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Linux Mint freshens Ubuntu's palate

By Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier on March 08, 2007 (8:00:00 AM)

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Ubuntu is a strong desktop distro, but it falls short for some users in a few areas. Where are the multimedia codecs and DVD support, and what's with all the brown, for heaven's sake? If you'd like multimedia support with a minty fresh theme, try Linux Mint 2.2, an Ubuntu-based distro that throws in support for Flash 9, Windows Media Format, DVDs, MP3s, and troublesome wireless cards.

Linux Mint uses the Ubuntu Ubiquity installer. Just pop in the live CD, click the Install icon, and walk through a few simple questions, then wait for the installer to work its magic. After a short wait, Mint is installed and you can reboot into a fresh install.

I installed Linux Mint 2.2 ("Bianca") on a notebook with a Pentium 4, 1GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon R250 display adapter, Intel sound card, and an Intersil Prism wireless card. I'm also running an instance of Linux Mint 2.2 under VMware Server on my main desktop.

When I installed Linux Mint on the notebook, the live CD and initial install detected my wireless card just fine. After the install, I was prompted to upgrade packages. One of the updates I pulled down was a kernel update, from 2.6.17-10 to 2.6.17-11. After installing it and rebooting, Mint no longer detected the wireless card. I had to reboot into the old kernel to continue using the wireless network. It looks like this was a problem introduced upstream with the main kernel, as I've found some discussion of the problem on the Ubuntu forums.

Mint, like many distros, also had problems detecting the proper resolution for the laptop. The screen is supposed to run at 1400x1050, but Mint wanted to set the display to 1024x768. I had to hand-edit the xorg.conf file to set the resolution properly.

Other than those two glitches, Mint worked fine with the rest of the hardware.

I did a clean install; users who are running older versions of Linux Mint should check the wiki for instructions on moving from 2.0 to 2.2 -- it's not as straightforward as just running apt-get dist-upgrade.

Mint custom configuration tools
Mint's custom configuration tools - click to view

Note that, unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint is only available for x86 systems. If you want to run Linux Mint on an AMD64 system, you'll have to settle for 32-bit, and if you're on PowerPC, then no Mint for you!

What does Linux Mint offer?

Under the hood, Linux Mint is about 98% Ubuntu, so why would you want to install it rather than Ubuntu? Well, that 2% will be fairly attractive to a lot of users.

The most obvious difference between Ubuntu and Linux Mint is the theme, which is a refreshing blue rather than Ubuntu's standard brown. Mint's look and feel overhaul goes beyond the color scheme, though. Mint has a single taskbar by default which is arranged not dissimilarly to the standard Windows taskbar.

Like Ubuntu, Linux Mint defaults to the GNOME desktop, though the forums have a few discussions about Xfce and KDE releases for Bianca as well -- but those seem to be a ways out, at best. There's no reason that you couldn't install the kubuntu-desktop or xfce-desktop packages, which would still give you some of Linux Mint's advantages, but the desktops are not customized in the same way as GNOME's. Note that the first release of Linux Mint, "Ada," was actually based on KDE, but GNOME became the default with the next release.

The Linux Mint desktop
The Linux Mint desktop - click to view

Mint's package selection is pretty close to Ubuntu's, but it does differ a little bit. For instance, Mint ships with Amarok rather than Rhythmbox, and no games are installed by default. As with Ubuntu, if the apps you want are not part of the default install, odds are that they are available with a quick apt-get install or by using Synaptic. Mint actually uses Ubuntu's repositories, so everything that's available via Ubuntu should be available, plus the handful of custom applications for Linux Mint.

The main attraction for Windows refugees is that Mint ships with support for all the annoying proprietary multimedia formats right out of the box -- no fussing with repositories, no digging through wikis to see what packages need to be installed to play back the video on YouTube your dear aunt Petunia sent you a link to.

I tried YouTube, Windows Media files, QuickTime, and CSS-encoded DVDs, and everything played just fine -- no problems at all, and no need to install any packages myself. Mint also comes with Sun Java installed by default, and set up so the Java plugin works by default in Firefox.

Mint also has a modified main menu a la SUSE, with the applications, places, and system menus integrated into one menu. A similar main menu is also available in Ubuntu Edgy as an additional package, but it's not quite as well refined as the default menu that's included with Mint.

The Applications, Places, and System menus, as well as Beagle search, are integrated into the single system, so users have one handy spot to open applications, search for files, open Nautilus to display the home directory, or get to one of the configuration applets.

