Review: Linux Mint 18 (Sarah)

It seems like such a long time ago that we reviewed Linux Mint 17. It was back in June 2014 that we published our thoughts on the “Qiara” release of Mint. Two years on, we’re now taking a look at its successor – Linux Mint 18 (Sarah).

Introduction

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We decided to take a good look at two releases of Mint 18. We chose to test out the MATE and Cinnamon releases. There are other options available for fans of XFCE and KDE, yet the two we tested probably remain the most popular.

Before we dive into our thoughts on how Mint 18 performs, we need to mention the most important change with this release has been the choice by developers to remove proprietary multimedia codecs from the default builds. This did initially cause a small amount of noise among Mint loyalists, but the fact remains that they can easily be installed in just a few quick key-strokes post-installation. More on this shortly. But as it remains a very minor technical set-back, we’re not going to rant on about it too much because it’s a moot point. And to be honest, there are much more interesting things to talk about with this release rather than dwelling on something minor like codecs.

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We booted our test builds without any problems. In fact, the early builds we used for testing were so stable, they were worthy of being installed on production machines. As a professional publishing organization, we probably should not be recommending you go ahead and do this, but we use this reference as an indication of just how stable it was, in the weeks prior to final release.

Our test builds were running the Linux kernel 4.4.0-21. This was without running any kind of APT update, so by the time this article makes it to press, we have no doubts you will seeing an updated kernel make its way through the repositories. Although the 4.4.0 branch is not bleeding edge, it is a stable kernel and if absolute stability is what you like in a Linux based operating system, then you will find no problems with the 4.4.0 kernel branch. If you want something a little more on the edge, you could essentially go ahead and install a more recent kernel. We’re actually running Mint 17.3 on one of our servers here in the office, which sits on top of Linux 4.6.0 and it’s rock solid. We didn’t have the resources to be testing Mint 18 with a more recent kernel, but if 17.3 stability is any kind of indication of its compatibility, we see no outstanding indications that Mint 18 would be any different. So if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, go ahead and do it and drop us an email to let us know how it runs.

MATE/Cinnamon

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The Cinnamon release was the first desktop environment that we gave a run. Our previous experience with Cinnamon was horrible and one we’d rather forget. Its performance was terrible and there were very little options for desktop customization. Admittedly, that was quite some time ago. We are pleased to now say that Cinnamon has grown up, matured and has become a very pleasant desktop environment to use with additional performance improvements to boot.

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Mint 18 has a new theme – called Mint-Y. Which is unfortunately not enabled as default. It can easily be enabled by the changing the Appearance settings. It’s a beautiful theme and we are not quite sure why the decision as made to have it as an option rather than enabled by default. In Cinnamon, the theme does not change as one. Rather the user needs to change each individual setting – Windows/Buttons/Icons etc. This is a little strange and only a small annoyance, but why the theme can not just be changed as one setting at the desktop level is a little silly, to be frank. Thankfully, things were much better in MATE. If you change the appearance to the new theme inside MATE, it changes everything at the desktop level. This is exactly as it should be.

Like we’ve stated, the theme is beautiful and we recommend you switch Mint 18 to it before you do anything else.

There’s a nice selection of stock wallpapers to choose from. Most users will probably choose their own preference for their own desktop, which is not uncommon. However, if you’re feeling lazy, there’s plenty of choice of stock images to spice up your desktop a little more.

Desktop environment performance was great in both Cinnamon and MATE. There was a slight noticeable lag when using Cinnamon compared to MATE, but that’s just us being technically picky. Most users would probably not even notice unless it was pointed out to them. So we couldn’t possibly take any points away from the Mint 18 developers for this. We commend their efforts for bringing two fantastic desktop environments to the table.

Multimedia codecs

As we mentioned at the beginning of the Review, multimedia codecs are no longer installed out-of-the-box in Linux Mint 18. Instead of complaining about this decision, just go ahead and install them by running the following command in your terminal console as soon as your new system has completed installation:

$ sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install mint-meta-codecs

The command above will install the most commonly required and used proprietary codecs.

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Depending on your network connection, it should be completely downloaded and installed in just a couple of minutes. One installed, you can close your terminal console and get onto more important tasks!

Downloads

Linux Mint 18 (Mate)
Linux Mint 18 (Cinnamon)

Conclusion

We are really happy with the results of Linux Mint 18. Once you have switched to the new theme and installed the multimedia codecs, there’s not much left to do. Mint 18 has it all. It’s selection of software is very well thought out and leaves very little for users to worry about post-installation.

Then there is the ‘Ubuntu-factor’ that can not be ignored. Linux Mint 18 traditionally depends on its Ubuntu heritage for a majority of its packages by utilizing its software repositories, in addition to its own dedicated repository for more updated packages that don’t make their way into the Ubuntu ones. Combined, you will find that you have a extensive package selection at your fingertips – all from inside Mint 18.

