It’s always a major event in the world of desktop Linux when a new version of Linux Mint is released. This time around it’s Linux Mint 17.1, a long term support release that will be supported until 2019. Linux Mint 17.1’s code name is Rebecca and it brings numerous bug fixes and tweaks, along with some significant new features for the Cinnamon and MATE desktops.
In this review I’ll cover the MATE and Cinnamon desktops, as well as the common feature changes shared by both desktops. Screenshots of both desktops and the new common features are at the very end of the review. The screenshots of the common features were done mostly in MATE, but the features work the same in Cinnamon.
What’s new in Linux Mint 17.1
Here’s a sample of what’s new in this release:
Linux kernel 3.13
Ubuntu 14.04 package base
Compiz support for MATE
Update Manager improvements
Kernel selection screen redesigned
Language Settings enhancements
Login Screen improvements
Linux Mint 17.1 download and install
You can get Linux Mint 17.1 in 32-bit or 64-bit versions, and you can download Linux Mint 17.1 from this page. Or you can just use these links to access download mirrors and torrents:
The Linux Mint 17.1 ISO files weigh in at between 1.3GB and 1.5GB, depending on whether you choose 32-bit or 64-bit Cinnamon or MATE. For this review I picked the 64-bit versions of both desktops.
Installing Linux Mint 17.1 is about as easy as it gets. It uses the same installer as Ubuntu, so even those who are totally new to Linux should have no problems getting Linux Mint 17.1 to install on their systems.
I really wish there was something I could complain about or note here that would add some spice to this section of the review, but I had no problems with my install and it was quick too. You can watch a slideshow about Linux Mint 17.1’s features and software while you wait for your install to complete.
Common features and improvements in Linux Mint 17.1
I’ll cover the common feature changes that apply to both desktop environments here. I’ll talk about specific changes to each desktop in their respective sections below.
Linux Mint 17.1 Login Screen
The Login Window Preferences menu now provides Theme, Auto Login, and Options icons on the left side to make it easier to access different settings. You can access HTML and GDM themes from the same list, and you have the option of previewing the theme via a preview button.
The login screen itself now has a wallpaper slideshow. When you first load it, you’ll notice that it scrolls through different wallpaper backgrounds. You have the option of choosing one wallpaper by clicking a button in the controls in bottom right corner to stop the slideshow and stick with your preferred wallpaper. However, I recommend checking out the range of wallpapers before sticking with just one of them. Some of them are downright beautiful, and there are many to choose from in this release of Linux Mint.
The only problem I noticed with the login screen slideshow is that in some wallpapers, it’s hard to see the buttons because of the colors of the wallpaper image. They become almost invisible and you have to stare hard to find them. This is a very minor nitpick though because I actually thought it was great to see such a range of choices available right on the login screen.
Linux Mint 17.1 Update Manager
The Update Manager now groups packages together based on their source package. When you look at a line in the Update Manager it now shows a software update that may include multiple packages. In the new features list, the Linux Mint developers cautioned against selectively installing packages:
When a developer fixes a bug or writes new features, the source code is modified and all packages which are related to it become available under a new version. It is therefore futile and sometimes dangerous to apply some package updates and not others within the same source package.
I suspect that most users will appreciate the changes in Update Manager. They make it less of a chore to know what’s in a particular software update, and should help users avoid installing incomplete package updates.
I ran Update Manager immediately after installing both Cinnamon and MATE, and had no problems with the new version of Update Manager. Everything installed without a hitch, and I definitely prefer this version of Update Manager to previous ones.
Linux Mint 17.1 Linux kernels menu
The kernels menu has been redesigned to make it faster for you to see security updates and regressions. Descriptions have been added in your chosen language, and the main window will remain in view after you install your kernel updates.
Linux Mint 17.1 Language Settings
The Language Settings menu now includes two settings for your locale: Language and Region. Input Methods support has been added in this release as well.
Linux Mint 17.1 artwork and fonts
Linux Mint 17.1 uses the Noto fonts, and Mint-X (the Linux Mint theme) now comes in various colors including Aqua, Blue, Brown, Orange, Pink, Purple, Red, Sand and Teal. You can right-click on a directory to change its color too. Linux Mint 17.1 also includes retro, modern and flat themes.
And there are many more background wallpapers to choose from as well that span backwards to the very beginning of Linux Mint. I counted about one hundred and forty one different backgrounds in the Background tab of Appearance Preferences, so there really is something for everybody in terms of wallpapers. And, of course, you can get more online as well.
Changes and improvements to the Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon desktop
The Linux Mint developers have put some effort into making Cinnamon faster, and in reducing memory usage. The developers note that about thirty memory leaks were located and fixed in Linux Mint 17.1. So Cinnamon may run noticeably better on current as well as older hardware. I can’t say I noticed any big changes in how Cinnamon performs, but it was never a problem before for me so I didn’t expect to be wowed with it in terms of increased speed in Linux Mint 17.1. But some folks may notice much better performance from Cinnamon.
