Well.. I was going to answer the last 8 reviews in a single post but I quickly realized it wasn’t such a good idea. The last one, from Distrocheck, is full of constructive criticism and highlights very interesting points. So let’s start by discussing this one and I’ll tackle the other reviews one by one then after.
Link to the review: http://distrocheck.wordpress.com/
Distrocheck: “I must say Linux Mint has a very good reputation in the Linux world, personally I find it astonishing how big this community based distribution has become, coming close to the point of dethroning his own father Ubuntu. Just take a look at the current Distrowatch ranking [...]”
Distrocheck: “The chosen wallpaper is awesome although the wallpapers included are not that good, plus they insist on putting the mint logo on every one of them.”
–> The wallpaper… there’s been so much said about that. One of the things I’m the most proud of when it comes to Mint is something which I don’t think I have anything to get credit for… its community. It’s full of people who want to help, and in particular it’s full of talented artist. Compared to projects like Ubuntu or Fedora, our community is disorganised, it lacks leadership, resources and structures.. and yet, it comes to us with the most brilliant ideas, extremely valuable feedback and now and then with some remarkable wallpapers. I’m not sure why almost all wallpapers created by the community wear the Linux Mint logo… and as most of them don’t come with separate layers it’s hard for us to remove them. I’m not sure whether I’d want the logo to be taken off but I can certainly agree with the point being made here: It would be good for some wallpapers at least to come without any branding.
Distrocheck: “I don’t like the tomboy applet between the Menu and the Show Desktop applets, I feel it just doesn’t look right. I would prefer the tomboy applet on the left of the clock to somehow make it look like part of the rest of the “notification area”. Plus why use tomboy when gnote does the same job perfectly and it doesn’t use mono? Also I would prefer to have the Show Desktop applet on the right corner of the panel for easy access.”
–> I don’t want to bore people with small details so let’s not talk about the panel layout too long, but I take note on this. It’s an interesting point. I’m not sure which is best and I’m probably biased due to the fact that I’m used to having these shortcuts on the right of the menu… I’ll consider that and if people want to tell us what they think about this, I’d be interested to hear their reaction. Please comment on this.
–> About gnote, it was considered for inclusion in Linux Mint 8 and it got rejected. We were interested in it for its smaller footprint (to gain space on the liveCD) and for its better performance. It turned out we didn’t need the space and it wasn’t performing significantly better than Tomboy. It only missed a few features found in Tomboy but none of the important ones. The language it’s developed in only matters to us if we start patching it significantly or if we have an interest in forking it. In this case the only modification we bring to Tomboy is the fact that we don’t want it to open the welcome note by default when you log in the desktop for the first time.. as for Mono and the controversy around it, I’ve asked people to come with reasonable arguments against it and I failed to receive any. I don’t use it personally but I can appreciate good coding and the passion a developer puts in his work. The two products being almost identical I much prefer to follow an innovative project driven by passion than a fork which ambition is only to port something that already works to a different language on the same platform. I don’t know whether gnote’s ambition is political and/or if it has to do with the Mono controversy. I hope it’s more than that. The day it tackles performance and starts bringing features of its own, i.e. user improvements, we’ll have a strong case to include it, until then we’re keeping an eye on it in case Tomboy’s inclusion becomes a concern to us in terms of space on the liveCD.
Distrocheck: “Kudos for not putting the Trash on the panel, I hate that [...] I don’t know why distros insist on showing the drives on the desktop, it’s really not necessary and it looks ugly. One of the first things I do when installing a gnome system is disabling that option in gconf-editor, I really think it should come disabled by default as well as the Computer and Home folders. You can access them easily with the menu, it simply ruins the desktop harmony.”
–> I hate it as well (about the trash), it’s typically something people should find when they need it but which should remain hidden when they don’t. I’m not sure about the Home and Computer places though… from my experience, a lot of people use the Home shortcut on the desktop, much more than the shortcut to it available in the menu. As for the “Computer” icon, I think it’s been anchored in our common culture, something we probably inherited from Microsoft Windows? I don’t use it much myself.. I usually go to my home and then access the volumes from the left pane… and if I plug something in the computer, it comes up in a new window for me anyway… I guess in Windows, people are used to go to “My Computer” to click “C:\” or “D:\” or whatever letter they chose or was chosen for them. Would it feel weird to only have the Home shortcut on the desktop? Shall we get rid of “Computer”? Tell us what you think. Also, just a quick note to say that mintDesktop is there for that kind of things, no need to go tinkering with gconf-editor (unless it’s for fun of course).
