Linux Mint 13 leaves sour aftertaste

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With Ubuntu 12.04 LTS as its underpinnings, Linux Mint 13 (Maya) was recently released in three versions, KDE (new), Xfce, and Gnome-Cinnamon. We tested each version separately and while we still like Mint, we’re accumulating a nagging list of bugs — some of which are the fault of Ubuntu, and some are the twists that Linux Mint takes on its own.

Like other versions of OSs, the initial payload of Linux Mint no longer fits on a single CD, unless fat components (like Libre Office) are removed. As the delivery system is an Internet download or a flash/external storage medium, we didn’t find this to be a problem. It did, however, put one more nail in the coffin of the lowly CD.

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We easily installed the three Linux Mint versions onto a test notebook (Lenovo T520 ThinkPad with Core i5 Intel chipset, 8GB of memory, and internal 500GB Hitachi conventional drive). Others have complained about driver detection problems with older Dell models, but we had no difficulties. We were heartened to see an enormous variety of supported text languages.

The upgrade conundrum

Upgrading from a prior version to Linux Mint 13 can be problematic. Linux Mint’s website suggests that upgrades are likely unnecessary, as the built-in updating functionality keeps most things reasonably up to date.

One argument says that if you’re current with updates, which are usually two clicks away (or less), you’re using a nice stable operating system. If you’re using Linux Mint 9, with updates, you’re OK. You probably have the latest Linux Kernel, and the Debian/Ubuntu underpinnings are probably up to date, too. So, the argument goes, the idea of a separate upgrade is unnecessary.

But there are many legitimate reasons for an upgrade. Upgrades might be needed when an end user fiddles around with internal configurations and accidentally messes something up, or when applications are damaged. In the case of a bad hard drive, it’s best to get off the drive through various backup processes available.

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But changing from one edition to another, we found, is rough. The Linux Mint backup app under Gnome-Cinnamon will stymie many users. It’s unclear, and uses selections and terminology which might not lead to a successful backup. We have decades of experience with some highly sophisticated backup and archiving schemes, but we got grey hair from this one. Civilians will hurt themselves, and potentially, their data. Linux Mint uses a different backup methodology than its core, Debian and Ubuntu Cloud. You’ll get no help there.

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Part of this comes from the philosophy of how Linux is put together, and how updates work. Rolling updates aren’t used in the underpinning operating system: Debian. Ubuntu, and therefore Linux Mint use the stable branch of Debian, which is updated in a slow, deliberative fashion. The problem with rolling updates is that they can result in a destabilized platform in cases where there are dependency issues and updates fall out of revision sync with other updates and changes to application settings.

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