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Feature: Linux Mint

Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

By Jeremy LaCroix on June 19, 2008 (4:00:00 PM)

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Linux Mint is a heavily customized community-driven derivative built on top of Ubuntu 8.04 LTS. According to the creators, its purpose is "to produce an elegant, up-to-date, and comfortable GNU/Linux desktop distribution." The latest release, Linux Mint 5.0 "Elyssa", released this month, retains most of Ubuntu's stability and features, but distinguish itself with unique features and tweaks. Although Mint is a great desktop, a few problems keep it from perfection.

Mint is available in two editions: a main edition, which includes proprietary codecs, and a light edition, which doesn't. Since I was unable to find a 64-bit version of Elyssa, I downloaded and installed the 32-bit main edition on my test machine, with an Athlon 64 X2 5200+ processor, 2GB of memory, two Nvidia GeForce 8600GT video cards on a Scalable Link Interface (SLI), and a 160GB SATA hard drive.

If you've installed any version of Ubuntu within the last year or so, you're already familiar with Elyssa's installation routine. It uses the same live installation method as Ubuntu, yet for some reason the Elyssa live CD takes almost twice as long to boot as a standard Ubuntu disc. Once it boots, it takes about the same amount of time to install to a hard drive as any distribution that uses a similar installer.

Upon your first login, the Mint Assistant appears and gives you the option to set up the root account, which will let you log in to the machine as the root user directly (instead of using sudo). It can also set up terminal fortunes, which gives you a comical message whenever you launch the GNOME terminal. While it is nice to have a setup menu included for these features, I'd like to see more useful configurations offered with the Mint Assistant, such as a way to change the theme or set up additional users.

Elyssa comes with a customized boot splash, GNOME Display Manager, and GTK themes. The default theme looks similar to that of older versions, with some tweaks included, such as using the Clearlooks engine for the sliders, and other much smaller tweaks for consistency. It looks decent, although the default purple colors of the GTK theme don't quite match up with the otherwise green artwork used everywhere else. If you don't like the default theme, Elyssa includes other themes in the default install, and several of them allow you to customize their colors in GNOME's Appearance applet.

Another noteworthy customization in Elyssa is its use of the mintMenu instead of the typical GNOME application launchers. The mintMenu opts to have as many of the submenus on a single pane as possible, which is great for consistency, although the menu is a bit large.

Software updates are handled by the distro's mintUpdate software. With mintUpdate, software updates are broken into different priority levels based on necessity and stability. Level 1 and 2 updates are preferred (they have less chance of breaking your system) while anything higher is recommended to be installed only as needed. Separating updates by priority is a good idea to prevent breakage. Mint maintains its own repositories, and also includes the standard Ubuntu Main, Universe, Multiverse, and Restricted repositories as well. That means package availability is right on par with Ubuntu, with some additional Mint-specific packages thrown in.

While the default GNOME desktop utilizes two horizontal panels, Elyssa defaults to using a single panel. While the panel is a simpler design, it can get cluttered quickly depending on the resolution of your monitor. This is a minor complaint, however, since you can add as many panels as you'd like using GNOME's configuration tools. Performance-wise, Elyssa runs as fast as the distribution it was built on.

One of my favorites of the new features is the ability to uninstall applications you don't need without opening the terminal or a package manager. To uninstall an application in Mint, just right-click the launcher in the Mint Menu and click Uninstall. Enter the administrator password, followed by your approval of any dependencies that might also be removed. This is one of several features I think every distribution should implement.

Another feature I'm fond of is the ability to right-click a folder and choose to open it with root privileges. If you need administrative access to a particular folder, this technique is much faster than using the terminal, although it goes without saying that you should utilize this feature with caution.

Gnome-Do is another keeper. It allows you to bring up a search window (by pressing Super and Space on your keyboard) that can be used to search for applications or tasks to perform. As you type, Gnome-Do narrows down a list of actions, allowing you to select the appropriate one. This tool is useful if you don't know where an application is located in the menu hierarchy, and is similar to KDE's Katapult.

mintBackup, a tool used to back up your home directory, is also refreshing. With it you can save your entire home directory in a single backup file. Restoring the backup is only a matter of a double-click on the archive on any system that has the software installed. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear possible to back up any directory other than home.

Other minor new features include a new configuration dialog for the mintMenu, a new information screen for mintUpdate, the ability to calculate an MD5 sum of an ISO image by right-clicking on the image file, the inclusion of PulseAudio configuration tools, and memory requirements made lower in several utilities.

