A sneak peek at Linux Mint 19

In Linux Mint’s most recent blog post, they announced that they’ve been taking towards continuous integration in order to make it easier to develop Mint. They go into more detail about exactly how they are going about this and what it means in the blog post itself, and you can read all about it there. One thing that caught my attention is that they have already created a pre-alpha ISO for themselves. This ISO has not been publicly released; however, the repositories for both Linux Mint 19 and LMDE 3 are not only up and ready, but contain all the necessary meta-packages for a basic Linux Mint installation. After a bit of trial and error, I actually managed to get a working Linux Mint desktop by installing the desktop meta packages. For those of you who don’t know, Linux Mint provides three different meta packages that will provide you with all of the packages and preferences necessary for a complete Linux Mint experience. These three packages reflect the three editions of Linux Mint: mint-meta-cinnamon, mint-meta-mate, and mint-meta-xfce.

The installation procedure

I started by installing the most basic installation of Ubuntu possible from the mini ISO. I downloaded the 17.10 ISO, but which ISO you choose is pretty much irrelevant as we’re going to be upgrading to 18.04 anyway. This was pretty easy to do. I simply took the default sources.list file and replaced all of the instances of artful with bionic. One sudo apt upgrade later, and I was now using Ubuntu 18.04.

The next thing I did was add deb http://packages.linuxmint.com tara main upstream import backport to the bottom of the sources.list file. I installed a linuxmint-keyring .deb file that I cloned from a github project I created in order to get it onto the system without any major headaches, and then updated the repositories. Now I have access to all of the packages currently in the Linux Mint 19 repository. In order to get a graphical desktop environment I installed the packages mint-meta-cinnamon, mint-meta-xfce, slick-greeter, and xinit. Surely enough after a reboot, I had a graphical login screen.

Post-Installation Experience

Slick Greeter Login Screen

I would have also installed mint-meta-mate, but I ran into some dependency problems trying to get it working. I assume the Mint team are still working on getting that version working. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the Mint team that installing any of the editions with a single meta package is even a possibility this early on in development. Logging in was easy enough. The default session is Cinnamon, but I can easy change to Xfce if I want to.

The Cinnamon Desktop Environment on Login

The first thing that is immediately noticeable is that Mint-Y is now the default theme rather than Mint-X.

Nemo with the Mint-X theme

As far as I can tell, this is because the Mint-X themes are not compatible with the version of GTK in Ubuntu 18.04.Unless the Mint team plan on redoing the Mint-X themes and all of its color variants, I suspect that it will no longer be included in Mint 19.

The Driver Manager

Installing the Virtualbox guest drivers through the driver manager completely broke my installation, so if I were you I would probably refrain from doing that. Luckily, I made a snapshot of my VM before trying that little stunt. This is probably a good time for me to mention that you should, under no circumstances, try this an actual hardware. Remember, this is PRE-ALPHA. You WILL run into issues.

I had to manually install Firefox through the Software Manager because it does not come bundled with any of the mint-meta packages, but the version I did end up getting was from the Linux Mint repositories. Opening Firefox takes us to the homepage for Tara, which as of right now results in a 404.

Firefox opened to the Linux Mint Tara homepage
A Qt4 application (KeePassX), a Qt5 application (Transmission-qt), and a GTK3 application (Nemo), all using different themes.

I decided to install some Qt applications to see how they integrate in this version. As you can see, they don’t. At least it’s better than it was in the Mint 17 series where Qt applications were completely unusable, but it’s still not ideal. Don’t be so quick to blame Linux Mint though, because after a quick run with Xubuntu 17.10, I discovered that this is actually a problem with Ubuntu. Yeah. I don’t know when this happened, but for some reason in the newer versions of Ubuntu, Qt applications don’t theme correctly in GTK desktop environments. I suspect this has something to do with Ubuntu’s switch to GNOME, but I don’t see how that would change anything.

I would try to theme the applications with the Qt5 Configuration Utility, but when I try to open the application I just get an error.

I don’t know enough about how Qt works to have any clue what error that means, so I decided not to pursue it any further. I hope the Linux Mint team find a way to solve this issue, because it seems that Ubuntu doesn’t care about integrating properly with Qt anymore.

All of the Mint Apps and X-apps you’ve come to know and love are working just like you would expect them to here in Tara. There’s nothing really to write home about here, but I thought it was interesting enough to mention. They’ve even kept the Domain Blocker and the Upload Manager in the repositories even though they are no longer actively being worked on.

Flatpaks are already working in Tara, which I honestly was not expecting. I didn’t even have to do any tinkering or anything, it was all installed along with the meta package for cinnamon. I installed the latest version of Iagno from Flathub to see if it worked and sure enough, it did, and using the Software Manager no less. I didn’t even have to open a terminal!

LibreOffice is still only on version 5.4. I suspect that come April Ubuntu will have updated to LibreOffice 6, but it really should be there already. Fedora Rawhide, OpenSUSE Tumbleweed, and even Debian Testing have the latest LibreOffice in their repositories, so what exactly is holding Ubuntu up?

The System Info application included with Cinnamon tell us some interesting things.

We are running the latest Linux kernel in the Ubuntu repositories, which is good. We are running Cinnamon 3.4.6, which ironically is an older version than is in the Mint 18.3 repositories. It’s using the version of Cinnamon in the default Ubuntu repositories, and doing a dist-upgrade doesn’t offer a newer version. It looks like the Mint team haven’t gotten around to putting the latest Cinnamon into the Tara repositories. Fair enough, I suppose. The one thing that really threw for a loop though, was that the Operating System name is apparently Linux Mint 19 Xfce. The same thing appears on the Welcome Screen. I installed the Xfce meta package after installing the Cinnamon one, so the fact that it says Xfce isn’t a shock to me, but something is missing here. It’s supposed to say Xfce 64-bit, but here the 64-bit is omitted. I highly doubt that it holds any significance, but it is interesting nonetheless.

Speaking of Xfce let’s take a look at how it’s doing.

The Xfce Desktop Environment

It looks like some parts of the Mint-Y theme and the Xfce panel don’t exactly agree with each other. I’m not sure if this is because of the newer version of the xfce4-panel that is built using GTK3, or because the Mint-Y theme itself is incomplete. Either way, I’m sure those little details will be ironed out by the time of release. Along with the Xfce panel, many components of Xfce have been ported over to GTK3 now. The Xfce developers have been working very hard to port all of Xfce over to GTK3, and it really shows. Even without any guest additions installed, it feels more responsive and snappy than I typically experience with Xfce in virtual machines. Other than that though, there aren’t many exiting new features to talk about. Then again, that’s what many of us have come to expect from Xfce over the years.

Wrapping it up.

In short, this is already looking like a really promising release. Aside from a few Ubuntu level growing pains and some stuff missing from the Linux Mint repos, I’ve ran into very few issues for a pre-alpha. It’s nice to see that even though we’re very early on into the development cycle, we can already get an idea of what Linux Mint 19 will be like. I for one can’t wait to see how it turns out. Right now, I’m using Linux Mint 18.3 for since its release and the 16.04 base is really starting to show its age. The addition of flatpaks have somewhat remedied that, but selection of applications on Flathub cannot even compare to that of the Ubuntu repositories. I’m looking forward to what the Linux Mint team has to offer, and I’m sure you do as well. Hopefully, Linux Mint 19 will be the best Linux Mint release yet.