Reviews

Critical Review of Linux Mint 19

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Linux Mint is one of the most popular Linux based operating systems that seems to be aimed at relatively conservative users who want to use a simple OS that makes many decisions for them. It’s UI seems to be inspired by Windows XP so those users feel comfortable.

When the latest version of Linux Mint came out, I downloaded it and have been using it for a while. I do dabble with Linux Mint when a new version comes out, but I don’t keep it on my system for various reasons which I will mention today.

Installation

Since Linux Mint doesn’t come pre-installed on mainstream hardware, installation is the first interaction a user has with Linux Mint. Thanks to the legacy of Ubuntu, Linux Mint is very easy to install. Just click next, and you are done. Things can get a bit complicated if you want to create many partitions or plan to dual boot with other OSes.

Once Linux Mint 19 is installed, you will be greeted with this screen. It’s a nice start-up page which provides an intro of Linux Mint to a new user.

Everything looks pretty and good.

What can it do?

But what can it do? Your mileage may vary from mine. There are certain things that Linux can’t do and that’s why I have to resort to using macOS and Windows 10. We will talk about that some other time. Not today. I use all three platform – macOS, Windows 10 and Linux.

My Linux machine is used for writing. All I need is a browser, a text editor and a word processor. Linux Mint has all three areas covered. It comes with Xed – which is a text editor, Firefox and LibreOffice. So I can boot into Linux Mint, connect the internet and get started. Easy peasey.

I don’t watch movies or listen to music on my laptop. When I am home, I either use my 4K TV or VR from Sony and Samsung. When traveling, I use my iPad. For music, I love the amazingly great Apple AirPods that can be paired with my iPhone X, Samsung Note 8 and Pixel phones.

Those of you who still use a PC for entertainment, you can use Google Music and Netflix. Firefox comes with the option to enable DRM so that you can enjoy DRM protected content from Netflix and the like.

Managing the system

An OS is like a living being, you have to keep it healthy and updated. Managing the system is quite easy, just open the software manager and it will show any available updates  you can install with the click of a button.

However, the update page also provides an option to create snapshots of your system, which allows you to restore the system to the previous working state. It’s great that Linux Mint has borrowed some ideas from Apple to offer this feature. They even borrowed the name ‘TimeShift’. Well Apple calls it Time Machine. But Linux Mint forgot to borrow Apple’s ease of use and simplicity.

When you click on the Snapshots option, instead of taking you to the click next wizard with an option to choose where you want to install the snapshot, Linux Mint throws two buzzwords and your mamma and pappa – RCYNC and BTRFS. If your mamma and pappa are clueless about what those words mean, the description Linux Mint offers will confuse then even more. Someone who does know what either of the two mean, I was uncertain of which one to use from the explanation Linux mInt provides. I chose not to do it. And I am pretty sure that’s the reaction of most users.

And that’s when things started to go south with Linux Mint. I rely heavily on the tight integration between email, calendar and contact for work. Linux Mint comes with Thunderbird, which I feel is in the state of limbo. It’s an OK email client, but without integration with address book and calendar it’s pretty useless. I tried it and spent an hour between Lightning Calendar, Address Book and Thunderbird. But nothing worked.

After wasting my time I ended up installing Evolution which offers a nice integration between the three. But I faced issues when I tried to set it up and log into my email account. I wasted more time in getting things fixed. It reminded me why I switched from Linux to macOS on my laptop. I don’t have hours to fix issues like these.

The second issue that I faced on Linux Mint was that it comes with Firefox. Which is OK. I use both Firefox and Chrome on my systems. But Linux Mint has tweaked Firefox and configured Yahoo! as the default search engine.

Yahoo!?

In 2018? What are Linux Mint developers drinking?

Yahoo search is powered by Bing. Yahoo is infamous for getting its user account hacked and not informing its users for years. Actually, Mozilla did have a deal with Yahoo to use it as default search. But when Verizon acquired Yahoo, Mozilla terminated that deal and switched to Google. Even in those days, Firefox allowed users to switch to Google with one click.

But Linux Mint has gone out of their way, tweaking Firefox and removing Google from the available options. Since they monetize from Yahoo, they have made it harder for users to switch to Google. I know Open Source is not about choices, but deliberately removing an option flies in the face of open source. That sounds like proprietary mentality. Offering choices when it’s convenient to you is easy, offering choices when it can hurt your bottom like is what shows the true character of an open source player. That’s why I respect Red Hat and SUSE.

What’s even more outrageous is the fact that Linux Mint’s own website uses customized Google for search, as they probably monetize from it. I fully support monetization, but playing dirty games lowers your credibility as an open source players.

Final thoughts

Linux Mint can be a good OS for someone switching from Windows Xp, but its UI leaves a lot to be desired to impress a macOS or Windows 10 user.

There is a disconnect between the icons; while the file manager icons are inspired by macOS and look modern, the system wide icons look cartoonish.

I also question the choice of applications and defaults. If Linux Mint is targeted for  average users who are not very tech savvy, then why put the terminal on the bottom panel? Selection of Thunderbird instead of much easier to use evolution is also questionable. Confusing option to create snapshots is also discouraging. And not to mention the whole Firefox – Yahoo! Fiasco is a bit warning. I get a feeling that if push comes to shove, Linux Mint won’t mind taking away options and features and force things that may help their bottom line. I am not comfortable with that approach.

I also feel that Cinnamon served it’s purpose when Unity and Gnome Shell were in the early phase and users needed something comfortable. Computing needs to move forward, users must be conditioned to try new things at a gradual phase or you will end up creating a generation of users who will be afraid of trying new things and panic if something changes. You will essentially create another breed of Windows Xp users. I think that’s a disservice.

My advice to Linux Mint is please bring some consistency to the UI. Please talk to pro-users and choose defaults that are easy to use and work out of the box. Please stop playing dirty games with Google and Firefox. Play nice. I also advise that they should retire Cinnamon and embrace Gnome Shell. They must use their limited resources to help Gnome developers  add more features on top instead of wasting resources on reinventing the wheel.

All said and done, Linux Mint is a decent OS aimed at those coming from the Windows Xp world. Unfortunately, it’s not an OS for me.

I will wipe it off my system and go back to the one that I love. Can you guess which one that is?

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Swapnil Bhartiya
I have more than 12 years of experience covering Enterprise Open Source, Cloud, Containers, IoT, Machine Learning and general tech. My stories cover a very broad spectrum - traditional Linux, data center and Free Software to contemporary emerging technologies like 'serverless'. Widely Read: My stories have appeared in a multitude of leading publications including CIO, InfoWorld, Network World, The New Stack, Linux Pro Magazine, ADMIN Magazine, HPE Insights, Raspberry Pi Geek Magazine, SweetCode, Linux For You, Electronics For You and more.

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