Naturally, included in Elyssa are upstream improvements in Ubuntu 8.04, such as the use of the PulseAudio sound server as default, improved printing, the inclusion of GNOME 2.22, Firefox 3.0 RC1, OpenOffice.org 2.4, Linux kernel 2.6.24, and Xorg 7.3. Also included is the GIMP 2.4.5, Pidgin 2.4.1, and Rhythmbox 0.11.5.

On the downside

Not everything in the new release is a clear winner, however. For instance, while the mintMenu is a nice addition to the desktop, it's not for everyone. mintMenu offers most of the system configuration menus in one place, yet it takes up quite a bit of desktop real estate when opened. For people who use low screen resolutions, mintMenu can easily take up most of the screen. Thankfully, GNOME's Main Menu and Menu Bar applets are still there for you to add to your panel if you aren't fortunate to have a larger resolution or prefer the older way of opening programs.

Another problem I had with Elyssa was setting up the proprietary driver for my pair of GeForce 8600GT video cards. Elyssa uses Envy to handle the configuration of proprietary ATI and Nvidia drivers. While the tool detected my cards, they were not set up correctly. Upon restarting, I was downgraded into low graphics mode and informed that my configuration wasn't recognized. Even with adjusting the display settings, I was still unable to get 1280x1024 resolution on my monitor. To fix this problem, I had to use the command line to rebuild the Xorg configuration file and remove two unnecessary "BusID" lines. By contrast, Ubuntu itself is able to handle my SLI chain without issues. Still, I don't feel this is a major problem, because SLI configurations aren't as common in the Linux world as they are in Windows.

mintInstall, Mint's answer to Ubuntu's Add/Remove Programs application, could use a bit of work as well. The features it includes are great in theory, but not implemented very well. For example, you can search for packages from GetDeb (a site containing DEB packages not normally included in repositories), the Ubuntu repository, or Mint's own software channel. The search results are displayed in a Firefox window (in the case of GetDeb) or a text document (when searching for DEB or Mint packages) and aren't easily installable from within the search results.

Mint gives you the ability to move windows to other workspaces even though no workspace switcher is added by default, which could confuse some users. The trash bin is located on the menu instead of an easier-to-reach place such as the panel or desktop. The lack of a 64-bit version is also a concern, as more and more PCs are being sold with 4GB of RAM or more.

The latest version of Mint contains new features galore that help push it above and beyond the distribution it's based on, but it's also hampered by some issues that keep it from becoming superior. Regardless, the features it does contain make it worth a look. Just think of Mint as a great distribution with some hurdles to overcome before it can reach perfection.

Jeremy LaCroix is an IT technician who writes in his free time.

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on Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.210.159.228] on June 19, 2008 05:17 PM
One minor thing - as to the desktop icons (e.g. no Recycle Bin) - that's what MintDesktop is for - add them or remove them as you please. =)

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.210.159.228] on June 19, 2008 05:21 PM
Ah, and the MintMenu - you do realize that you can easily collapse all the panels with a single click and make the menu take up much less space?

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.93.245.65] on June 19, 2008 06:57 PM
I like the fact that when I am done with the install, I can pop in a DVD and watch any "css encrypted" DVD that I own without searching for hours for the codecs, libraries, and the tweaks to make those things work correctly. I don't care if it's illegal here in the US to have that, what I care about is when I fire up my computer that it can do what I want it to. Screw DMCA! If the government or the movie studios want to buy back my DVDs, LET THEM, until then, I just want them to play. As for OGG, it may be the cat's meow, but I spent a month converting my CD collection to MP3... I don't want a lecture about the legality of the encryption and the liscencing, I just want the songs to play. When I go to the web, I can view any page or see any video that anyone else can see when USING MINT!!! MINT IS THE BEST OUT OF THE BOX LINUX EVER. My NVIDIA card worked just fine too (but I don't use SLI).

I was a die-hard RedHat 7, 8, 9 - FEDORA man up to release 8 (WEREWOLF), it gave me just enough headaches that I decided to greet LinuxMINT 4. And with the release and ensuing installation headaches from my video card of FEDORA 9 (VISTA); I am completely done with Fedora!