Distrocheck: “[about mintMenu...] it’s huge, it takes almost 1/4 of screen space when opened and since I’m more of a minimalist type of guy it bothers me. I don’t feel the Favorites and All applications sections look different enough to quickly know what you are looking at, especially since it remembers which one you used last, instead of always showing Favorites when opened or always showing All applications, couldn’t find an option for that. I would set it to always show Favorites. Then there are a lot of options on the left side, fortunately they can be disabled on the preferences. Why have Software Manager and Package Manager? They serve practically the same function, it’s confusing, I guess Software Manager does not deal with individual packages.”
–> mintMenu is (too) big, I agree with that. I’ll look into ways to make it more compact and/or to allow more customization around the way it looks for it to fit smaller resolutions. There used to be an option to ask you whether you want to start with the favorites or with the applications themselves. It was removed. The rationale is that you’ll probably want to use what you used last and we don’t want the application to change its state when you go and perform other tasks. For instance; open something in the Internet category… then open the menu again and it still shows the same category. I think it’s irritating for a menu to constantly go back to some initial state and I much prefer it this way. I’d be interested to hear people’s opinions on this though.
–> The presence of both a Package Manager and a Software Manager is confusing to users and it’s something Ubuntu and Mint are tackling with a lot of efforts at the moment. Software management is very efficient in both distributions and it’s about to get even better with the upcoming releases. There are pros and cons associated with using Synaptic, mintInstall, the Ubuntu software store, app-install etc… and we’re trying hard to gather all the pros and to get rid of all the cons in a single unified tool. I’m working on a project at the moment which I can’t really call mintinstall since it’s been rewriten from scratch, which is taking all the best things out of both mintInstall and the Software Center and which has the capacity to show the 30,000 packages available in the repositories… of course it’s completely broken and nothing works well yet, so I won’t say more about it in case the whole thing falls short and doesn’t make it in the next release. But in brief, we’re working on it.
Distrocheck: “Mint Menu has something that’s really amazing, when you search for a program and it’s not installed it shows options like Search Portal, Search Repositories, Show Package, Install Package, so if you look for emesene and it is not installed, you can simply click Install package emesene, put the password, confirm, done. Awesomeness. I think though, that they have too many options, I would leave just the Install package option and ditch the rest. Another nice function is right clicking an icon and having the option to make it show in the Favorites, to launch at login or to uninstall. Btw I found a bug, when right clicking a program and the clicking the menu again, the menu won’t disappear when clicking outside of it, like it should. The menu is very powerful yet I don’t like it, I just don’t feel comfortable with it because of the way it’s arranged.”
–> It’s the “suggestion” feature of mintmenu. It’s taken care off by mintinstall and that’s something we’ll improve as well. In particular I don’t like the way you need to know the exact package name. For instance if I want to install Google Earth, I’d like to simply type “google” and have “Google Earth” and maybe even “Picasa” show up in a list of things I can install. Again, that’s much too soon for me to talk about, but we’ll definitely improve this aspect of the menu, not just the look of it, but also the way you interact with it.
Distrocheck: “[about mintUpdate...] I don’t like the whole idea of separating the updates in levels, if it’s going to select 1,2 and 3 by default anyway it might as well just hide that level information from the end user and show the updates. The levels should be an internal thing that can be set in the preferences but not the main interface.”
–> I disagree with that. The reason we came with this is to prevent what we call un-educated updates (I love the way this term irritates people, especially when it comes from a non-native-English-speaker like me) to be performed by people who aren’t skilled enough to fix their system once it’s affected by a regression (i.e. a bug caused by a package update). There’s big colored numbers for everyone to notice and most people know what they mean… that in itself is a success. Of course, we like people to be able to choose for themselves and so in Mint 8 it’s possible for you to hide the level column in the Update Manager and to make it look exactly the way you want.
Distrocheck: “It actually uses 4 different icons, icons to show “Busy”, “System up-to-date”, “Updates available”, “Error”. You almost need to take a tutorial to understand this. The error icon is plain stupid, I hate watching that broken lock with the red X every time I use synaptic or I’m disconnected from the network, everytime I see it I think my system is having a seizure. For some reason an open lock means Updates Available, well it makes sense, your system is outdated so it’s open to threats, ok. But then you have a closed lock that means busy, and a closed lock with a green check that means everything is ok. I don’t know why the close lock means it’s busy, a close lock gives me the feeling the system is up to date, the system up to date icon is just unnecessary. Bottom line is, it should use just 2 icons, an open lock and a closed lock, open means outdated, closed means updated. If they want to show the updater is working they can make it blink a bit, or use an animated gear or something.”