Regular readers will have probably seen our recent published Review of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. If you missed it, we can tell you that we were very disappointed with it and made the recommendation for people to jump ship in search of a good third-party distribution based on Ubuntu. If you are one of those people, then please note that we happily endorse Mint 18 as a perfect Ubuntu replacement.

If you were looking to jump the Ubuntu ship completely, then we recommend taking a look at our recent Review of Fedora 24. It’s equally as good as Mint 18 and equally worthy of your consideration.

Between Linux Mint 18 and Fedora 24, we reckon it’s exciting times in the Linux world. With the exception and onset of the boring world of vanilla Ubuntu releases, Linux feels reinvigorated and fresh once again. Jump on board, because it can only get better from here.

  • ciemnogrodzianin

    O’rly? That’s all? And you call it REVIEW? 🙂

  • As the Author of this Review, I feel the need to reply to your comment. I’m not quite sure what you were expecting to get from this Review. But the process and analysis that we do when looking at new/updated Linux operating systems is somewhat standard right across the board.

    I work for independent media. We have limited resources, limited time and work with very limited funds. I’m sorry if you felt this Review was not up to your high expectations and/or in depth enough. We do the best with the limited resources that we have to find a balance of quality article delivery and depth of coverage. We reckon we do a pretty good job.

    As a side note, what do you specifically feel we left out that could have helped the Review?

  • The reason the new Mint-Y theme isn’t enabled as default is, as Clement Lefebvre stated, that it’s still a work in progress.Not finished in other words. One of the reasons the devs included it at all in the initial release of 18 is for feedback purposes in order to help them in the development of Mint-Y.

    If you noticed, the old Mint-X theme has the ability to change the overall color of the folders from green to a choice of several different colors and that the user can also choose the color of individual folders as well. It’s been that way since, I believe, 17.3. However, the Mint-Y theme does not have this capability–yet.

    And I actually like the ability (in the Cinnamon DE) to change the bits and pieces of the theme individually and I know a lot of other Mint users do as well, especially the ones that install multiple themes.

    Still, to each their own. I still miss the old Mint Menu from when Mint, like Ubuntu, still used the old Gnome 2.32 DE. You could search for, install and remove applications right from the menu itself without having to bother with the terminal or Synaptic. That same menu is still there in the MATE edition along with the same functions and abilities in Linux Mint 18 but I’ve grown to like the Cinnamon DE too much to go back the old Gnome 2 look, function and feel.

  • Paul

    Maybe put reasons one would choose Mate of Cinnamon. Maybe put system requirements for each and also post what the memory usage and system load was after maybe an 30-60 minutes of using it. Also some personal thoughts on what you like and don’t like about Mate vs Cinnamon in Mint 18. I would also liked to have known some of the more common/noticeable improvements/changes over Mint 17.3.

  • Huy Pham

    Why is this called a review? What you did were changing the theme and update codecs.

  • Thank you for the clarifications on the new Mint-Y theme.

  • Noted. Thanks for the feedback.

  • sproggit

    Chris, I share a couple of the expressed concerns about the rather lightweight nature of your review, but perhaps if you’d said at the outset that you were writing based on impressions rather than as a technical critique, your piece might have been of interest to say Windows 7 users unhappy with the spyware that is Windows 10 and who are looking for something else…

    A couple of other points that you might want to consider when looking for the balance of content may have been, for example, the fact that both Cinnamon and Mate are based on the GNOME desktop, but with this release of Mint both see substantial upgrades to the versions of underlying code they are built on. This brings both functionality and longevity to this release.

    Something else that is of interest, no, concern, to me as a Mint user of 4 years’ standing [I ran ubuntu until 12.04 and then swapped to Mint] has been the way that Mint are taking a questionable approach to their use of updates. Mint has introduced a new GUI tool, Update Manager, which provides all sorts of additional and useful information on potential updates. However, as part of the introduction of this, they have also *completely broken* apt, the Debian-born package manager on which both Mint and it’s upstream system, ubuntu, are built.

    How? Simply this: the “rules of the road” for Debian-based distros has always been that if you are running on a *stable* base, then “apt-get update” and “apt-get upgrade” will only introduce known-good, stable and properly tested code. Mint has changed this, such that the above process can now introduce *unstable* and *regression-causing* code to a stable release. Of course, Mint are entirely at liberty to do this – it’s their distro and by using it we agree to the terms of their sandbox. However, IMHO this marks a dangerous change to the way that distros function… Mint have taken a well-known and well-established mechanism (and a critical one: update) and changed the way that it functions such that once-safe actions can now potentially break a system.

    Exaggerated illustration: suppose I took the command “ls” and modified the logic so that “ls -al” actually performed “sudo rm -r *” under the covers? It’s taking a command known for doing one thing and getting it to do something else…

    This sort of thing might be of interest to Linux-skilled readers who are contemplating a move from a different distro to Mint.