What's conspicuously absent from the system menu is any of the help and documentation that you'll find under the System menu in Ubuntu. Linux Mint does have a few help docs that jump out at you, though. When you start Firefox the first time, you'll see a custom page with a few links to Linux Mint resources, including the forums and wiki, and a "Tips and Tricks" page stored locally.

One thing I found slightly odd about the "Make yourself at home!" document, which is linked to from the Tips and Tricks, is that it walks the user through setting up keyboard shortcuts to control Amarok so that it's easier to set volume, navigate tracks, etc. That's lovely, but why don't the developers just ship Amarok with the recommended keybindings in the first place?

The rest of the tips provided are fairly useful, though they're missing some obvious tips, such as installing proprietary Nvidia or ATI drivers, that users are likely to be interested in.

Linux Mint ships with all the administration and preference apps that appear in Ubuntu, plus a few custom tools that don't. The MintDisk app lets users set preferences for mounting FAT32 and NTFS partitions, and allows users to control where automounted disks are mounted in the filesystem if the /media directory is not desirable for some reason.

Users who have wireless cards that are not supported by open drivers may have better luck with mintWifi, a tool to set up wireless cards using the Windows driver and NdisWrapper.

The configuration apps are all gathered in the mintConfig application, which organizes the configuration tools into groups. When you launch the mintConfig tool, you see several groups: Hardware, Devices, Networking, Administration, and Desktop. This is a good idea -- it's a little more organized than dumping all the config utilities into the GNOME Control Center -- but the groups are a bit muddled. For instance, I think a keyboard qualifies as hardware, but it's found under the Devices tab in the mintConfig window.

Final thoughts

If multimedia is important to you, if you have a troublesome Wi-Fi card or chipset, or if you'd like a starter distro for someone trying to move away from Windows, Linux Mint is a good place to start. It has all the benefits of Ubuntu -- and lacks Ubuntu's bias toward shipping only the most necessary non-free drivers -- and offers a few added features to boot.

The real test for Linux Mint will be longevity. The Mint team is pushing out releases rapidly, about one every two months, and the support policy for older releases is not clearly delineated on the site. The introductory release was pushed out only last August, so the team doesn't have a year under its belt yet -- which makes me a bit hesitant to bet on the distro for the long haul, since so many distros stagnate and die within the first year or two of inception. If the Linux Mint team can sustain its energy through this August, I'll be eyeing Linux Mint as a serious desktop distro.

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on Linux Mint freshens Ubuntu's palate

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Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 06:40 AM
While Mint seems like a wonderful distro, I would recommend against using it. Or at least I would recommend not getting hooked on Mint. The reason is that the Mint project is sure to die or be killed if it becomes even slightly popular.

I don't know why we must keep repeating this but, I'll say it one more time. The "annoyance" of mainstream distros lacking the ability to playback proprietary codec and CSS encoded DVD's cannot and will not change unless you pay for it!!!! No distro, including Mint, cannot legally offer these capabilities for free. Not unless Mark Shuttleworth/Canonical buys the rights and decides to give it away, which seems highly unlikely at this time.

Operating systems that can play these formats out-of-the-box charge large sums for the OS. Part of that money is used to pay licensing fees to the codec owners. NO PAY NO PLAY!!! Surely that's not too complicated for you all to understand?

If Mint becomes popular, its popularity will draw the attention of the rights holders for the codecs. They will in turn demand their licensing fee, issue a cease and desist or sue the developers/distributors of Mint. At that point you Minty distro will either disappear or it will stop playing all those juicy codecs out-of-the-box just like Red Hat, Novell/SuSE, Ubuntu, Manriva and all the others.

Sure, you can download the codecs and players without cost and with seeming impunity but, IT STILL ISN'T LEGAL!

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Re:Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 07:24 AM
Whether it is legal or not depends on the country you're living in. In some countries it is legal to download the codecs and players yourself.

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Re:Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 07:51 AM
It depends on the countries. Some countries allow for redistribution of these codecs and players - some countries require you to download them manually - and in other countries it's completely illegal.

But nice trolling, though...

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maybe in US - it's perfectly legal everywhere else

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 09:08 AM
Most codecs are available as Freeware. Simple as that. The risk of illegally distributing lies therefore entirely with the distributor; we users don't have to care at all.

For stuff covered under software and triviality patents, using unlicensed proprietary codecs might of course be problematic. But just not for the majority uf us. This is simply and entirely an U.S. problem.
Noone else needs to bleed for the DCMA and a crappy patent law.