–> The blinking isn’t an option (it goes against common UI guidelines) but I agree on the rest. I’ll look into this and we’ll come up with better status indicators for the next release.
Distrocheck: “[about the default software selection...] 2 front ends of mplayer, I don’t know why they have done this, along with Totem it has 3 media players + rhythmbox. They included Pidgin instead of Empathy, they must have their reasons.”
–> When we tested Empathy (during the Ubuntu RC phase if I remember well) it wasn’t completely functional and it failed in basic use cases scenarios such as connecting to Google Apps account…etc. I’m not sure whether it’s on par with Pidgin now and it’s something we’ll look into with each release. In fact, there are a couple of applications we’re keeping an eye on with each release. One of them is VLC and as it was mentioned in the review there’s a bit of a mess when it comes to multimedia players in Linux and it shows in Linux Mint with the inclusion of Totem, Mplayer, Gnome Mplayer..etc. The problem here has to do with playback both inside and outside of the web browser. We’re restricted in our choice by the fact that plugins aren’t fully independent and that they rely on their respective players to work well. The situation upstream is less of a problem with every release though and the dominant solution in the Linux world, totem, is quickly becoming a standard which I think will bring some harmony in all that.
Distrocheck: “[about mintInstall...] wait a minute, score and average rating, what’s the difference?”
–> That’s changed in the upcoming rewrite of mintInstall (which I really hope won’t be vaporware.. it’s quite ambitious). At the time of the Mint 8 release the average rating was the average of the individual ratings for each review of an application. The score was a calculation meant to indicate the popularity of an application, and it wasn’t just based on the average rating but also on the number of people looking at the application and the number of times it had been reviewed.
Distrocheck:”in order to select an applications to be installed, it has to be selected first and then click the button Install”
–> We were approaching code-freeze at the time and so it was easier for us to do it this way. We’re planning on changing that aspect of the interface as well in the next version.
Distrocheck:”why would they recommend a closed source pdf viewer is beyond me, evince can read pdf’s perfectly”
–> I’m not sure why people want Adobe Acrobat Reader, whether it’s because it’s better, or whether it’s the norm, or whether it’s a matter of being able to read PDF from within the browser and mozzplugger isn’t as popular an option, but the fact is that a lot of people want it… and that’s the main requirement for things to make it to our list of “featured software”.
Distrocheck:”I just want to say I don’t like when distros flood web browsers with bookmarks, and Mint
just loves to do that. The default Firefox shows a bookmark toolbar filled with Linux Mint links to different sections of their site, apparently making the linux mint website the home page was not enough.”
–> I’d like to hear people’s opinions on that. From my experience and despite everything I learnt in IT, recurrence is a must. Casual computer users want to use tools more than they want to learn about them and so we can’t rely on the fact that they’ll read the release notes, the user guide, or even the welcome screen. What we can rely on is that most of them won’t change the default settings and so when the time comes and they face a problem they’ll have the forums and the other sections of our websites just one click away. For experimented users and IT enthusiasts, these are extremely easy to remove. If you’re into cars you probably get rid of the sticker on the rear window after you buy the car… but look on the streets, most people don’t. They probably don’t need to know the garage’s phone number on a daily basis (well I hope they don’t) but the day they need it, and considering they don’t mind the sticker being there since they’re not “into” cars, it’s here and they’re happy to find it…. so in brief, if you’re into clean lean desktops you’ll probably remove these quick enough, but for many people who’ll use Mint as a tool it’s a good thing.
Distrocheck:”I perceive a very positive response from people about the distro and I feel it may actually become the most popular home Linux distro one day, which would only show that small communities with good ideas and dedication can yield a better product than sponsored or corporative distributions.”
–> Our small size has been an asset and it made it easier for us to listen and interact with our community, that’s for sure, and I think most of the credit goes to that communication that users and developers managed to have with each others in this project. As we grow more and more this is becoming harder and harder though. I’m working full time on the distribution now, there’s money to be spent when needed and so we can take on bigger tasks and be more ambitious in our development and our innovations. Yet, the more we grow the more we become isolated in our own ways of thinking and the less our vision gets confronted to people’s criticism, and that’s something we’ll need to be focused on as the real challenge for us when competing with projects like Microsoft Windows and Mac OS will be to be as productive and ambitious as they are while remaining strongly connected to our user base and strongly involved and aware of what’s going on in the IT Desktop world.