Linux Mint 7 “Gloria” was released a little while ago, so before it became too old of news, I thought I’d take a whack at experimenting with it for the sake of netbookers everywhere (and for myself, naturally). As I type this on gedit after about two weeks’ use, let’s just say that the system on my EeePC 1000 HE is, for the most part, rather glorious– pun intended. As a bonus, I also got Google’s Chromium browser to run on it, so keep on reading to find the section on that.
Linux Mint 7 “Gloria” is the latest Linux Mint release based off of Ubuntu 9.04, and since I already briefly used Ubuntu 9.04 on this very same netbook, I expected it to perform at least the same, if not better. After all, the boot screen displays the phrase “from freedom came elegace” with the Linux Mint logo above it.
The hardware used for reviewing Linux Mint 7 is my trusty EeePC 1000 HE netbook. It has an Intel Atom processor at 1.66 GHz, 1 GB of DRR2 RAM, 160 GB of hard drive space, Bluetooth, wireless b, g, and n, a 1.3 MP webcam, and a 10.2-inch screen. Its network name is appropriately BLACK-BEAUTY.
To install Linux Mint on my netbook via a USB drive, I used the beautiful program known as Unetbootin, available for both Windows and Linux. Though Linux Mint 7 wasn’t yet included in the default options of the program (it comes with a preset list of distributions to use), I was still able to download the image and install it on the USB drive from that. I installed the Linux Mint 7 Main Edition.
Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover– or an OS by Its First Day of Performance
Installation from the bootable USB drive was painless and almost exactly the same as Ubuntu 9.04’s. The entire process took around thirty minutes. Booting into Mint for the first time was sort of like being a child who comes into the family room on Christmas day when the tree is lit up and a model steam engine is weaving its way between a pile of gifts. It’s pretty, it’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s… silent. The silence was caused by the wrong driver being loaded for the sound card, but that was fixed very easily later by selecting a different one. The logon sound reminds me of a cell phone getting a text– that’s what I thought it was the first time.
It certainly was pretty, but it was missing something. The wireless wouldn’t detect any networks at first, but after I let it sit for a while as I did other things, it was able to sense mine. Only after a very long time of coaxing, retrying to connect, and disabling and enabling the network adapter did it finally connect. No tweaking caused it to work– it suddenly connected of its own accord, which is quite odd and leaves me rather bepuzzled. It finally connected, but, due to the fact that I have a somewhat unique setup in my home (DSL modem –> wireless router with the router acting as DHCP server), I was not able to connect to the Internet and was only allowed to roam my own network no matter what I did. I’ve only had this problem with Ubuntu and Linux Mint before as all of my other wireless computers in the house (Windows XP, Vista, and 7) have been able to connect to the Internet flawlessly. After having a bit of a think, I finally decided to change the DHCP server from the wireless router to the DSL modem, and, after more disabling, enabling, and rebooting both routers two or three times, the wireless finally connected and had Internet access at the same time: miracle. It would still take a day or two before Mint would connect to my network automatically (even though it was set to from the beginning); it also took as long for it to connect in less than a minute and a half after being told to. Again, I did no tweaking– the system just needed to be broken in or something, I suppose, like a shoe or a horse. Thankfully, though, the networking on my netbook with Linux Mint now connects automatically in an unnoticable amount of time, and it works flawlessly except when coming out of hibernation (that seems to be a common complaint).
After the networking kafuffle, I also found that the interface seemed to be slow and jumpy, as was the starting of applications. It was disappointing, really, and surprising to find this. The visual effects were only set to normal, and I have seen similar applications start up much more quickly on Ubuntu than this. However, after using Mint for a couple of days, I set the visual effects to the most advanced setting, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that windows weren’t quirky anymore and the overall performance was faster despite being more graphically intensive. After going back to check normal graphics settings, they now work just as well; I believe that my performance lagged because updated or correct drivers hadn’t been downloaded (due to the network mess as previously mentioned), and that performing the first update solved that problem. On the other hand, Firefox is still painfully slow and I sometimes twiddle my thumbs a mite longer than I’d have thought as I wait for system applications such as the control panel or mintUpdate to load. Otherwise, the system seems pretty snappy.
Things were looking bleak for Linux Mint 7 at first, but, once the networking was working, things began to fall into place and were on the up and up.
A Deeper Look: System Features, Performance, Aesthetics
My hope was being restored in Mint again. Continuing in my experience with the system, I found some pretty spiffy features I’d like to show examples of.
First off is the Menu. Instead of a menu bar at the top of the screen containing all programs, options, and tools, it’s contained in one button similar to Windows’ Start Menu. It’s divided into sections with features to filter out certain types of applications. However, my favorite of all of these is the search option similar to Windows Vista’s Start Menu search and Mac OS X’s Spotlight. A user may type in the name of an application to use, or the user may type in the name of a package to install or to search on repositories. What’s more is that when the Menu is closes and reopened, the search filter remains.