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legality

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 147.206.4.254] on June 20, 2008 05:49 PM
"I like the fact that when I am done with the install, I can pop in a DVD and watch any "css encrypted" DVD that I own without searching for hours for the codecs, libraries, and the tweaks to make those things work correctly. I don't care if it's illegal here in the US to have that, what I care about is when I fire up my computer that it can do what I want it to."

Well, then you better get to work speaking with your congressman to try to get better laws passed here. "Screw the laws, I'm going to do what I want" doesn't go very far if you are trying to develop a distribution that can be widely used in business, education, and government. That is why I love Debian - not Ubuntu, not Mint, not any other derivative. I want a distribution that is scrupulously legal in every respect. If there is a proprietary codec that does not work with my system, I'll just do without. I can forego 3D games until there are good OSS accelerated drivers.

We need to work for adoption of fully open code and standards. I absolutely, 100% would rather use a technically inferior Free program than a proprietary program that works better, as long as the Free replacement is able to get the job done. Freedom is more important than technical excellence.

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Re: legality

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 220.233.11.111] on June 23, 2008 10:56 AM
Most PCs being used by businesses, contain supplemented user-installed non-free software. So, a distro such as Mint which contains lots of non-free stuff should not be seen as a problem. What you are thinking is that a distro cannot be "officially" adopted by an organisation or a hardware manufacturer without royalty implications. So, for a home user, I see little issue. For organisations, there should be an option for being able to pay a fair price .... until this is sorted out, Linux is destined for the fringes.

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Re: Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.244.126.28] on June 21, 2008 11:48 AM
"like the fact that when I am done with the install, I can pop in a DVD and watch any "css encrypted" DVD that I own without searching for hours for the codecs, libraries, and the tweaks to make those things work correctly."

I can't speak for all distro's, but in most cases it takes about 1 minute of googling, and 1 minute to install the codecs.

I tried Mint for a while, but reverted back to Ubuntu. One of the main reasons was that gtk themes from gnome-look would look bad on Mint.

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Re(1): Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 207.65.99.94] on June 21, 2008 09:10 PM
I guess that i should have pointed out that I live in an area unserviced by HIGH SPEED internet access. Downloading a disk is an exercise in and of itself. While the instructions are good for distros, sometimes the tweaking is a bit timely. When Mint is installed, it's just complete. My favorite thing about fedora used to be downloading a disk then not even getting the internet access to work because of some change from my current version of NDISWRAPPER of the day doesn't play nice with the newer version. Perhaps i'm being fussy about nothing but I like a CDROM sized distro that just works. For me, it's the bees knees.

As for pressuring my congressional leaders, I think everyone in America knows that threatening to withhold one's vote is not as powerful as the entertainment industry threatening to withhold "campaign contributions" (BRIBES) in favor of restricted personal freedoms.

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Mint Menu

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.78.207.74] on June 19, 2008 07:08 PM
Could anyone explain why people complain about main menus taking up too much space? Unless I am misunderstanding they are only being used while launching something. Personally I would rather they took up the whole screen. That would minimize any scrolling, clicking, or hovering to get to what I want. It's not like I am working on something else while the menu is open.

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Re: Mint Menu

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 24.248.89.66] on June 19, 2008 10:22 PM
I don't under having an application launcher take up the entire screen. That is what doing ls in the /usr/bin directory is like. I'd rather use the power of GUI for something a bit more nimble.

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Envy

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.246.29.178] on June 19, 2008 07:29 PM
I never had success with Envy, always try the default ubuntu packages provided with the Restricted Drivers Manager before trying Envy.

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A legitimate test bed?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 96.227.184.217] on June 19, 2008 08:57 PM
"Athlon 64 X2 5200+ processor, 2GB of memory, two Nvidia GeForce 8600GT video cards on a Scalable Link Interface (SLI), and a 160GB SATA hard drive"

Are you serious? That's what you are basing a review on? What are you doing - modeling nuclear explosions or weather patterns?

Maybe we ought to do reviews for the masses and not just the "bleeding-edge"

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Re: A legitimate test bed?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 58.178.217.53] on June 22, 2008 03:27 AM
""Athlon 64 X2 5200+ processor, 2GB of memory, two Nvidia GeForce 8600GT video cards on a Scalable Link Interface (SLI), and a 160GB SATA hard drive"

Are you serious? That's what you are basing a review on? What are you doing - modeling nuclear explosions or weather patterns?"