Cinnamon also now starts with a cool zoom animation. I noticed it when I loaded the live desktop to do my install. It adds a bit of zest to Cinnamon that wasn’t there before when starting it up. It’ll probably take you by surprise the first time you see it, but it definitely improves Cinnamon’s coolness factor.
Cinnamon also supports single-button trackpads in this release, and you can configure actions for two or three finger click. You can also configure the desktop font in Cinnamon. The screensaver can be configured with a custom date format, as well as custom fonts.
The Theme and Background Settings have been redesigned, and you have the option using a background slideshow. Network Settings are based on the latest GNOME configuration module, and privacy settings have been added. Cinnamon’s Control Center has a new Notifications icon and menu, along with a Privacy icon and menu.
The Nemo tool bar also was redesigned for this release, and it includes configurable buttons and a new button that lets you open a terminal in your current directory (this button defaults to being hidden though). Nemo also supports emblems now for directories and files. The sidebar includes highlight effects if you hover, and smarter dynamic bookmarks.
I really liked the option of making directories different colors, it’s a fun way of highlighting important folders. And it makes it much easier to distinguish them visually from folders that you don’t use or care about as much. To make a folder a different color, just right-click it and choose the color from the popup menu.
The emblems are also a neat way of customizing and visually distinguishing your important folders. To add an emblem to a folder, just right-click it and select properties. Then click the Emblems tab. There are thirty six different emblems you can choose from including Favorite, Important, and Urgent. You’ll see your emblem displayed on your folder.
Compiz in the Linux Mint 17.1 MATE desktop
The big attraction in Linux Mint 17.1 for MATE users is the inclusion of Compiz. The default window manager Marco is still available, but you can now go to Desktop Settings, click on Windows and then use the Window Manager drop down menu to change to Compiz. Then logout and log back in to start using Compiz.
I switched to Compiz to try it in Linux Mint 17.1 MATE, and it certainly has a definite coolness factor to it. However, I soon got bored with the glitz of Compiz and switched back to Marco. Don’t get me wrong, I can see how Compiz has a lot of appeal for some users. Expo is a great feature and who doesn’t enjoy seeing a rotating cube of their desktop? I also liked the Wobbly Windows feature as well, it looks very amusing if you drag a window around on your screen. But it’s not something I’d really use on a day to day basis.
But I am certainly glad that Compiz is now available for MATE users that want it. If you aren’t familiar with Compiz, go to Control Center then click on CompizConfig Settings Manager, and you can scroll through the various effects. Marco Giannini posted a quick video on YouTube of Compiz in action in Linux Mint 17.1 MATE that demonstrates some of its cool effects:
The Linux Mint developers posted a couple of cautions in their list of new features for MATE, and I want to post them here for folks who might into problems using Compiz in Linux Mint 17.1 MATE:
CompizConfig is also installed by default so you can configure every aspect of Compiz to your liking.
If things go wrong, remove ~/.config/compiz-1 for Linux Mint to regenerate it automatically.
If you’re unable to log in or if compiz does not work at all on your computer, open a terminal and run “mate-wm-recovery” to switch back to Marco on your next login.
There’s also a warning message that pops up when you go to open the CompizConfig Settings Manager:
The Linux Mint 17.1 Control Center
One thing I want to point out to newcomers to Linux Mint, or Linux in general, is the Control Center in Cinnamon and MATE. Control Center is where you have access to all of the tools needed to configure your Linux Mint system. Do take some time to browse through it and familiarize yourself with the layout so you can quickly find what you are looking for as you configure your Linux Mint computer.
You can access the Control Center in MATE by clicking on the menu button on the panel, and then clicking on Control Center. In Cinnamon you can click on the panel menu button and then click on the gears icon (it’s labelled as Control Center in the bottom right of the panel menu if you hover your cursor over it).
Control Center’s layouts are slightly different in Cinnamon and MATE, but it’s easy to find your way around and locate the tool you need to adjust your system settings. Control Center in Cinnamon is broken down into categories such as Appearance, Preferences, Hardware, and Administration. In MATE the categories are slightly different and include Personal, Internet and Network, Hardware, System, and Other.
Linux software included in Linux Mint 17.1
Here’s a sample of the software included in this release.
None installed by default but available in the Software Manager
VLC Media Player
Disk Usage Analyzer
GDebi Package Installer
Log File Viewer
I have no complaints about the selection of default software in Linux Mint 17.1. There are plenty of applications for most basic desktop needs, and you can always get tons more software in the Software Manager. I highly recommend that you click on the Featured icon when the Software Manager first loads up. There are forty five applications there that are worth checking out, including Steam, Wine, FileZilla, Wesnoth, Blender and numerous others.
The Software Manager itself is a very easy tool to use to add or remove applications. I particularly like that you can click on an application and then scroll down to see star ratings and reviews by other Linux Mint users. It’s a big help in weeding out some applications while also promoting others. I always enjoying seeing the comments posted by other users as I can sometimes learn interesting tidbits about an application.