I found mintUpdate a very viable upgrade from Ubuntu’s standard system updater. It’s a lot cleaner, easier to use, and less annoying and intrusive. When there are updates available for your applications, the system doesn’t put on a great show and annoy you until you decide to download and install them. Instead, a simple lock is displayed in the system tray, and a mouse-over will tell you how many recommended updates are available. The mintUpdate interface is much more friendly than others in my opinion. It lists updates and the information associated with them as well as gives a rating next to it that states whether the update has been tested, if it’s known or thought to be safe, and if it could potentially be dangerous or is dangerous. You can even change the lock icon in the system tray to whatever you like.
MintInstall had its perks (such as screenshots automatically downloaded whenever an application is viewed), but the sole fact that I can’t seem to mark multiple applications for download at the same time is a little irksome. A user can only click “Install” and have only one application be downloaded and installed at a given time.
Performance-wise, as already briefly stated, Mint runs pretty well on my netbook. It does have its slow moments using certain applications, but Chromium and OpenOffice.org, the applications I mainly use on a netbook, run beautifully. Most other standard applications do, too. It seems to mostly be Firefox and several of the system tools that have trouble. On the other hand, I’m sure that these would have vast improvements running on a desktop with at least slightly better hardware.
Start-up times are a bit slower than anticipated, as are times going into and coming out of hibernation. Going into hibernation takes around 20-25 seconds and 25-30 waking up. Start up takes around 35-40 seconds. Even still, it’s not disgustingly slow; I’m still pleased.
Though the battery time on my EeePC is rated for the default system at a beautiful 6-9 hours, I seem to get less battery time using Linux Mint 7 than Windows XP. On a good day, I can get around seven hours of Internet browsing and word processing on Windows, but Linux Mint seems to fall behind at a somewhat lesser 4-5 hours.
Most of the hardware on this netbook seems to play well with Mint. Even the easy-access buttons above the keyboard have effect– one puts the computer on standby, and the rest I believe are somehow customizable as they cause the cursor to halt in blinking for a fraction of a second whenever I press them (proving that the system picks up some sort of signal when they’re pressed), but I’m currently not interested in figuring them out; I’ve done a few searches to see if someone else has posted their procedure of customizing them online, but none of them revealed anything. Some of the hardware that doesn’t work, however, are what some people may call vital. I don’t use my webcam or bluetooth very often, so it’s not been a problem for me thus far to not have them work. I can’t find any way to interact with the webcam in the system as it currently is, and, though there is a bluetooth interface, it doesn’t seem to be able to tell that I have bluetooth hardware. I do know that there are procedures for getting webcams to work for Ubuntu posted on various websites, so I imagine that they’ll work for Linux Mint as well seeing as how it’s based on Ubuntu, though this theory remains untested by me.
The aesthetics of the system are undeniably pretty. There is a wide selection of different themes and backgrounds, but the default is still glorious. Green is my favorite, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. At any rate, the advanced graphics work well as detailed before, and those combined with the color and icon schemes make it a pretty environment to work in, indeed. If people want eye-candy in their operating system, Linux Mint is a very comfy way to go and can compete with other more popular systems.
I also found it funny that Linux Mint’s terminal gives you a sort of joke/fortune every time you start a new session.
Since I’ve become addicted to Google Chrome, I decided I might try to get Chromium on my Mint partition (the slowness of Firefox also influenced my decision). At first I attempted to install the Windows version of Chrome via Wine, but despite a successful installation, all I could get was a blank about:blank screen. Using these instructions to get Chromium, I installed Chromium slickly and quickly, and I use it happily to this day.
Chromium seems more stable and completed than I had anticipated. Day by day use feels just like Chrome, and I sometimes forget that, to paraphrase Dorothy, “We’re not in Windows anymore, Toto” when I use the Internet for an extended period. The only problems I’ve had with Chromium thus far is that some sites based on flash don’t work properly (flash isn’t supported at all in Chromium just yet), and pages implementing HTML5 cause Chromium to completely freeze– pages such as the samples shown on Kroc’s website regarding the successful open letter to Mozilla some time ago. Otherwise, the browser seems to work beautifully and just as fast and efficacious as the Windows version.
Linux Mint 7 is not only shiny and pretty, but well organized and easy to use. It has its slow moments while running on typical netbook hardware, but it still runs snappily for most netbook uses. It has some very viable advantages over Ubuntu in its ease of use and customized system applications, and I believe people who are new to Linux would find Mint much more desirable than Ubuntu in most circumstances. It could definitely use some power consumption optimization as well as some optimization to speed up what it still runs slow. As with most user-installed Linuxes, Mint doesn’t exactly like the wireless card on the EeePC 1000 HE, and better wireless support for all distributions is a very major necessity to attract more users. All in all, I have a little crush on Linux Mint 7 and like it better than Ubuntu; I personally give it a 9/10. However, the way it runs on my netbook calls for a score nearer to 7/10, disappointingly. I do look forward to future releases and hope they may be more optimized for netbooks.