I’ll put my disclosure up front: I’ve been a fan and advocate of Linux Mint ever since I first tried it out more than two years ago. I’ve been a fan of the KDE desktop for far longer than that. Here’s my review of the latest offering from the team at Linux Mint: Mint 12’s KDE edition. For this review, I installed the 64-bit version.
(I use an HP Pavillion DV7-1448US laptop bought in the fall of 2009 that uses an ATI Radeon 3200 card and 4 gigabytes of RAM)
Installation went without a hitch for me. The installation routine gave me the option to install on the whole disk, or alongside the Windows partition that was already there. I chose to dual-boot, and there were no problems with the remainder of the task. The usual questions about language, timezone, keyboard preference were asked. You are given the option to look at the release notes or update the installer when you intiially start the process. When it comes to partitioning, you can use Guided (for novices) or Manual (if you need to customize things). The only item I will mention here is that when you are asked for the primary user’s password, Mint doesn’t show you an indicator of how strong your choice is. A few distributions perform this useful check, and it would be wonderful if Linux Mint added it.
Mint also doesn’t automatically carry over your internet connection once installation is complete – I had to re-enter my password for wireless access. Most distributions of Linux don’t carry it over, but since a few do, it would be very convenient if Mint would as well.
As usual with Linux Mint, playing Youtube videos and using websites such as Hulu and Grooveshark to watch or listen to videos and songs worked without any problems. Unfortunately, also as usual, Mint doesn’t play nicely with Quicktime. The Apple Movie Trailer website has always been a problem for any version of Mint and I suspect Ubuntu has issues as well. I haven’t been able to find the right codec to get Quicktime videos to play at all. This isn’t Mint’s fault actually, because most Debian-based distros I have tried have this problem.
Mint 12 KDE starts you out with two virtual desktops, although it isn’t very obvious – the pager applet was not added to the taskbar for some reason, so at first I thought there was just one desktop. If you don’t like the default silver and blue wallpaper, there are many others you can choose – over 50. In fact, this KDE edition offers more wallpapers at the start than all the other Mint editions combined, as far as I can tell. When it comes to Plasma themes though, you have only 3 – Oxygen and Air. plus a “netbook” version of Oxygen. More themes are obtainable through the system settings page.
The Start button uses the Kickoff style that is the KDE default. If you prefer the Classic Menu style, it’s easily fixed by right clicking the button and choosing “switch to classic menu style”.
At the time I installed this, Software Updates listed over 330 new updates from the time the ISO was created. Linux Mint uses a number system to indicate priority of updates, and I always install the “1” and “2” updates immediately. The much larger group tagged “3” can take up to 20 minutes to install, so I often run that task while I’m doing something away from the computer.
The version of KDE that is installed is 4.7.4. Like many other users, I have updated to the most recent version, which is 4.8. All you need to do to upgrade is run these three commands in the Konsole:
* sudo add-apt-repository ppa:kubuntu-ppa/backports
* sudo apt-get update
* sudo apt-get dist-upgrade
Once the upgrade is finished, just reboot your system.
I also installed my ATI graphics driver. On Linux systems that run GNOME 3 as the desktop, I can’t do this because of conflicts that cause problems with the display. But with KDE, it seems to work just fine.
Configuring your printer is a little more complicated than I found in the main Mint version. The wizard is in the Hardware section of the System Settings application and there’s no direct link from the main menu. But it does work fine and my wireless printer was set up quickly.
The System Settings for KDE are accesssed from the main Menu -> Settings -> System Settings:
Some of the control areas also offer additional sub-headings; for instance Workspace Appearance allows you to customize Window Decorations, Cursor Theme, Desktop Theme, and Splash Screen.