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Re:maybe in US - it's perfectly legal everywhere e

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 10:56 AM
Yes, I've done the calculation before. Population of USA divided by population of the world comes to about 5%.

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Re:maybe in US - it's perfectly legal everywhere e

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 04:31 PM
Good that the 95% of the world can enjoy Mint then.

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For now. Expect this to change.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 10:00 PM

Population of USA divided by population of the world comes to about 5%.


Irrelevant. GDP of USA divided by GDP of world more like 40%.


Military capability of USA divided by military capability of world, probably about 80%.


Expect the USA to force its crap patent laws on other states.

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Re:For now. Expect this to change.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 11:40 PM
Oh, good.. an argument based on politics, marketing and military might.. see, I thought ther emight be a technological or legal argument for a technological and legal problem.

silly me

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Re:Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 12:24 PM
Nice try. Downloading codecs isn't illegal in most countries. It's merely illegal in the ass-backwards USA.
So it's clear - Mint has an audience, clearly fulfills a need, expect it to thrive.
Maybe when the US ditches the little bully Bush you too will enjoy the freedoms that the rest of this world has rightfully enjoyed for years.

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Re:Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 09:20 PM
Hoo boy. A troll responding to a troll.

Bush has very little to do with modern IP laws in the US, including the DMCA which was a democratic / Clinton thing. Extending patents to business processes and other things was ALSO a Clinton thing.

Frankly, it has nothing to do with who is in power, since EVERYONE in congress is corrupt in one way or another.

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^^^ Let's Compare Nations ^^^

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 12:54 AM
Let's examine which nation's laws make Mint legal and which don't. I'm no expert but, I happen to know for a fact that Mint, with its included and unlicensed codecs breaks the laws of the following nations:

United States
United Kingdom
European Union
Australia
South Africa
Japan

That's a rather large portion of the industrialized world. There are likely many more that I do not know about.

In which nations is it legal to disregard the EULA's and patents and copyrights of the codec developers?

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Wrong!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 03:23 AM
Only the United States allow patents on software.

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Not Wrong

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 03:40 AM
All of those countries listed allow copyright restrictions, binding contracts (EULA), and more. It's not just software patents that restrict the distribution of the codecs.

I can't think of ANY country that doesn't honor copyrights. The codecs are restricted by the license of the copyright holders!

You'd complain if someone in Ukraine(no offence, just an example) took Linux and failed to honor the copyright holder's license, the GPL. Why is it so difficult for you to see that the same holds true for Apple's license of Quicktime? Most countries acknowledge Apples right, as the copyright holder, to control and restrict the use/distribution of their software and codecs.

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Your both right and wrong

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 04:59 AM
Depends on the terms and the codec, for instance DVD playback and mp3 playing are DCMA and Patent issues not copyright issues since libdvdcss and lame are both gpl packages.

The Microsoft stuff is completely off though, the licence for those dlls explicitly forbid the use their being put to in Mint and even Ubuntu using autmatix and this applies to almost every country in the world.

The nvidia driver is a notable exception because while it's proprietory it allows redistribution so it would be allowed to be included.

The Wifi drivers are out though, those binary blobs are copyrighted; and the best bet is having automated programs for downloading them or getting them off cds.

Summery: It's complex, I'd never have wmv codecs includes by default but I see no reason why dvd and mp3 can't be since libdvdcss was created in the EU before the European version of the DMCA (EUCD) came into effect; besides the DCMA and EUCD explicitly allow the software under the compatibility terms so I don't recon it's even illegal in the usa.

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Re:Your both right and wrong

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on May 19, 2007 10:54 AM
mp3 was created by Fraunhofer, before the CD's even existed einstein.

by the way EULA is a tricky document, I cannot recall to read it in my native language, must be a reason why is not so widespread in other languages, it's just a tricky document, so if you happen to know a EULA in other language let my know to see if the translation is good enough to pass a public translator audit.

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Re:Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 02:13 AM
So does a site like <a href="http://www.linuxatschool.com/" title="linuxatschool.com">http://www.linuxatschool.com/</a linuxatschool.com> count as illegal?

I mean, providing information on how to install the codecs can't be illegal on its own, can it?

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Re:Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on April 07, 2007 02:41 AM
Well no matter what linux distro one is using these codecs can be installed. Even if mint was forced to quit, its like 98 percent ubuntu, so no loss really. In fact its actually Edgy Eft with a windows face lift.

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Fear, uncertainty and doubt?

