Linux Mint 15 Olivia Xfce - Almost awesome


Updated: August 21, 2013

All right, here's another Mint article. Basically, we have covered pretty much the entire spectrum. Two reviews of the Cinnamon version, one on a somewhat lower end laptop, albeit with SSD, and one on an Nvidia-powered machine. Next, A MATE review. Then, we looked at the KDE edition just a few days back. Now, it's time to examine the Xfce flavor. But before that, ask me, what did I think of Mint so far?

Well, the Cinnamon version is the best by far, and it shows. MATE is not that far off, and the KDE one lagged a bit. Not that it wasn't good, it wasn't what you would expect from a Linux Mint release. Now, for the first time ever, I am going to take a look at the Xfce version. Never done that before, so it should be interesting.

Teaser

Live session - Uniquely unique

Most Xfce desktops look somewhat similar. Not so with Olivia. In this case, you would not really know you're using Xfce. There are virtually no visual clues to give away the origins, and the distro appears like any Gnome, MATE or Cinnamon flavor, almost to the last detail. This is the most interesting spin of Xfce I have seen so far, and I am liking it. Not that you cannot have this same setup anywhere else, but it's the matter of defaults.

Live desktop

Then, let us not forget beautiful system notifications, cozily pushed into the top right corner, with the correct OCD alignment. All in all, it's a well sorted out distro. But wait, there's more.

Notifications

The system menu is also quite impressive. First, you have a nice search right there, and it displays results in the left pane, somewhat like Windows 7. Then, you have the categories on the right side. You can also access the system settings menu, lock the screen or exit your system, right there. Very handy, practical and clean.

Menu 1 Menu 2

The System Settings menu is a classic Xfce implementation, however it seems that some of the categories are missing. You will have to search for them individually through the Settings tab in your system menu. Shame.

System settings

Another surprise for me was Thunar. It is the default file manager for Xfce desktop, and it's an okay thing, but I do not ever recall it having tabs in the past. Well, this one will not only save your network locations and preserve them between logins, you have proper tabs for your work. And you retain the common looks with most other Mint flavors. Awesome.

Tabbed Thunar

Multimedia - what!

Well, with the KDE version just a few days back, I praised the total dominance of the Linux Mint distro when it comes to providing all and any codec and plugin for your media files and whatnot. I jinxed it. Olivia Xfce does not have the Microsoft Media Server (MMS) streaming thingie, so no radio for you. But the rest of the bunch were fine, Flash and MP3 and all that.

Flash

MP3 playback

No MMS plugin

Installation

The same old deal you have seen so many times before. Basically, the installation process is identical to your stock MATE or Cinnamon editions, or for that matter, any old Mint release all the way back to ancient history, therefore, there's nothing new or scary that should worry you here. As usual, I added Olivia to the four-boot setup that exists on the T61 machine.

Begin installation

Partitioning

Slide show

Sipping the Xfce flavor - the taste sours a bit

So far, Mint did a few interesting things, some good, some bad. It definitely leads when it comes to offering simple, familiar looks, with the best customized Xfce setup so far. Then, you have the tabbed Thunar, good networking performance, in case you missed the implied message earlier, there's the system menu, which is very pleasing, and the familiar installation procedure, offset by the not so perfect multimedia offering.

CPU has gone wild!

Then, I noticed something naughty. The laptop case was quite hot. Exploring a bit deeper, I realized that Mint was consuming roughly 50-60% CPU all the time, even though memory usage was reasonable. The hunger for cycles was not coming from any of the user space processes . First, it was the watchdog thread, then the kworker, and it seemed like nothing would calm them down. Oh, snap.

High CPU usage

High CPU usage

So I tried a few solutions. Logout and reboot. Nope. Full system update, and there was even a tiny kernel patch in there, bringing the kernel version increment up by a few integers. No help. I tried disabling the watchdog in GRUB2 by passing the parameter nmi_watchdog=0, this did absolutely nothing at all. Then, I also tried monkeying with the DRM KMS helper, by adding a local.conf file to the /etc/modprobe.d directory, and adding the directive options drm_kms_helper poll=N. This did not help, either.

Eventually, I solved the problem by making the machine sleep. After resuming from suspend, the noisy CPU activity was gone, and I had a calm, quiet, fast, and responsive system, but my soul was scarred for all eternity.

Applications & tools

Well, back to the normal review track. Apps ... Mint Olivia Xfce comes with the usual range of goodies. You have Firefox, Thunderbird, Pidgin, Transmission, GIMP, LibreOffice, VLC, and a few other jolly candidates, all there. Simple, practical, much like the pimped-up Thunar. Very good, and a decent fit for the image size.

Apps

You also have a range of excellent tools. And a splendid utility for changing your login screen. We will review this separately, but this is a nice little toy, because you can use vivid, animated HTML themes for your login screen, making yet another facet of your distro experience more exciting.

Tools

Package management & updates

Well, earlier, I did tell you that I upgraded the system to try to resolve the CPU issue, so you can assume that things work out. Indeed they do, but again, Mint likes to default to its standard repositories, rather than regional servers, and this can cause your updates to slug a bit until you change the mirrors.

System usage & stability

When not misbehaving, Linux Mint 15 Olivia with the Xfce desktop is a phenomenally quiet and fast distro. On average, it consumed about 14-15% of physical memory, which translates into just 280-300MB of RAM, plus the CPU idled near zero. Really nice, and would have been spectacular, if not for the earlier fiasco. Then, rock solid stability without any wiggles or niggles. Suspend & resume worked fine, and, it seems, it can cure kernel cancer, too.

System resources

Printing

Worked. No problem like the KDE version. Browse your Samba shares like a champ.

Printing

Final looks

This is what my mind came up with:

Final desktop

Conclusion

If not for the CPU bug, the Xfce flavor of Linux Mint 15 Olivia could have been quite spectacular, almost as shiny and sleek as its mainstream sisters. The multimedia thingie should also be polished, but that's a really small one. On the really bright side, you have excellent functionality, including several lovely surprises, a balanced set of programs, superb responsiveness and low system utilization. Lovely jubbly.

But it cannot be perfect. No it can't. Not with the kernel bug somewhere out there that causes a partial meltdown of your box, and unless you're a geek or lucky or both, you might not be able to resolve this, and then what? All in all, Mint Xfce brings a lot of new, interesting things to the table. It does not feel boring or neglected like the KDE version, and it can compete with pride and prejudice against the Cinnamon and MATE spins, but then, you cannot ignore the problems.

With some extra work, it could be a total blast. One thing is certain, it's amazing how far has the Xfce framework come in the recent years, from a boring nerdocode to an excellent, viable alternative for the leading Linux desktops. As for out test piglet, Linux Mint 15 Olivia Xfce gets about 8/10, and I think I'm being generous. Without the bug, surely 9.5/10, but no. Peace.

Cheers.

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