Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

The Linux Mint team has announced the release of Linux Mint 13 KDE. This is an important release for KDE and Linux Mint users as it brings the latest and greatest technologies from KDE and Ubuntu.

The Good: Feel The Power of KDE
What I like the most about KDE is the way it offer total control over your PC, which Ubuntu Unity or Gnome Shell misses. Customization is another area where KDE excels over others and Linux Mint is no exception. From the System Settings you can control almost every element of your machine. You can go ahead and explore system settings and intrigued by all that there is in the offering.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

You can change or install new themes and icons with a single click (something impossible under Ubuntu at the moment).

Watch the below video to check out the customization that Linux Mint offers.

Linux Mint KDE also enables a user to use the good ol’ panels and you can create as many panels you want and place them wherever you want. At the same time, you can pin your favorite apps to the panels as you wish.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

Linux Mint uses the familiar KDE menu which is a neat Application Launcher where you can also ‘search’ the apps without having to go through each menu. You can access your Applications, Storage, and other settings right from this menu. You can also pin your favorite apps here so that you can access them with one click.  All the applications are neatly placed under appropriate categories so a new user won’t have to struggle to find all the apps which are available.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

Another cool trick Linux Mint KDE has up its sleeves is Krunnuner. It allows you to not only open apps, files, folder and websites without leaving your keyboard but also perform basic tasks such calculation and conversion. It’s just two keystrokes away: Alt+F2

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

Linux Mint 13 packs the latest and greatest KDE on top of stable and easy to manage Ubuntu. So, while you get the advantage of using a Debian based distro – huge repo of packages, flexibility of PPAs to expand it further, and increasing support for Ubuntu by more and more players, at the same time you also get the power of KDE.

However when I look at Linux Mint I can’t stop thinking of Kubuntu or Netrunner which are using Ubuntu as the base to pack KDE SC. What intrigues me is the fact the Linux Mint KDE is funded by the same company (Blue Systems) which also funds Netrunner and now Kubuntu. It seems to be a lot of duplication there. So I am curious if there is any plan to merge these projects? I am also curious if Linux Mint/Kubuntu teams are working together as they share the same DNA?

When I asked Clement Lefebvre, founder of Linux Mint he said, “Blue Systems sponsor many projects, including Netrunner, Linux Mint and Kubuntu. These projects are different and independent though and there are no plans for them to merge.”

The Bad
There is not much to write bad about Linux Mint. This release suffers from the same issue which other Linux Mint release suffer from the same issues which are clearly listed in the release note. One may think that the infamous black splash screen is a bug but it’s not. This is by design. Once the system is installed the boot sequence is relatively fast. The black loading sequence doesn’t look out of place and it looks consistent across all computers, whatever driver you’re using. If you’d rather get a splash screen you can select one by typing the following command and selecting mint-logo:
sudo update-alternatives –config default.plymouth

Applications Management
Linux Mint comes with own customized Software Manager. It’s a great tool to enable users in installing apps. It’s actually better than Ubuntu Software Center as at times you need to install some packages and that’s a task which USC can’t  perform. For example I use iBus to compose in Hindi. When I install iBus under openSUSE or Fedora it automatically installs the m17 engine to enable languages. Under Linux Mint that doesn’t happen and you have to install the package manually. This is where LM Software Manager is better as under USC you can’t find such packages.

However, I think Linux mint should install the engine by default when iBus is installed so that unnecessary frustration is avoided.

I found the Software Manager to be a bit slower than Synaptic. The good news is, unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint comes pre-installed with Synaptic so you can use it to install or remove applications.

I did find the Software Manager to misbehave at times the package I was installing did get installed but it was showing ‘not installed’.

Beyond that there is not much to write in the bad category. The distribution is really stable and does a great job at packing KDE on top of an Ubuntu base.

The Ugly:  Linux Mint Default Search Is Messy
Linux Mint has switched to Yahoo! as the default search engine, which is powered by Microsoft Bing. Looking at Microsoft’s hostile attitude towards Linux, I don’t feel comfortable using there search engine so I switched to Google. But before doing so you must bear in mind that search engine is an avenue for the Linux Mint team to fund the project as search engines share with Linux Mint the revenue generated for them by Linux Mint users. So if you do want to switch search engine, do consider making a donation to Linux Mint so as to keep the project well funded.