Well, I've got a Core 2 Duo 6850 @ 3GHz, 2 GB of memory, one GeForce 8600GT (motherboard doesn't support SLI), a 500GB SATA hard drive, and two DVD burners. Some people like high frame rates in games :-)

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.123.120.99] on June 19, 2008 09:08 PM
Hello
I'm living in France now and I also agree that having all the media working "out of the box" is the greatest feature Mint brings to simple mortals. Same applies to proprietary closed source graphic card drivers.

What is ALL WRONG in Mint is identical to what is ALL WRONG in Ubuntu. Here, in Europe, lots of people prefer to use KDE as a desktop. The main feature of this is "Konqueror" very versatile file browser, pdf reader, picture and movie player and so on. Konqueror is great. But the Ubuntu developers, i don't know why, have decided to REBUILD their own version of Konqueror stripping off all the useful toolbars and easy-to-do items that are built in.
The result is that if you use Konqueror in other Debian based distros : Knoppix, Sidux, Dreamlinux and of course Debian itself, you get easy desktop and full functionality.

If you use Konqueror from Mint or Kubuntu you get a completely "castrated" konqueror. Just try to type a letter with your toes instead of your fingers, that's the difference.
Maybe i will try to enable Debian repositories in my sources.list and "apt-get build-dep konqueror" to bring the real and full Konqueror to the Mint desktop.
For the moment, I use Sidux, an amazingly fast distro based on the latest Debian developpement branch (Sid).
Thanks for reading all this.
A. GOMEZ.

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Re: Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.245.25.86] on June 19, 2008 10:02 PM
what's "wrong" to YOU perhaps, but I prefer
gnome, so what's WRONG to you is RIGHT to me. If you like KDE go for it, but this isn't a review about KDE, its about Mint and its using Gnome, so your post feels more than just a wee bit trollish.

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Re(1): Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 216.110.195.123] on June 19, 2008 11:40 PM
I don't think he is knocking gnome. He is making a couple of general statements.
1. When it comes to Linux users in Europe. More of them use KDE than gnome.
2. One of the reasons this is true, is that Konqueror when packaged with all of it's options and plugins as it is by KDE and most linux distributions, is very useful.
3. That Ubuntu/Kubuntu comes with a Konqueror that is compiled with the majority of the plugins disabled. Thus gelding it of much of the usefulness that he has come to know and expect from Konqueror.

If you want to run Gnome and Natulus, or XFCE and Thunar, that is fine with him. He is asking the same question I am (and I live in the states). Which is why do the Ubuntu projects like to strip so much out of Konqueror? They could even compile most of it in and just have it disabled in the config files. But Nooooooooooooooo. They remove much of the goodness that long time KDE users have come to love from Konqueror.

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.164.224.138] on June 20, 2008 07:05 PM
Google search bar in firefox of mint is highly tweaked. It routes all google search done via that google searchbar in top right of firefox to some mint site. It even displays mint logo in google results. I uninstalled mint and again going for ubuntu. I want google to be google, not mint. Sorry mint, inspite of being great it does not inspire confidence like ubuntu.

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 91.66.46.214] on June 21, 2008 03:39 PM
For me the important thing is the improved update manager. I do not have to worry about updates for my asus g1 laptop, I now after updates everything runs as it should, not prob with supend to disk or ram no graphics issue.
Therefor I changed from ubuntu to linuxmint. look here for my German article about it http://zockertown.de/s9y/index.php?/permalink/Elyssa-Release-Notes-Linux-Mint.html

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.101.122.50] on June 24, 2008 11:52 AM
Your comments on the Mint menu are interesting as I read a review of Kubuntu recently which complained about the very small size of the menu, and lamented that it didn't use all the available screen real estate. I must admit that I agree with that reviewer, preferring not to have to open multiple pages of menu; remember the Knoppix menu? :)
Different strokes for different folks, and Linux encourages that.
Thanks for the review, I found it very useful.

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Fresh Linux Mint is a mixed bag

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.70.82.196] on July 09, 2008 05:42 PM
"...Google search bar in firefox of mint is highly tweaked. It routes all google search done via that google searchbar in top right of firefox to some mint site. It even displays mint logo in google results. I uninstalled mint and again going for ubuntu. I want google to be google, not mint. Sorry mint, inspite of being great it does not inspire confidence like ubuntu...."

It helps them generate much-needed revenue for their distro., so give them a break.

http://linuxmint.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=47&t=9504&st=0&sk=t&sd=a#p59133

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