included by default has changed to 2.
*. A new ‘Control Center’ …
In Linux Mint 14, the ‘Cinnamon’ desktop based settings window was kept separately from the ‘Gnome Control Center’. But with LM 15, a new control center is introduced & you can access pretty much everything through that. It also has two view options, ‘Simple’ & ‘Advanced’. In ‘Simple mode’, a lot of ‘Cinnamon’ based configuration options are hidden.
*. Improved Lock screen …
The new lock screen window in LM 15 comes with a new option that lets you put a message when locking the computer. Pretty convenient, is it not ?
*. Improvements in ‘Nemo’ …
Since the file manager also plays a major role on a desktop, I decided to included two/three of the easily noticeable changes in it.
First one is that for all the mounted volumes, ‘Nemo’ now displays a small bar that indicates the current space usage, as shown below. You can also change between two of its (sidebar) ‘views’ or can completely disable it by clicking on the small icons at its bottom area as well.
The context menus are also a bit changed. For instance, just like on the desktop, users can enable/disable showing hidden files with ease, and there is an option for integrity checking & creating a bootable USB stick for disk images as well.
It is also worth noting that in Mint 14, ‘Nemo’ crashed twice, but in Mint 15 ‘Olivia’, although I did put it under some stress, so far no crashes, excellent.
In terms of its own applications, Linux Mint 15 also comes with many other changes. Please read about them from here.
Default applications …
LM 15 comes with Firefox 20.0 as the default web browser, LibreOffice 126.96.36.199, GIMP 2.8, Banshee 2.6, VLC 2.0.6, Transmission 2.7, Synaptic 0.8 and a few other applications. They have dropped ‘Gnome MPlayer’ though.
As usual, Linux Mint 15 comes with all the proprietary multimedia codecs & Adobe flash player installed by default. They also provide an ISO image without those ‘troublesome’ packages as well.
Performance & Hardware Issues …
As usual, I took measurements of the Boot-up time, Initial memory usage upon desktop loading, Power usage at idle, CPU usage at idle, System responsiveness, Shutdown delay, & looked out for any major hardware issues. Also remember that, I ran these tests before I ‘touched’ the desktop apps etc, although I have decided to put them at the end of the article.
I took 5 samples (sometimes even more) of each of the above tests for getting a conservative results & compared the results with Linux Mint 14 & Ubuntu 13.04. Below is a simple overview of my Hardware:
Intel Core i3-2330M CPU, Intel HD 3000 GPU, 4GB RAM (DDR3), Toshiba 7200 RPM (320GB) SATA HDD, Intel N-1030 Wireless adapter, Realtek network adapter ('RTL8168'), LED display with 1366x768 resolution (60Hz/60FPS). It's a Dell Vostro V-131 notebook.
Note: While I was reviewing LM 14, I measured boot-up times & memory usage with my Wi-Fi connection disabled. Since then however, whenever I measure those aspects in an OS, I have decided to keep the Wi-Fi connection ON, because I wanted to ’emulate’ a common scenario & it is pretty common to have a network enabled these days.
So for that reason, I re-installed LM 14 and re-measured those values with Wi-Fi turned ON and skipped the data from that old review.
However, I did not wait till the Wi-Fi to finish fully setting up its connection as it usually takes additional 2-3 seconds for that, and it is not fair to add it to the OS’s Boot-up time as the desktop becomes fully usable long before that.
Anyway, below is a graph that I created based on the new data.
As you can see, Linux Mint 15 is roughly 17% slow to boot than Linux Mint 14. I tried to find a reasonable answer, but could not find any (additionally, although Ubuntu 13.04 & LM 15 are based on the same core, Linux Mint 15 is about 38% more slower!).
However, both LM 14 & 15 come with a ‘VirtualBox’ related system service and in LM 15, it seems to takes about a second or two while loading. If you have additional information, then please, do comment! :).
Memory Usage Upon Desktop Loading
I re-measured the memory usage in Linux Mint 14 as well, because having Wi-Fi ON does add few more Mebibytes to the RAM. Below is the graph that I came up with.
As you can see, Linux Mint 15 has been able to cut the memory usage around 12% (32.3 MiB) when compared with LM 14!. Now, it is going to be extremely difficult while finding out the reasons behind it as the official release note does not even mention such change (by the way, I did install LM 15 like 3 times & took 5 measurements at each installation).
But I took a measurement of the most memory hungry processes using the ‘Gnome System Monitor’ in both LM 14 & 15, to see if I can see some changes, and to some extent, it did help. I measured ‘Cinnamon’, ‘Xorg’, ‘Nemo’, ‘MDM’ (Mint’s own display manager) & ‘Gnome-Settings-Daemon’.
Below are the two graphs.
A side note: ‘Gnome-Settings-Daemon’ is a service that applies various settings, configured by either the user or OS developers, to the Gnome desktop based applications.
