Linux Mint version 6 Felicia came out on December 15th and I have been running it on my Dell Inspiron 530 Q6600 system for the past week. I ran Hardinfo on the system if you want to see the specifications on the box. It is a quad core with 6 GB of RAM, so I was a little disappointed that the 64 bit version of Linux Mint was not released the same day the 32 bit version came out. Even though they have a 64 bit version of Linux Mint 5 Elyssa available I wanted to try out the latest version. Mint 6 is based on Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex and uses GNOME for it’s desktop environment. For those who prefer a different desktop, community editions of Mint 6 featuring KDE, XFCE and Fluxbox should be out soon.
A minimum of 512MB of RAM is recommended for the live CD. According to the Mint site, once installed the system works fine with as low as 256MB RAM. The installation process deals with 2.5GB of data compressed on a 700MB CD and it can hang or fail on systems with less than 512MB RAM. I have 6 GB on my desktop system, so needless to say, the install was fast. From the time I put the live CD in to the time I had it installed on the hard drive was around 15-20 minutes. I had no problems whatsoever with hardware detection during the install.
Linux Mint 6 Felicia includes:
- Kernel 2.6.27
- GNOME 2.24 (Nautilus has tab support now)
- Xorg 7.4
- Firefox 3.0.3
- Open Office 2.4.1 (3.0 was available but not included in the release)
- Gimp 2.6.1
- MPlayer 1.0rc2
- Compiz 0.7.8
- CUPS 1.3.9
- Network Manger 0.7.0 (Tools Added for connecting to GSM/CDMA 3G broadband and VPNs)
- Python 2.5.2
- Mono 1.9.1
All Proprietary Codecs Included:
One of the strong points of Linux Mint is it’s easy of use. All of the proprietary codecs that people like to use are included in the distribution. You will not have to download anything to playback MP3 files, watch Flash 10 YouTube clips in Firefox, view encrypted Hollywood movies in MPlayer or play Java 6 games in your Firefox browser. This makes the distribution well suited to people who are migrating from Windows or Mac. Most people use a computer as an appliance. They don’t care or have a clue about what codecs are patent encumbered and why they shouldn’t be shipped with a distribution. They just want everything to work out of the box. So when their MP3 music doesn’t playback in a free distribution, like Fedora for instance, they will assume Linux is “not ready for the desktop” and move back to their Windows or Mac PC. However, it should be said, Linux Mint has not abandoned those who seek a free distribution. They have a Universal Edition that ships without restricted formats, patented codecs or any proprietary components.
Slick looking GDM, Ubuntu System Panel and Two Compiz Configuration Tools:
One of my gripes with Ubuntu is it’s rather ugly GRUB menu. Linux Mint has a polished GRUB menu screen that fits the wallpaper and theme of the desktop. One of the first things you notice about Linux Mint is the Ubuntu System Panel (guide to install on 8.10 here). Rather than using the drop-down style menu at the top of the desktop, like you would in Ubuntu’s GNOME, you access the Menu by clicking the button on the bottom left of the desktop. One of the knocks on the USP menu is the amount of real estate it takes up on your screen. This did not bother me too much, but you can make up your own mind if it suits you based on the screenshot. I did like the filter feature of the menu. It allows you to sort your applications quickly by using a search box. I liked the blue theme and grey background that shipped with this distribution. They also have included a nice selection of addition themes (carbon is cool) and backgrounds (liked the swoosh) if the default one doesn’t suit you.
By the way, if your wondering about the writing on the desktop, I used the Compiz annotate feature on some of the screenshots in this post. It’s a pretty cool tool if you want to demonstrate software features in a screenshot. It just one of the many practical features of Compiz. Another feature, known as the the Desktop Zoom adds accessibility to people with vision problems. With the mouse scroll wheel and the Windows key I can magnify portions of the screen many times over. I was really pleased to see that Linux Mint has included both the CompizConfig Settings Manager and a smaller, simplified version so that people unfamiliar with Compiz will not be overwhelmed by it’s features. Unfortunately, Ubuntu does not include either of these tools by default. I think it is a shame to hide the tools that configure Compiz. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not just eye candy, it has useful tools that aid accessibility and productivity.
