2018-01-22

Revisited: Linux Mint 18.3 "Sylvia" KDE

Main screen + KDE Main Menu
Long-time readers of the Linux distribution reviews on this blog know that I am a fan of Linux Mint, but I have had somewhat mixed experiences with KDE. When I've reviewed a new release of Linux Mint, I have occasionally reviewed its KDE edition in addition to its GNOME/MATE/Cinnamon and Xfce editions, generally finding that the KDE edition has too many minor bugs and not enough compelling features compared to the more mainstream editions. Apparently the Linux Mint developers feel similarly, as this is the last release of a KDE edition for Linux Mint; henceforth, they are only releasing MATE, Cinnamon, and Xfce editions for a tighter focus on GTK-based DEs and applications. With that in mind, I figured it was worth reviewing a KDE edition of Linux Mint one final time. I tested it on a live USB system made with the "dd" command. Follow the jump to see what it's like.

After getting past the boot menu, I was greeted by a boot splash featuring the Linux Mint logo above 5 dots that progressively filled and emptied. That quickly gave way to the desktop, which is fairly standard for KDE these days; even the main menu icon on the panel is neither a Linux Mint logo nor a KDE logo, but is a completely generic arrow with dots. I will say though that I appreciate the window titlebars and scrollbars more than in KDE 4; the buttons and bars are thicker with better color contrast, and the fonts are clear. Another nice thing is that left-clicking an empty region in the scrollbar simply moves it one unit in the direction clicked rather than to the exact position clicked, while right-clicking brings up a menu allowing for one of several options (including moving the scrollbar to that position) to be selected; only in Mozilla Firefox is this behavior essentially reversed. Overall, the desktop works well and is easy to use.

Mozilla Firefox, as can be guessed, is the default browser. Proprietary multimedia codecs are not included, and once again, while finding the menu item to install those codecs is reasonably simple, error messages pop up that may throw off a new user (though I could tell there was no real issue). After doing that, I could watch YouTube and Hulu fine.
Mozilla Firefox + LibreOffice Writer
LibreOffice is the default productivity suite. The remaining applications are standard fare for KDE. However, there do appear to be some configuration issues. In particular, whenever I opened an image in GwenView, while it would open fine, I would also see an error message about how a keyboard shortcut had been assigned to two actions, and how this was likely a bug; it's unfortunate that this slipped through cracks in the distribution testing process. Also, as I mentioned in my previous review of Linux Mint with KDE, certain settings are hard to change; in particular, this time I was able to figure out how to change the click behavior in Dolphin (while last time I didn't have the inclination to do that), but it isn't easy, and the default setting of single-click could throw off new users.
Speaking of Dolphin, I was able to connect my phone to my laptop and view the files on it. However, when I tried to modify/delete files, I got error messages that weren't clear on what the issue was; I later found out that these were probably permissions issues, but the error messages themselves were totally vague. Moreover, those messages popped up multiple times, even as I disconnected the phone, and at one point led to Dolphin briefly (for only a minute) being unable to read any files from my phone.

Normally, when I test Linux Mint and install packages within the live system, I do so using the Synaptic Package Manager, due to its flexibility & power. This time, I wanted to see what it would be like to use the Linux Mint Software Manager. It is reasonably easy to use, as the categories and subcategories are clear, and it is intuitive to search for and install packages. The only minor annoyance was that after installing a package, if I happened to be on the description page of another package, the program would automatically return to the page of the package that just finished installing; perhaps this is nice to let newbies know when the installation is finished, but I figured it may be better to have a status bar or something like that to fulfill that role. I was able to use it to install Mupen64Plus without issue; that ran fine. (Redshift is already installed with the distribution, and it ran fine too.)
I was able to install Skype from the DEB package on its website. It ran fine, but it had issues recognizing my laptop's webcam and mic; these are issues that I've experienced over the last few days on my installed system with the latest version of Skype, so this is clearly not a problem with this specific distribution.

KDE System Settings + Desktop Cube
As with my previous review, this distribution used minimal RAM at idle (measured using the command "free -m", and corroborated with KSysGuard), starting at only 300 MB, and growing to just 375 MB over the course of testing, even with compositing & desktop effects turned on. The system was also quite fast and responsive (unlike last time) and generally stable; the one exception came with Mozilla Firefox at one point causing the system to hang briefly, though I was able to get out of that situation simply by closing and reopening the application, and I was not able to replicate it.

That is where my time with Linux Mint 18.3 "Sylvia" KDE ended. While it is a generally decent distribution to use, there are too many minor issues that can end up turning off a newbie, and I can see why the developers would want to focus on the MATE, Cinnamon, and Xfce editions if they felt they couldn't give the KDE edition the attention it deserved in terms of fixing bugs and optimizing the user experience. With regard to the latter in particular, it would make sense to make configuration settings harder to find if the defaults were sensible, but I feel like some default settings, like single-clicking to open files & folders, would turn off too many users for that perspective to be tenable. I feel like I could probably be fine installing and using this distribution after spending a little time changing the settings to my liking, but I don't find anything particularly compelling about this edition versus the other editions of Linux Mint, and if these sorts of issues could turn off newbies, then perhaps it is for the best that this is the last KDE edition of Linux Mint.
You can get it here (while it still lasts).

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