As you can see, some applications in LM 15 have significantly reduced their memory usage while other have grown as well. However, when considering the total memory usage of those applications in Linux Mint 15, the total reduction is around 16.8 MiB.
Also, there is a tool called ‘cinnamon-launcher’ that loads ‘Cinnamon’. In LM 14, it terminates itself after loading ‘Cinnamon’, but hangs around in LM 15. It uses about 8-9 MiB, yet, despite of all that, LM 15 still has been able to reduce the initial memory usage.
Again, it is very difficult to point out all the exact reasons behind the memory reduction, perhaps they have fixed a memory leak, but I just do not know for sure.
CPU Usage at Idle
Linux Mint 15 did an excellent job of not interrupting the CPU while idling, for long, long periods!. Although, as usual, Gnome System Monitor was using 2-3 CPU cycles, all the time (eerrrrr!).
Power Usage at Idle
I also measured the power usage at idle with Bluetooth turned OFF, Wi-Fi turned ON (connected to the wireless router of course), screen brightness set to maximum & with screen dimming disabled. Below is the graph for comparison.
I ignore the slight difference between Ubuntu 13.04 and LM 15, but as you can see, LM 15 is much more efficient than LM 14. I have seen similar results in my Ubuntu 13.04 & 12.10 review, so given the reason that LM 14 is based on the core of Ubuntu 12.10 & LM 15 based on 13.04, the efficiency might have come from there.
I ran my usual system responsiveness ‘test’. Though this time I changed it a bit. First I opened a video file, then started to copy a file (1.6GB) within my ‘Home’ folder.
While it was being copied, I clicked on the main ‘Menu’ in ‘Cinnamon’ and searched and launched: ‘LibreOffice Writer’, ‘Calc’, ‘Calculator’, ‘GIMP’, ‘gThumb’, ‘Firefox’, ‘Control Center’, ‘Terminal’ emulator (& ran ‘saidar’), System Monitor, Desktop background changer and Gedit. While this all was going on, I clicked on the ‘Hot Corner’ for getting an overview as well.
So how did it go ?
It went ‘good’. The video playback (audio included) got interrupted, few times, most of the ‘heavy’ applications only opened after the file was fully copied, ‘Hot Corner’ opened and showed the overview with a minimum of delay.
However, I do confess that in terms of being responsive, when comparing with Linux Mint 15, Linux Mint 14 was truly exceptional. Still, it went ‘good’ under LM 15 & I do not think that most users will put their OS under such conditions anyway.
Also, I came across somewhat a similar conclusion while comparing Ubuntu 13.04 & 12.10. So again, it might be the Kernel (a wild guess).
A More Crash-Proof ‘Cinnamon’
In LM 14, If I kill the ‘cinnamon’ process (which terminates the desktop) using Gnome System Monitor, then within seconds it comes back. But, if I kill it using ‘Terminal’ or through a different text console (Ctrl + Alt + F1/2/3 …), well, it does not come back.
In LM 15, no matter how I terminated it, ‘Cinnamon’ was able to recover and restarted the desktop (without closing any opened windows of course), excellent!.
Hardware & ACPI Issues
As usual, all of my hardware were configured properly, except the fingerprint reader. However, the first time I boot the Live USB, the desktop did not load properly. The background was missing, desktop context menu not working etc but I was able to fix it by terminating & restarting ‘MDM’ manually.
‘Sleep’ & ‘Resume’ worked without major issues, although the first time I resumed it from sleep, Bluetooth had been turned ON. But it only happened once (weird!), again, I came across this issue in Ubuntu 13.04 too.
Please remember that, when I say shutdown delay (time) I mean after clicking the ‘Shutdown’ button, till I hear the HDD turning off -- ‘clucks’ sound, not till the computer gets turned off completely, because after the HDD turns off, it is beyond the control of the operating system.
Here is the graph.
As you can see, Linux Mint 15 shutdown 143% more faster than LM 14 does, though the credit goes to Ubuntu 13.04 core used in LM 15, because both LM14 & Ubuntu 12.10 had an issue that delayed the shutdown process as mentioned here, which is fixed in Ubuntu 13.04.
In Linux Mint 15 however, sometimes the computer got stuck while shutting down, which also happens in Ubuntu 13.04. My feeling that, it has something to do with ‘unmounting’ the file systems.
Final Words …
To be honest, I am slightly disappointed in Linux Mint 15. Mainly because, Linux Mint 14, in terms of being responsive under stress, was exceptional. But I think most of that frustration has something to do with the core of Ubuntu 13.04 that LM 15 is based on, as I have seen similar problems in Ubuntu 13.04 as mentioned.
That said, most users do not use their computer that arrogantly ( 😉 ), plus, ‘Cinnamon’ is also heavily improved and looks pretty darn good. So if you are thinking about asking ‘Olivia’ out, then by all means, do it!.
P.S: I did not have time to test it out, but one should be able to fix most of that responsiveness related issues by using the awesome ‘BFQ’ disk I/O scheduler.