A look at how Linux Mint 18 measured up on the Dell XPS Skylake.
Linux Mint rose to popularity when both Ubuntu and Gnome decided to fork ways and push their own shells and desktop environments (DEs). Linux Mint took Gnome and created Cinnamon on top of an Ubuntu base. As a result, Linux Mint Cinnamon became popular among those users who wanted the Ubuntu base without having to deal with either Unity or Gnome 3 Shell.
I have a Dell XPS 13 Skylake Developer Edition (2016) on loan, which I think is the best laptop a Linux user can get. So, I decided to give Linux Mint 18 a try on this machine.
First impression of Linux Mint 18 on Dell XPS 13
Linux Mint 18 booted and installed fine on Dell XPS 13 Skylake. I have Windows 10, Fedora 24, openSUSE Leap (alpha) and Arch Linux installed on that system. I was able to choose whichever operating system I want to run from the boot screen.
Despite being a loyal Plasma user, I have been using Gnome on this hardware because Gnome does an excellent job at auto scaling on HiDPI monitors. Unfortunately, Linux Mint Cinnamon didn’t scale automatically and I had to drop the resolution down to 1920x1080 to get decent workable resolution.
Once the resolution was dropped, I headed to check out what was new in the system and I realized things were not looking as great as they usually look on this machine. That’s when I noticed that it was not optimized for HiDPI display. I can clearly see pixels of text and rough edges on visual elements. Linux Mint looked like I was running it on those old 1080 monitors.
That’s unexpected, as every other OS that I run on this system including openSUSE, Fedora, elementary OS, Ubuntu and even Windows 10 look great. As someone who owns a MacBook retina, I am not at all happy how Linux Mint looks on this hardware.
Let’s move on to find what’s new
Linux Mint is an Ubuntu based distribution that is itself based on Debian. Linux Mint recently changed their base to the LTS version of Ubuntu that's maintained longer and is released every two years. Switching base-enabled Linux Mint developers to focus on improving the core components of the distro instead of chasing the always moving target of Ubuntu that’s released every 6 months.
Ever since they moved to Ubuntu LTS, I have noticed massive improvements in stability and polish of the distro and in its own DE Cinnamon.
Linux Mint 18 is based on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS and it will receive security updates until 2021. So once you install Linux Mint 18, you are good till 2021. This release comes with Cinnamon 3.0, MDM 2.0 and Linux kernel 4.4.
The previous version of Linux Mint (17.x) didn’t have the Wi-Fi drivers for this laptop; even the Driver Manager (a tool that can detect and offer drivers for non-free hardware) failed. The drivers of these wireless chips are in the latest Linux kernel so Wi-Fi worked out of the box with kernel 4.4 on Linux Mint 18.
Linux Mint 18 comes with a load of applications pre-installed, which means you can start working as soon as you boot into Linux Mint. It came with LibreOffice 18.104.22.168; Firefox 47.0; Thunderbird 38.8; GIMP 2.8.16...etc. It comes with the latest stable versions of free and open source apps.
I didn't find any version of Linux Mint 18 that offered codecs, so I ended up installing Gstreamer plugins to be able to play MP3. Playing videos also didn’t work out of the box on the default Videos app and I ended up installing more codecs. That’s when I noticed new X-Apps instead of default Gnome apps.
The final stand: X-Apps are here
The most important feature of Linux Mint 18 is the arrival of X-Apps. The goal of this project was to “provide default and generic applications for traditional GTK desktop environments (Cinnamon, MATE, Xfce…),” in the words of the Linux Mint founder, Clement Lefebvre.
I am not that excited about X-Apps as they show the complicated side of Linux on a desktop where apps written for one DE don’t integrate very well with other DEs. The ugly side of the desktop Linux world is that people often find it so hard to collaborate that they end up forking or creating their own projects.
That said, X-Apps aims to be distro and desktop agnostic so they should work fine across different distributions and DEs. Which makes X-Apps a great solution that helps users get the same user experience with apps across distributions and DEs. So it can be seen as a blessing in disguise.
As a Linux Mint user, you would certainly want to use X-Apps instead of default Gnome apps as they look better and integrate very well with the rest of the OS.
The Linux Mint community has created five X-Apps including Pix (gThumb), Xed (based on Pluma), Xviewer (Eye of GNOME), Xreader and Xplayer (Totem).
When it comes to system updates, Linux Mint has taken a different approach. Linux Mint splits updates in different sections so users can choose what kind of updates they want. There are three options:
- Don’t break my system: Here Linux Mint chooses the updates which are safe and stable and won’t break the system. Though it’s not clear what kind of updates these are.
- Optimize stability and security: In addition to the above it also offers security and kernel updates.
- Always update everything: As the title suggests, everything is updated and you are on your own.
As a Chrome OS, Arch Linux and openSUSE Tumbleweed user, I like the idea systems always being updated. Unless you are dealing with users who are running an OS in mission critical scenarios or doing serious customization I think updates, especially security, should be installed automatically. I wish for users to never have to worry about upgrading a system.
Linux Mint 18 is a great release. The main deal breaker for me was the lack of support for HiDPI display. But if you don’t have HiDPI monitor and you are looking for a good WIMP (windows, icons, mouse and pointer) based DE then Linux Mint with Cinnamon is a good choice for you.
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