outward overlay scrollbar

Linux Mint 11 review

A new feature of Ubuntu desktop that made it into Linux Mint 11 is the overlay scrollbar, officially known as the Ayatana Scrollbar. It is a rethink of the classic scrollbar, and this implementation is supposed to “improve the user’s ability to focus on content and applications” and to “ensure that scrollbars take up no active screen real-estate” thereby “reducing the waste of space and distracting clutter that a traditional scrollbar entails.”

Sounds good, but this is a classic case of a solution without a problem. For one, I have never thought of the scrollbar as a distraction. Have you? It is a feature of an application’s window that I use when I need it. If I do not have need of it, I never think about it. And when I do need it, I just use it, without thinking about how.

How the project’s developers came to the conclusion that the scrollbar wastes space and distracts users is what I would like to know. The Ayatana scrollbar is just desktop effects, eye candy if you will. Even without the overlay, you can the the mouse wheel to scroll up and down an application’s window. The green bar, which is about a third the width of a scrollbar, shows when a window is scrollable. While I disagree in the usefulness of it, the implementation is quite good. If a window is maximized and you move the mouse cursor near where the classic scrollbar should be, the overlay scrollbar appears on the inward edge, and if a window is not in full screen mode, the scrollbar appears on the outward edge (see a screenshot of that effect here). In some application windows, the overlay scrollbar just appears on the empty space, exactly where the classic scrollbar should have been.
overlay scrollbar

In the course of completing this review, the Clockapplet crashed. It proved to be a minor problem because logging out and back in restored it. While minor, it is still recorded as a bug in the system.

Printer configuration on Linux Mint has always been a connect-and-print process, no manual intervention needed. And for obvious reasons, it is especially so for HP printers. My test printer has for a long time being an HP Deskjet F4289 All-in-One. Recently, I acquired a Canon i960. When connected to the test machine, the system attempted to auto-configure it, but found no drivers for this particular model. It then started the manual printer configuration tool. It turns out that the Canon i865 and the i960 use the same driver, so I was able to configure the printer successfully.
printer Canon 1960

Installed and Available Applications: A list of installed applications on a new installation of Linux Mint 11 includes:

  • Firefox 4
  • LibreOffice 3.3
  • The GIMP
  • Pidgin IM client
  • Thunderbird Mail and News
  • Banshee
  • GNOME Player
  • VLC Media Player
  • Totem Movie Player

All applications and media codecs required to make the system work out of the box are installed. Adobe Flash plugin, Java Runtime, libdvdcss2 and related audio and video libraries are installed. Keep in mind that the DVD version, which comes with all these proprietary applications was used for this review. Linux Mint also publishes a CD and an OEM edition that will not work out of the box, because these applications are not bundled. Firefox 4 is the only Web browser installed, but there are many more available for installation. Chromium (version 11.0) is available. Opera is also available, but I found after installing it that it crashed at every turn. The version in the repository is 11.10, but the latest stable version available for download from Opera is Opera 11.11. Perhaps the crash bug has been fixed in the latest version.

Package Management: Like previous releases, Linux Mint 11 ships with two graphical interfaces to apt-get, the main command line component of Debian’s Advanced Packaging Tool (APT). They are Synaptic Package Manager, used widely on many Debian-based distributions, and Linux Mint’s newly developed Software Manager. A new addition to the Software Manager is a splash screen. To some extent, the splash screen masks the slow start of the software Manager.

The category icons are more visually appealing that the ones on previous versions, and I still think that there should be a separate category for security-related applications. If it is necessary to have a “Fonts” category (new in this release), then security applications deserve a separate category, too.

I use the Software Manager only when I need to install one or two applications. Beyond that, I like to use Synaptic Package Manager. Because Software Manager requires authentication for every application that you attempt to install. On the other hand, Synaptic requires authentication to start, so there is no need for further authentication to install an application, and you can queue many applications for installation.

Out of the box, the system is configured to check for updates 30 seconds after bootup.

And every fifteen minutes thereafter. Most distributions go for once per day, and I think that is just about right. Mandriva has the most frequent updates interval checking – every five minutes.

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