    Don’t get me wrong: I love Mint and it’s still my distro-of-choice, but I am not happy with some of the design decisions that are being made.

    Oh, last point: up until now, Mint have always recommended in favour of a clean wipe and fresh installation between versions. With Mint 17, each point release was accompanied by “dist-upgrade” instructions that worked flawlessly. The Mint Team have said that they will release upgrade utilities and instructions to get from Mint 17.3 (Rosa) to 18.0 (Sarah) that will come out some time in July…

    Hope that is useful…

  • About the Mint Update Manager and how Mint have “broken apt”. You’re “Rules of the Road” example applies more to how Ubuntu has always used apt to upgrade the Ubuntu system. Just typing “apt-get upgrade” into the Ubuntu terminal or using Ubuntu’s update manager will include all available upgrade packages to whatever version of Ubuntu you’re using including kernel and driver updates that may cause breakage or regressions to your system. It was Ubuntu that broke the so-called Debian “Rules or the Road”, not Mint.

    On that note, the Mint Update Manager was and still is designed to stop such a practice, only allowing known regression free updates to install while allowing the user (via preferences) to choose whether or not they want to allow all updates to download and install, aka Ubuntu but it wasn’t obvious on how to do this. The 17 series of Mint introduced a more user friendly way to do this kind of thing and 18 improved upon it.

    Basically, Linux Mint 18 now lists security updates to the kernel in the list of available updates by default but does not automatically check them like it does the “safe” updates in the list leaving it up to the user to decide whether to include the kernel updates or not. So, as it has always done, the Mint Update Manager does not allow an Ubuntu type “everything included” installation of updates unless the user chooses to do so.

    It’s not perfect of course and many “purists” still complain that Mint’s default way of updating their system causes security vulnerabilities. Of course, the “purists” back then complained that installing all the updates available (aka Ubuntu) in the early versions of Mint caused regressions and could break the system. 🙂

    As far as updating Mint via the terminal, “apt-get update, “apt-get upgrade” and “apt-get dist-upgrade” still operate like the same commands in Ubuntu. This type of updating is actually not recommended for a modern day Mint system.

    Just sayin’…

  • Thank you for the insight, albeit I’m slightly disappointed that you found or review lackluster. Also note that the ‘advise’ you have provided is much based on your ‘own view and opinion’ for which I can’t entirely agree. Especially to claim the Mint team have broken APT.

    We looked at Mint, played around with from a user’s perspective to see how it would hold up with everyday usage. That is the review that we have provided and the type of review we always publish.

    Our intention is not to benchmark it, pull it to piece code-by-code to discover what is derived from what and how it has been changed by Mint developers. In our opinion, that is not a user perspective-based review as we see it.

    You have your opinion and we have ours. We all differ in views. And that’s what is key to a healthy Linux ecosystem.

  • sproggit

    Thank you for the correction – and sorry to the Mint Team for casting doubt on their process. In my defence, all I can say is that when I raised this question on the Mint forum, as a concern, I was given no indication that this was inherited from ubuntu, and, sadly, I was not taken too seriously…

  • Wykedengel

    I don’t think that was the point of the review. I believe the author was pointing out what’s new in each. This wasn’t a comparison or a “what’s better to use” type article.

    @disqus_5ItM0Kjuhu:disqus Thanks for the article. I was on the fence about Linux Mint MATE, but after reading the article, I want to take it for a test drive.

  • Alan Diggs

    Great review. I think it’s a good thing the theme is changed in individual parts rather than all at once. You criticize them so heavily on this, but all it does is make it easier to customize your theme as you want. I’d prefer an option such as ‘Set all’, that allows a complete theme set on the desktop level, but it’s a feature, nonetheless. It makes choice easier in this aspect.

  • Yonn Trimoreau

    Great job with the logo 😉

  • Bernard

    mint-meta-codecs is already the newest version (2016.05.04).
    0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 8 not upgraded.

    I’ve tried to install, but it seems to be already in place.
    But, I’ve surely did something like “10 things to do after linux mint 18 install” 😀
    Thanks anyway for this publication 😉

  • Doom Lord

    A paper thin review but very clear on what it wants to say. It helped me choose Mate over Cinnamon. That’s my expectation from a review. After reading, you must be able to make a decision on problem point.

  • Greg Zeng

    Too wordy. Complex, long sentences. Misunderstanding that the “children” repeat the “parental” mistakes. Assuming that Mint has the same mistakes/ limits as Ubuntu. Yet you forget that Fedora is a child of Red Hat, or that the Ubuntu-families are children of Debian. “Professionalism” is computer review writing has still to reach the level of writing-competence reach in transport journalism. Check the messages delivered, in the minimum number of words available.