Donate to the Linux Mint project

The interesting thing about using Yahoo! as the default search engine is that when you search for Linux Mint, the project doesn’t even appear in the first fold. It is buried under irrelevant ads or results.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

What’s DuckDuck Go Doing Here?
I noticed something which was not mentioned in the release notes. When I performed a search from the URL/address bar the result returned from DuckDuckGo. So, is Linux Mint using two different search engines? Yahoo! for the Firefox search bar and DuckDuckGo when you enter search terms in the URL? The problem that I faced was unlike the ‘search box’ where you can change the default search engine, there is no easy way to change the URL search engine unless you tweak the about:config settings.

Since there was no mention in the release note, I checked it with Clem and he explained,  “The default search provider is Yahoo, but only for the countries indicated in the release notes. In all other regions, or for parts of the OS where no localization is done (for instance in the URL bar) we’re still using DuckDuckGo as default. You can change the URL search provider by configuring Firefox. This option isn’t present in the menus but you can access it via about:config.”

Changing the default URL search provider can be a bit challenging for an average user. I think Linux Mint team should make it easier for users to change default search engines. While I support Linux Mint and will recommend donation, I also think there should be some flexibility when it comes to choosing a critical feature such as default search engine.

DuckDuckGo Needs To Buckle Up
I am a big fan and supporter of DuckDuckGo, but I feel that it seems to be not indexing sites and many pages. When I ran a search for Muktware story “Linux Mint 13 KDE Edition Released” it did not give any results so DDG user will never see millions of such pages. Same is the problem with Yahoo! and Bing, All these search engines are incapable of indexing millions of sites thus are no where in competition with Google. Linux Mint story was published on 23rd July and none of these search engines have the story indexed. Only Google gets it right.

I can’t say much about Bing or Yahoo! as they are powered by Microsoft’s search which is more about having its own product in every possible category instead of offering a few great products. I think Linux Mint might want to explore the possibilities of working with Google and use it as the default search engine.

Gtk Apps Look Ugly
As I wrote in this article for some mysterious reason Gtk apps don’t look good under Linux Mint (or Kubuntu). I use Gedit, Tweetdeck and Nautilus (as Dolphin can’t mount my Nikon D7000 camera) and there are some big issues here. When I copy files/folder in Nautilus it doesn’t highlight the selected items so I don’t know what is being copied. Same happens with text under Gedit or Google Chrome (which also uses GTK).

The Verdict
KDE is often criticized for being buggy. I have been using KDE for almost an year now and I never lost my work due to a crash. Yes, once in a while when you close Amarok or shutdown your system you will see a crash report but that’s all it is.

KDE, as I always maintained, is one of the most advanced desktop environments, without making any compromises the way Unity or Gnome shell have made to stay relevant on touch-based devices.

Instead of making any compromises the KDE teams have developed graphical environments for different devices. KDE’s Plasma Workspaces is the umbrella term for all graphical environments provided by KDE. There are many workspaces –

  • Plasma Desktop – traditional PCs which use keyboard and mouse.
  • Plasma Netbook – netbooks which are low on power and have screen restrictions
  • Plasma Active – targeted at touch based devices
  • Contour – mobile devices

So, when you use Linux Mint KDE you don’t lose any functionality and get the most out of your powerful desktop. In my personal opinion openSUSE has one of the best KDE implementation along with KDE centric distros. If Linux Mint can move more distro specific controls and settings in the ‘System Settings’ such as Software Manager, Repo management, it will enhance the user experience. System Settings will be one shop to take complete control of your Linux Mint system.

One area that I think Linux Mint need to work on for future releases is tight integration with Cloud, whether it be Google Drive, Dropbox or ownCloud. Linux Mint can also enhance user experience by integrating social network such a Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

I think Linux Mint’s primary goal is to offer a great distribution to KDE users, without interfering much, without coming between KDE and its users. I commend Linux Mint for doing so and doing it so well.

Linux Mint is an excellent distribution for a Windows user who wants to give GNU/Linux a try without having relearn everything from scratch; it’s an excellent distribution for a KDE fan who wants the easy of use of an Ubuntu-based distribution and it’s also a great distribution for those who don’t feel comfortable with Unity of Gnome shell. On top of that it is an excellent distribution for any Linux user who wants complete control of her machine. So, if you are any of these users you should give Linux Mint a try.

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Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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