In my last post, I mainly wrote about my experience with Mint 13 on a PC at work. However, until last night, I also had been giving Mint 13 Cinnamon on my system at home a longer test run. In the beginning, it looked rather promising and nice – even though I never got rid off the feeling that Mint is an illegitimate bastard child of Ubuntu that doesn’t belong into its parents’ world and at the same time hasn’t yet found its own place. Somehow, for maybe irrational reasons, Mint just never felt “right”. But the Cinnamon desktop had a lot going for itself, and that kept me interested.
I even could live with the annoying, almost daily updates. What became unacceptable, though, was the fact that Mint constantly failed to retrieve certain “translations” files from the official repository servers and that it literally always required dozens of retries to receive the files.
What put the final nail in Mint’s coffin were last night’s updates: After a normal “apt-get update, apt-get dist-upgrade, apt-get autoremove, reboot” cycle – the system failed to enter GUI mode and stayed on the console.
I wasn’t in the mood to fix something that should never have happened after a regular OS update. Instead, I wiped out the Mint installation and installed a fresh copy of Xubuntu 12.04 LTS on that machine. Xubuntu updated everything properly, including the latest Xfce version. (Note: Mint Xfce does not run properly on my machine at all, it always freezes after a few minutes.)
Xubuntu might not be the “sexiest” desktop Linux out there, but it’s fast, reliable and “just works”.
Mint showed a lot of promise, but eventually failed to deliver. Your experience might be completely different than mine and maybe you will be one of the many users who just fall in love with the distribution. Mint could be great – the team behind it “only” needs to fix the repository server situation and maybe also put the distribution more on its own feet. As of now, it’s a bit too close to Ubuntu for my taste, and even the Mint update mechanisms sometimes get an identity crisis: After one round of updates, certain configuration files actually had the OS name “Ubuntu” instead of “Linux Mint” in them. That’s another thing that should not happen, but I’m afraid that goes with the territory when you base your own work too closely to a constantly moving target.
Why am I writing something about Mint 13 when its successor is already available? Because I only care for LTS (Long Term Support) releases, that’s why. And the next LTS releases in the Ubuntu family of operating systems, to which Mint belongs, are only due in April 2014.
To make this short: I like Mint 13. Its desktop is a lot like the good parts of Windows 7, which means that Mint is a “traditional” but nice looking desktop environment. It doesn’t follow any of the current hypes and trends and does not try to put a smartphone or tablet user interface on your notebook or desktop PC. That is a good thing, and this philosophy turned Linux Mint into one of the most successful Linux distributions.
As I’ve already mentioned, Linux Mint is based upon Ubuntu. They take the core parts of Ubuntu and in case of the “Cinnamon” and “Mate” put a self-developed desktop interface on it. Then they spice it up with all the necessary (proprietary, closed source, patented and what not) software components to have all multimedia codecs known to the world and even Java pre-installed on the distribution so that watching your latest movies is only a mouse-click away. And you still have full access to all Ubuntu software repositories and you are compatible with everything that is compatible with the “original” Ubuntu. The distribution even is stable and fast and a pleasure to use.
For the most part.
But like all members of the Open Source family of operating systems, Mint also suffers from the “give us our daily update today” syndrome. There hardly is a day when the system does not inform you about available software updates after you’ve logged in. And this is where Linux Mint appears to have a serious problem: It tells you that software updates are available, but most of the time when you try to download and install them, the system fires error messages that the “packages.linuxmint.com” repository server is not responding. You have to keep trying and hoping that you find a time slot when the server is responding. And even then, downloads will be very slow – and I have a Gigabit Internet connection here at work.
Yes, I know about the available mirror repository servers, and I’ve tried several of them. Some of them are not responding either, and the ones that are responding don’t seem to mirror the “backports” repository. Unfortunately, I use the backports repository to obtain the latest version of the Cinnamon desktop. So for me the only thing that the mirror servers do is showing me an error message faster than the original servers. I’m not sure if that really is an improvement.
Linux Mint claims to be the 4th most widely used desktop operating system, after Windows, OS X and Ubuntu. And yet, it appears that they have serious hosting problems that need fixing yesterday.
This situation with constantly failing updates entirely ruins the experience and it made me insert an Ubuntu installation medium on my test machine at work.