Linux distributions that feature KDE fall into one of two camps: either they are extremely KDE-centric and only install KDE software (Salix OS is one such distro), or they primarily feature KDE software along with other applications that are included because they are seen as “must-have” programs. Linux Mint falls into the second category (most KDE distributions do, honestly). Here is a list of the software that was installed by default:
Graphics: digiKam, GIMP, Gwenview, DNGConverter, ExpoBlending, Hugin, KSnapshot, LibreOffice Draw, Okular, showFoto
Internet: Firefox, Kopete, KTorrent, Thunderbird, Quassel (IRC client)
Multimedia: Amarok, Gnome MPlayer, K3b, Minitube, VLC
Office: LibreOffice (suite – Calc, Impress, Writer, Draw, Math), Okular
System & Utilities (partial list): KDE Partition manager, Konsole, Kinfocenter, Nepomuk, Synaptic, Akonadi, Ark, Kate, KCalc, KGpg, Knotes, Kvkbd, superKaramba
Java is also installed, and all media codecs, which is standard for all Linux Mint editions.
Linux Mint, just like Ubuntu, does not install any games. My last post discussed ten casual games that you can find in the KDE Software Compilation, and I really think that a DVD-sized edition has room to include 2 or 3 of them. There are only a few distributions of Linux that install games by default, and Mint should consider following their example.
If you want the total KDE experience, which would also include the Konqueror browser, the Koffice suite (with KWord writer), the Kontact Personal Information Manager application and the Krita image manipulation application, you will have to add them from the repositories. Speaking of repositories, because Mint is based on Ubuntu (and Debian), this KDE distribution has the benefit of over 28,000 files and applications available. One strange aspect however was that the 64-bit version (which was the one I used) lists the 32-bit applications as well. They have “:i386” at the end of each name to distinguish them. There’s probably an easy way to filter them out of the listing, but for people who aren’t used to Linux, using the Software Manager tool would probably be less confusing. (Unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint does install the Synaptic package manager along with the Software Manager.)
One of the benefits of using KDE is that you get a very extensive help document for each application (a “Handbook”), which is installed by default. This is accessed from the Help menu for any KDE-specific application, such as Kate, as shown here:
There were no problems that were serious enough to interfere with getting work done, or enjoying games. One of the few minor problems I found was that in the LibreOffice suite, the mouseover text is initially displayed as black on a black background. This seems to be a KDE problem on LibreOffice, and doesn’t affect the KDE office suite (KWord, KSpread, etc). If this is happening to you there is an easy fix I found in the Mint forums – go into the KDE System Settings -> Application Appearance -> Colors -> Colors, and change the text or background color (see the picture below).
I also found that occasionally a window will fail to leave the bottom panel for a short time, when the application is closed. Firefox was one of the more frequent offenders in this regard. This doesn’t interfere with normal operation, it just is annoying when it happens. I don’t recall this happening in other KDE distributions.
Help, Tips, and Tricks
Since KDE first became actually usable around version 4.2, there have been many tutorials and articles to show how to use the powerful features it offers.
A few of the ones I’ve found the most helpful are :
The KDE Applications page: guides to all the software KDE has created.
This one from Techgage: Ten KDE 4 Tricks Worth Knowing About
TechRepublic: How to use KDE 4 Desktop Activities
Linux-Blog: Hate KDE4 ? Ignorance is Probably the Culprit (a couple of years old, but still useful)
I’m sure there are more around.
Linux Mint 12 KDE is an excellent operating system featuring a powerful desktop. If you have tried to get used to GNOME 3 or Unity, and have found them unworkable for your needs, you should try KDE. It has greatly improved since the first version of 4.0 was released in 2008. The one drawback to it is that because of its customizability and features, many people never make the best use of it (and I’m guilty of that myself, honestly). Luckily, the defaults are sensible and allow you to get your work done. There are quite a few KDE applications that are available but don’t get installed – Krita, Kolourpaint, Karbon14, Kaffeine, Dragon Player, KsCD, and Kontact, to name only a few. Perhaps the team at Mint that focuses on creating the KDE edition should seriously consider making KDE applications even more of a priority than they already are, and feature more of them installed by default. Linux Mint has already moved away from the stock GNOME 3 desktop in their main edition by including Cinnamon (an excellent attempt to bridge the GNOME 2 / GNOME 3 divide), and the KDE edition would only benefit from a renewed focus on KDE applications.
The Linux Mint forums are another benefit to this distribution – they are friendly, checked often by users, and you can frequently find the answer to your problem before you even have to post a question. Help is also available via IRC chat – if you run the Quassel IRC client, it automatically will put you into the Mint help and Mint chat channels.