Linux Mint 13 leaves sour aftertaste

By , Network World |  Software, Linux

KDE 4.8

KDE fans will rejoice at its inclusion in the Linux Mint 13 offerings, and although the download is slightly larger, the applications are more mature, with less infighting issues. The KDE install is simple for most, except that during its installation, it gives no indication that something is happening while the payload is being installed. It's calm, almost serene.

In our use, the KDE experience was simple, yet if we wanted to feel like we were using Linux, it behaved that way. The look and feel of this version will ruffle the feathers of no one, and the apps, especially the various media apps, were mature, cohesive, and played nicely together. After frustration and mild exasperation at what Gnome has become (with Ubuntu Unity motivators), we decided that the KDE version was perhaps the single best improvement in Linux Mint 13, overall.

Odd Behaviors

We've accumulated a number of odd behaviors across both Linux Mint 11-13, and tested them on all three versions to verify that the behavior isn't endemic to our hardware test platform, the aforementioned Lenovo T520s. They're nagging, but not showstoppers. The primary difficulty comes, when using a different file system than the host, on USB-attached drives with large subdirectories. Manually -- via a shell -- we can find information perfectly fast. The UI in both Gnome versions, however, takes forever to manage large flat subdirectories into view, sometimes crashing (we gave up waiting overnight). KDE doesn't display this behavior, but Xfce does.

We were happy to find that there were fewer post initial-installation updates needed to bring the system up to date. Our prior experience had us glumly waiting for a long list of packages to be downloaded, installed, filed away, rinsed, repeated. It made us feel in all three editions as though the payloads had been thought through, and the initial mix was up-to-date.

Yet IPSec VPNs can be difficult to make work. We can connect via PPTP to our Apple MacOS 10.6 and Windows 2008 R2 networks, but connections failed to stay up. We've sought configuration change advice, but to no avail. We can reconnect easily enough, and the disconnections usually (but not as a rule) don't affect file transfers.

IPSec VPNs are more troublesome still, and we received intermittent and random disconnections even when connected through pristine, local wires and routing. We are still looking for answers, but the trace tools are difficult to use. We found that Cisco's Linux Debian version worked consistently. At press time, we're still looking for stable PPTP and IPSec connections where both should work immediately and without question from a security standpoint.

The Wi-Fi device drivers found our Lenovo/Intel chipset correctly. If, however, one somehow corrupts a relationship with a default Wi-Fi access point connection, that connection needs a WPA (or WPA2) password each time it subsequently reconnects to the infrastructure access point whose name or password was initially deleted or mistyped. As we change our passwords somewhat frequently, this means that we must enter them at each session after an access point password change cycle.

We're still looking for where the passwords are cached, to reset them to allow us to get closer to a default sign-on. The wireless subsystem will sometimes ditch the default, perfectly good Wi-Fi connection and latch onto a less powerful one -- even when there is no contention for connection. It's not that the connection is invalid, just that it's irksome to have to re-associate with a preferred access point -- then add its complex password to each session.

Overall

The application payload still includes Libre Office, and the KDE version contains the best multimedia handling apps. While we've been Gnome fans for a long time, the smoothness of the KDE feel and the overall crispness of the KDE payload makes us want to recommend it first for boring desktop installations in need of low drama.

How We Tested Linux Mint 13

We tested the Linux Mint 13 "Maya" KDE, Mate 1.2, and Cinnamon versions of Linux desktop operating systems on a Lenovo ThinkPad T520 (Intel i5 dual-core 64-bit CPU, 8GB Dram, several identical Hitachi 500GB conventional drives) with a gigabit Ethernet connection, and Dlink (802.11/a/b/g/n in low-band N channel 11) Wi-Fi access point. We both upgraded (and don't recommend this) as well as installed fresh copies of the operating systems versions onto our Hitachi drives, and compared application payloads, look and feel, and to see whether bugs we'd found in LinuxMint 11 and 12 had been fixed; we highlighted the operational bugs we found.

Tom Henderson is principal researcher for ExtremeLabs, of Bloomington Ind. He can be reached at kitchen-sink@extremelabs.com.

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