Posted by: Administrator on March 10, 2007 02:26 AM
<a href="http://www.linuxmint.com/about.html" title="linuxmint.com">http://www.linuxmint.com/about.html</a linuxmint.com>

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Re: Don't Get Hooked - Mint Sure To Die

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.236.163.214] on January 17, 2008 05:05 PM
Its easy enough to get these codecs installed in Ubuntu and the interrface can be easily tweaked, so I don't see why you would want to go to a distro with less potential.
<a href="http://www.javasigns.com/banners">Vinyl Banners</a>

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Excellent

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 08:05 AM
This should be a good distros for newbies if you dont want to use quicktime codecs and the sorts dont use it.

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Re:Excellent

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 11:41 AM
However - Mint is such a good introductory distro for Wintel switchees, that by the time the DRS police catches up, most of the users will have sufficient expertise to locate and install the codecs themselves. Dis somebody say P2P? Catch me if you can!

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Re:Excellent

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 04:34 PM
P2P? Nonsense!
Just as example: Flash plugin is distributed by Adobe on its website, no need to use P2P to download something free (as in beer) from an unsafe source.

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Freespire IS legal and will be around

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 02:04 PM
Linspire and Freespire have been shipping LEGALLY LICENSED support for MP3, Windows Media, Java, Flash, etc. right out of the box for years, and they too are now based on Ubuntu, so I would suggest Freespire as a better choice. Because Freespire is backed by Linspire, who are well funded and a stable Linux player for six years now, they have a solid history here, plus you get CNR.

RF

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Legal codecs

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 03:41 PM
As long as the people that pay for developing more and more useless codecs are the same that rule the capitalist world and say what is legal and what is not, is up to every person to decide it and not delegate on states, companies or religions.

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Pointless distro

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 06:02 PM

If you want to support proprietary file formats, mp3, etc then your best bet is just to buy Microsoft Windows.


Linux is not for people who just want to be consumers of closed content. Linux is by, and for, people who want freedom from the closed, proprietary world.


Unfortunately, there are a lot of confused people, some of whom are on some kind of crusade against Microsoft, some of whom just don't want to pay for anything. To the first group: I dislike Microsoft as much as you do, but Linux is not part of any crusade. To the second group: Linux does not need you, in fact nobody needs you. I don't pay money to Microsoft, but I pay a great deal more to the community in terms of my time (I'm a developer for the GNU environment). Linux is not for freeloaders.

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Re:Pointless distro

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 08:11 PM
Linux is for more than just the blinkered purists of the FSF. Get over it!

Congratualtions to Mint on what looks like a polished and useful distro.

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Re(1):Pointless distro

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.159.55.140] on December 30, 2007 06:55 PM
linus torvalds, the creator of linux doesn't belive in the FSF

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your elitist BS is why we can't be taken seriously

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 12:35 AM
The only thing we'll acomplish by continuing to be elitist prick puritons spouting your crap is another decade dominated by a closed monopoly OS and no vendor support for Linux outside of the server market.

Regardless of the numerous technical advantages:

- we're screwed until any average user can install Linux in under three mouse clicks and see there porn and listen to there music without a five step after install tweak.

- we're screwed until large computer vendors offer pre-installed Linux distorbutions that "just work" like users expect after years of Microsoft and Apple closed OS.

We all know Linux/BSD are better build than the status queue. Apple even pilled there closed window manager on top of openBSD. This is the tech industry though and the better solution has rarely won out over the competition based on technical merits alone.

But, don't take my humble word for it; have a read over the original paper co-authored by people far smarter than me on the subject.

<a href="http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/world-domination/world-domination-201.html" title="catb.org">http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/world-dominatio<nobr>n<wbr></nobr> /world-domination-201.html</a catb.org>

- specificaly "Facing the Music"

It's a well thought and rational analysis of why Linux remains outside the realm of being taken seriously and what we need to do before the next monopoly OS get's locked into place until 128bit eventually replaces 64bit architecture.

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What's With All This Blue, Anyway?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 10:01 PM
I personally find the blue themes you find in an OS like Windows annoying at best. Far from soothing, I find it cold. I've always preferred something a little warmer, like orange, brown, and various shades of tan. Oh, with perhaps the occasional flash of dark green for color.

I wish Gnome allowed you to tweak the system colors the same way KDE does, so you can twist a theme to your tastes. But even in Gnome, you have a choice of different themes.

But I still prefer Ubuntu's default.