GNOME-DO and GUFW:
Linux Mint has included GNOME-DO in this release. This tool works much like QuickSilver in Macintosh. You type in the first few letters of the application you want and GNOME-DO tries to figure out what it is that you want to do. If it guesses the right application, just hit the enter key and it will run. I found that it usually guessed the right application. I think it saves the user some time using this tool versus finding the application in the menu structure. With the default key bindings, you use the tool by pressing the Windows and space keys.
Mint has also added a GUI Firewall tool to the CD. Gufw is a front-end to Ubuntu’s Uncomplicated Firewall. UFW’s syntax is much easier than using IPTables, but it is a command line only tool and Windows folks are going to be looking for a Norton or McAffee like GUI tool to setup a Firewall. For a home user, who maybe just wants to open up a ssh or vnc port on his computer, Gufw offers a simple UI to do so.
Mint Nanny and Mint Backup:
MintNanny is a simple GUI tool to block children from visiting inappropriate sites. You simply type in the domains that you want blocked and Firefox will not be able to view them. It works by adding an entry to your /etc/hosts file and defines that domain’s IP address as being 0.0.0.0. An experienced user could just edit the hosts file directly, but for novice users this is a simply interface that is easier to use. If you need a blocker with more features, you might want to try something like DansGuardian.
MintBackup is a simple tool for backing up your home directory. You can choose to include hidden paths in the backup. Also, you can exclude directories/files that you don’t want. It saves the tarred .backup file in your home directory for later restoration. It provides a quicker way than using cp and tar commands on the terminal to make a backup.
APTonCD is an awesome tool if you don’t have access to the Internet all the time. The program can be found at Applications>Administation>APTonCd. It saves all of the packages that you have installed using Synaptic, Apt-get, or Aptitude to CD/DVD. Essentially, it provides you with your own portable repository. This also works wonders if you have several computers and don’t have the bandwidth to pull down the same packages from the Internet for each computer. Personally, I am out on the road often and pulling down packages with the slow bandwidth of WI-FI is not practical. While at home I can make my own repository on DVD using the great bandwidth of my cable modem. I now have a DVD containing all of the software I wanted to add to Mint and the packages I updated using mintUpdate. This way I don’t have to worry about the WI-FI bandwidth limitations while out on the road. This tool would also come in handy if you were changing your ISP and without the Internet for a while.
Probably the most novel feature of Mint is their software installation tool MintInstall. It give you ratings, reviews and screenshots of the applications in the software manager. It’s kind of like having your own version of Freshmeat on your desktop. On Ubuntu’s Brainstorm adding screenshots to Synaptic or Add/Remove programs has gotten a lot of support. I find the screenshot idea really useful, particulaly when looking at games I might want to download. A tool like this could use the work from the Debian screenshot project. For those who don’t know, this community project is trying to get screenshots of all of the thousands of Debian packages. They could use more applications and screenshots in MintInstall. When I ran it they only had about 450 applications in there. I should note one problem that comes with having screenshots included with the software manager. MintInstall took a good 5 minutes to pull down all of the screenshots of the various applications the first time I ran it. However, I don’t find this to be a major problem since once the screenshots were on my system MintInstall opened up right away. I do think, however, that MintInstall could aggravate dial-up users with low bandwidth that might not appreciate the initial startup time. If you decide you don’t like the speed of MintInstall the distribution has Synaptic available for installing packages.
Imagine a distribution that gives you your own server space to share files with family and friends. Well, that is what the Mint people have included in their software. Free of charge you get 1 GB of server space at linuxmint.com that lasts for two days. You can access the MintUpload service by doing a right click in on the file you want to send and clicking upload. After uploading, just give the person you want to send it to the URL of where it is and they can download it. One of the recent features they have added is the ability to use your own FTP service. So if you have some server space for your Wordpress, Drupal, etc. blog you can use that space to quickly backup files without opening up a FTP client. I tried it out using my own shared hosting account and it worked like a charm. There is a short tutorial on the Linux Mint site if you want to use MintUpload with your own FTP site. You just need to create a text configuration file that has your FTP server name, username, password and path. Put the text file in /etc/linuxmint/mintUpload/services/ and you will have that server choice in the MintUpload dialog box.
