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Linux Mint Upgrade Sparkles

By Jack M. Germain
Dec 17, 2015 4:05 PM PT

Linux Mint Upgrade Sparkles

The Linux Mint upgrade to version 17.3 Rosa is one upgrade regular users do not want to skip.

This latest release in downloadable ISO format, available in the MATE and Cinnamon desktop editions, hit servers earlier this month. Several days later, the upgrade was available from within the package management repository for existing Linux Mint users. That eliminates the need for a clean installation and having to set up all the apps and configurations to use the new release.

Linux Mint 17.3 is based on Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and is supported until 2019. It is a major upgrade from version 17.2 Rebecca.

Compared to the many recurring bland Ubuntu releases cycles, Linux Mint does not disappoint. Each decimal advance has been marked with should-not-miss improvements to the constantly evolving Linux Mint distro.

Some of the key changes in this release involve the handling of software updates and managing hardware drivers. Rosa has updated software applications and brings refinements under the hood with Linux Kernel 3.19 and many new desktop features from Cinnamon 2.8.

One big improvement is the ability to select localized mirror servers for much faster file downloads from the package management system. Another huge improvement is the Cinnamon desktop, which is more refined.

Seeding Success

I hold a fondness for the Linux Mint distro. My home office is stuffed with numerous desktops and laptops. Each one is configured with several Linux distros.

Most of these distros come and go as I shuffle through a never-ending inventory of products to review. A few distros stand the test of time. Linux Mint continues to hold the spotlight as my primary choice.

Why? The Cinnamon desktop is just too good to set aside. I dabble with other distros that have a Cinnamon edition, and I have yet to find another distro's integration of Cinnamon that exceeds the performance I get from Linux Mint.

Linux Mint 17.3
Rosa's Cinnamon
Linux Mint 17.3 Rosa's Cinnamon edition offers one of the most configurable panels and desktop designs available in any distro.

Still, choice of desktop environment largely boils down to the hardware compatibility and user preference. Part of what makes up that preference is the performance, convenience and configurability of the desktop environment.

Best in Both Batches

For both Mint Rosa editions, the software repositories are duplicated on many servers all over the world. Linux Mint's developers make a big push in the Rosa release to get users to localize the servers providing the software.

If you do not select closer server locations, the Software Sources configuration tool reminds you of the opportunity. The list of mirrored servers includes the delivery speed of the downloads. I found a big improvement in the download times when I changed the default settings.

Improvements under the hood for both Cinnamon and MATE include a more robust Driver Manager. It refreshes the cache before looking for drivers and reports update and installation errors if appropriate. The drivers list is sorted by status. The Driver Manager indicates whether drivers are open source.

Another big deal involves support for the Broadcom chipset. If it's detected with the recommended Broadcom STA drivers, the Driver Manager also lists B43 installers. You do not need an Ethernet connection, either.

The login screen features an on-screen keyboard and improved HiDPI support. To improve the support for touchscreens and mobile devices on the log-in screen, an on-screen keyboard pops up. This is a nice touch. This keyboard is available for the default theme (Mint-X), and it provides both common and special characters.

Rosa MATE Edition

MATE puts a more modern spin on traditional Gnome 2 desktop performance. It is a very comfortable alternative to the Cinnamon desktop option.

The MATE menu in Linux Mint 17.3 is lean, clean and very usable.

The Application menu has a better look resulting from the addition of a frame, borders and shadows. Some padding fluffs up the appearance throughout the menu's different sections.

Screen-tearing and window managers have better desktop settings support for more window and compositing managers. Besides the traditional Marco, Metacity and Xfwm4 window managers, three major additions are built in: Openbox, Compiz and Compton.

Wobbly windows are activated by default and justify adding Compiz for its wow factor. This eye candy tastes as good in MATE as it does in Cinnamon.

To make it easier to use these additional visual features, this latest MATE version has two new commands: wm-detect shows information about which window/compositing managers are running, and wm-recovery recovers or returns to the default window manager.

The attention the developers paid to upgrading the MATE edition is obvious. This desktop option is now on a par with Gnome and Cinnamon. It supports a very wide range of applications and is fully compatible with Totem, VLC and many other video players.

Details matter here. For example, the screensaver does not start while a video is playing. Touchpad support is better as well. As long as the hardware supports it, you can use tap or click with two or three fingers for the right and middle clicks.

You also can activate natural scrolling to reverse the direction of scrolling and make it feel more natural. If you never use the touchpad, now you can turn it off.

Cinnamon Edition

The Cinnamon-specific upgrade involves lots of window dressing and desktop improvements in background art, system tools and tweaks galore.

For instance, better applets rule this release. The sound applet is a solid example.

It has a fresh new layout. The track information and media controls are part of a new overlay, which sits on top of the cover art.

Multimedia players that support seeking show a flat progress bar underneath that tells how far into the song you are and lets you navigate to other locations in the music. Input controls, applications and output devices are in the right-click context menu.

More redesigning is evident with attached output devices. They show their name and their origin. That makes it easy to distinguish among them when multiple audio devices are connected.

The power applet has lots of fixed bugs and better detection of multiple batteries. It shows brands and model information. Connected devices and batteries display with OEM data. So instead of a generic reference to a wireless mouse, Cinnamon tells you the make and model.

Cinnamon and Spice

The Cinnamon desktop received a spice cabinet full of tweaks and fixes. These bring a horde of performance improvements to the Muffin window management, multiple monitor use and graphics card integration.

Again, it all has to do with attention to details. For instance, Cinnamon now supports microphone mute buttons, better HiDPI detection for TV screens over HDMI, and improved performance of the Cinnamon Settings Daemon. QT5 applications look more native and sport the GTK theme as well.

One of the best improvements in the Cinnamon desktop upgrade affects the Workspace Switcher. It shows a visual representation of the workspaces with little rectangles corresponding to each window inside of them.

Linux Mint 17.3
Windows Quick List
The pop-up Windows Quick List and improvements to the Workplace Switcher applets on the panel make the Cinnamon desktop a killer offering.

Improvements to the System tray brings support for indicators. You can turn these on/off in the System settings/General panel.

What is the difference? Cinnamon renders indicators with a Clutter menu, which looks similar to the panel itself. Status icons can have tool tips and a context menu, but indicators cannot.

Bottom Line

Linux is all about comparisons. Linux Mint 17.3 is a clear winner by any standards. From my view, it even outperforms Microsoft's Windows 10 OS upgrade.

I recently upgraded several Windows 7 installations on legacy computers to Windows 10. I also bought a new touchscreen laptop to put a top-of-the-line performer in my test gear inventory. Dual booting always loads Linux Mint by default unless I override into Windows for a client-specific task.

The Cortana personal assistant feature is already passe and turned off. The redesigned tiles and menu animation are boring. Not much else is different for the virtual desktop feature borrowed from Linux.

Not only is Linux Mint 17.3 -- either Cinnamon or MATE -- an ideal Linux distro, it's also a Windows 10-crushing alternative.

Want to Suggest a Review?

Is there a Linux software application or distro you'd like to suggest for review? Something you love or would like to get to know?

Please email your ideas to me, and I'll consider them for a future Linux Picks and Pans column.

And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.

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