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Re:What's With All This Blue, Anyway?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 09, 2007 10:41 PM
++ with all the blues and greys out there, Ubuntu brown is a refreshing change.

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Re:What's With All This Blue, Anyway?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 12:17 AM
You shouldn't have to wait too much longer:
<a href="http://blogs.gnome.org/view/thos/2006/11/20/0" title="gnome.org">http://blogs.gnome.org/view/thos/2006/11/20/0</a gnome.org>

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Many comments...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 02:54 AM
But not one of them focuses on the distro's features or accomplishments. Guys, this is a review of Linux Mint, their heavily modified Ubuntu based distro. This is not the place for the flamewars over some codecs. These Mint people do not sell their distro, they let everyone download and use it. IT IS FREE. I, for one, enjoy listening music or watching DVD on my PC. Mint makes this easier. That is a good thing. Mint has a lot of usability enhancements over Ubuntu. This is a good thing too. Also it has great artwork unlike Ubuntu itself. It's fast, user friendly and has a solid base with great h/w detection. So, this is a good distro. Period.
If you think that at some point in time it will be crushed by some corporation over codec rights, so be it. Nothing lasts forever. Its creators obviously enjoyed making it, then we can enjoy using it or prefer not to use it. No big deal than that. Thanks for such a great distro and informative review.

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Hm, is it RealPlayer but no ATI/NVIDIA?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on March 10, 2007 06:46 AM
One newbie Linux user advertised Linux Mint on one of local Linux forums.

He insists that they do ship RealPlayer and a bunch of other stuff which is, this way or that, non-redistributable without an extra agreement, even if freely downloadable.

Is it true that they managed to include what they shouldn't but missed what they should? (ATI/NVIDIA drivers, for example)

FWIW, ALT Linux includes everything that can be included for those in jurisdictions which put software patents down. And videodrivers, too.<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)

--
Michael Shigorin

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Re:wavy scrolling

Posted by: Administrator on March 10, 2007 02:23 AM
<a href="http://www.linuxmint.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1343" title="linuxmint.com">http://www.linuxmint.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=13<nobr>4<wbr></nobr> 3</a linuxmint.com>

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wavy scrolling

Posted by: Administrator on March 09, 2007 10:49 PM
One serious drawback of this distro (according to my experience) is the window scrolling is wavy. I tried running envy but I could not succeed. Any help would be appreciated.

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Linux Mint freshens Ubuntu's palate

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 209.92.128.66] on September 04, 2007 07:07 PM
I agree with a lot of the points this article made, however there is a key factor that wasn't addressed properly. You are bound to have problems, even if they are considered "minimal" to some, with any new OS you try. While Linux Mint packs a very impressive array of features one thing that it doesn't have to the degree of Ubuntu is support (whether community based or other). Ubuntu online community is one of the largest and most helpful there is. If you have a problem there is a good chance someone has had it before or someone is willing to help. This is a very valuable part to a successful operating environment. I have been looking around at a few newer distros (Sam Linux, Mepis, and Linux Mint) and while they all have their advantages I still am sticking with Ubuntu because of the support available. Something to consider.

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Tired of rip-off Distros!

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.116.3.66] on September 07, 2007 07:45 PM
Don't know about everybody else but I am sick of people taking 98% to 99% of a previous OS adding a few codecs and other eye candy and calling it there own Distro. Shouldn't LinuxMint be rather called Ubuntu Plus or Ubuntu Mint or something like that. Ubuntu originally did this to Debian pissed alot of people off, but now Ubuntu has moved beyond that and has created an OS that's a real alternative to the Debian project, not just a rip-off. I like Ubuntu, Linux Mint is just Ubuntu + so my suggestion would be to new comers download Ubuntu and you will learn alot about Linux and be much more comfortable behind the wheel so to speak if you just install the codecs and drivers your self. LINUX is more than an OS its an educational experience and easy isn't always better. On another note, Who cares if Linux can't get the majority of the market share. A viable goal for the Linux community should be a 5% to 10% market share which can be done regardless of codecs/drivers/etc! What Linux needs is good marketing. RedHat's propaganda ads circling around on the net look just like I said propaganda ads and Novell's spoofs are a joke. Show me a Linux computer in an ad and what it can do.

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Linux Mint freshens Ubuntu's palate

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 213.46.196.68] on February 16, 2008 07:32 AM
I'm for Linux! If they make it, I'll use it! =) But is it legal? I have no idea! But there doin' it, so it must be ok! =)
I'm thinking about trying linux! =) What do I have to lose! =)

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