This is a neat little tool for sharing files and folders on you local network. Basically, you get a pop-up notification when someone wants to send you a file. The sender gets a pop-up when you either accept or reject the file. The user interface is about as simple as you can get. I tried it out on my own LAN between my Q6600 desktop and my Dell Inspiron 1150 notebook an it worked without a hitch. I prefer this setup versus setting up a shared directory on my system using Samba when I just need to send one file or folder to another machine. Hopefully, being that it is a great tool for novices, Ubuntu will include it when Jaunty 9.04 comes out next year. I would also like to see them include the Gufw utility I mentioned earlier. I bet many new Ubuntu users coming from Windows have no idea that ufw exists. Being that it is a command line only program it is no where in the GNOME menu structure. I doubt many users of Windows are even aware that there is such a thing as the command line. This is why I feel for people migrating to Linux the GUI tools are so important.
Even though Mint has an Ubuntu base, it does not use the Ubuntu Update Manager to keep packages current. They have their own update manager known as MintUpdate. It has 5 levels of package status. Levels 1 and 2 tell you that the package has been tested and approved by the Linux Mint team. The lower levels 4 and 5 warn you that the package maybe unsafe or even dangerous to your system. This metering system gives you an idea of how much risk is involved with the installation of each package. You can choose to hide the more dangerous levels if you want to maintain a more stable system. They also have included a history of previously installed packages with MintUpdate. So if your system breaks all of a sudden you can try to use this to see which package might be responsible. You can also set up MintUpdate to use a proxy server to update packages if you are stuck behind a Firewall. I think MintUpdate is a real improvement over what is offered in Ubuntu. Hopefully, some of the ideas they have used here will make it into it’s parent distribution.
Eject CD-ROM Bug and Problems with Changing Screen Resolutions:
When I installed Mint 6 I ran into the same bug with udev that I found in my review of Ubuntu 8.10. If I try and eject a CD using Nautilus the tray opens and closes immediately, leaving me no time to take out the CD. If I eject the CD using the hardware button on the computer I don’t have this problem. The comments in the bug report at Launchpad said it was a problem with the udev device manager. This proved to be the case on my Mint install, because I was able to fix the eject CD problem by upgrading udev using mintUpdate.
I also ran into a little bit of problems when I tried to change screen resolution. When I booted the desktop I was given a 1024×768 resolution. If I tried to change the resolution either going up or down (keeping the same aspect ratio) the screen would not display the bottom menu bar. A good portion of the screen would be cut off at the bottom. Fortunately, It was not hard to fix the problem. I just did a Ctrl-Alt-Backspace to Kill the X session and logged back in. When I got to the desktop again the screen resolution I wanted displayed correctly and I had no further problems. I thought maybe that it was a problem with Compiz so I tried shutting that off and tried changing the resolution again. Bingo, screen did not get cut off so that is where the problem was. You need to shut off Compiz if you want to make screen resolution changes.
Conclusion: Do you want the Appliance Crowd?
IMHO a distribution like Mint is essential if the Linux community wants to move more people from Windows to Linux. The geeks have long ago adopted Linux as their OS of choice. What we need to do now is convert those people who regard their computer as an appliance. Tools like mint4win and having all the codecs working out of the box is necessary for these folks trying out Linux for the first time. I fear anything less will convince them that Linux is shoddy or somehow inferior in quality to Windows. I think the “it works better” arguement has to come before the “it’s free” argument. Otherwise people will buy the Microsoft bull and Windows will continue to garner it’s 90 percent share of the desktop market. As people gain some experience with Linux I think they will come to appreciate the difference between free and proprietary software.
I should note, however, that while Mint includes proprietary software it is far from being a better looking Ubuntu knockoff with Flash and MP3 working right out of the box. They have, as noted above, made a number of real improvements with mintUpload, mintInstall, mintUpdate and mintBackup. I hope some of their ideas reach the ears at Canonical. If you know someone who has lived their life in Windows this is without a doubt the distribution for them.