To add or remove an application, just click on it in the Software Manager and then click the Install or Remove button. There are more than seventy one thousand applications available in Software Manager, so if you’ll have plenty of packages to choose from to use on your Linux Mint 17.1 system. Applications in the Software Manager are broken down into the following categories:
Sound and Video
Science and Education
If you prefer to use it, Synaptic is also available. Experienced Linux users may prefer it to Software Manager, but I don’t recommend that folks new to Linux use Synaptic. By all means check it out though, and learn about it. Synaptic is a powerful tool in the right hands, but Software Manager is a much better option for casual Linux users that just want to find applications, and install or remove them.
Where to get help for Linux Mint 17.1
If you’re having problems, please post your questions in the comments below. You might also want to check out these Linux Mint 17.1 resources:
Please be aware before doing an install that there are some known issues in the release notes for Linux Mint 17.1:
Cinnamon 2.4 uses new schemas for keybindings. If you’re upgrading from an earlier version, you can migrate your old keybindings by running the following command:
Issues with Skype
In 64-bit, if you’re experiencing issues with Skype, install the package “ia32-libs”.
DVD Playback with VLC
If VLC does not find your DVD player, click on Media->Open Disc, and specify ‘/dev/sr0’ as the disc device.
HiDPI is detected automatically. You can however force Cinnamon to run in low or in high DPI mode by going to Menu->Preferences->General.
If your system is using secureBoot, turn it off.
Note: Linux Mint 17.1 places its boot files in /boot/efi/EFI/ubuntu to work around this bug.
Misconfigured Swap when using home directory encryption
When using the option to encrypt the home directory, an upstream issue in the installer results in the Swap partition not being configured properly.
Solving freezes with some NVIDIA GeForce GPUs
If you are unable to boot Linux Mint with an NVIDIA card, or if you are experiencing constant freezes and system lock ups, please append “nomodeset” to your boot arguments. At the boot menu of the live DVD/USB, press Tab to edit the boot arguments and add “nomodeset” at the end of the line.
If you’re still having issues, you can also remove “quiet splash –” from that same line.
Alternatively you can use the “nouveau.noaccel=1” boot argument.
Once the system is installed, use the Driver Manager to install the nvidia-304 driver.
Booting with non-PAE CPUs
To boot Linux Mint 17.1 on CPU which do not officially support PAE (Pentium M processors for instance), please use the “Start Linux Mint with PAE forced” option from the boot menu.
Issues with KDE apps
If you’re experiencing issues with KDE apps (Okular, Gwenview, KStars..etc) run the following command:
- apt install kdelibs-bin kdelibs5-data kdelibs5-plugins
Note: These issues do not affect the KDE edition. A regression in KDE 4.14 prevents these applications from working fine out of the box outside of KDE.
If you’re experiencing keyboard or mouse freezes, please check the following bug report: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/nfs-utils/+bug/1270445
If you own an AMD CPU with an MSI card and your computer keeps rebooting, please check the following bug report: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/linux/+bug/1309578
Final thoughts about Linux Mint 17.1
I was very impressed with Linux Mint 17.1. The common feature upgrades and bug fixes add real value to this distribution. The changes in Update Manager, the Login Screen, Language Settings, Kernel Menu, and artwork should please almost all Linux Mint users. And the huge range of background wallpapers, along with the slideshow feature make it a great choice for those who want frequent changes to the look of their Linux Mint systems.
Cinnamon and MATE have both improved significantly in this release as well. Compiz brings MATE up to par with Cinnamon in terms of desktop glitz, and the changes in Cinnamon have made it even better than it was in previous versions of Linux Mint. I had fun futzing around with Compiz on MATE, and there’s no doubt that it adds some serious desktop bling to an otherwise rather sedate, traditional desktop environment. And Cinnamon’s colored folders and emblems make it much simpler to visually identify your important and most used folders. I really liked having that option even though I initially didn’t think it would matter too much.
Upgrading to Linux Mint 17.1 seems like pretty much a no-brainer to me after my experience using it. If you’re already running Linux Mint then you should be able to use Update Manager to get Linux Mint 17.1, and I recommend that you do so when you have the chance. It’s well worth upgrading, and I think you will enjoy the latest version of Linux Mint quite a bit. There’s not much to complain about in Linux Mint 17.1, the developers did a great job in tweaking MATE and Cinnamon while also improving the common features that both desktops share with each other.
But which desktop should you choose? Cinnamon or MATE? Frankly, I don’t think you can go wrong with either desktop in Linux Mint 17.1. If you aren’t sure which one you might prefer, try installing both in VirtualBox. Use each of them for at least a few days each, then make up your mind and install whichever one you prefer. Both of them work very well, but my personal preference right now is MATE since I lean more toward the traditional desktop set up.
Linux Mint 17.1 is suitable for beginner, intermediate and advanced Linux users.
What’s your take on Linux Mint 17.1? Tell me in the comments below.
Linux Mint 17.1 screenshots: