Sunday, April 5, 2009

Linux Mint Desktop configuration

This weekend I decided to install Linux Mint on my desktop. Linux Mint is a distribution derived from Ubuntu, which is in turn derived from Debian. While Ubuntu already provides a rich and easy to use desktop environment, Linux Mint takes this and makes it a bit more usable out of the box by including some additional drivers and propriety code, like Flash. Mint uses all of the regular Ubuntu repositories and is compatible with Ubuntu specific binaries. In addition, the people at Mint added some of their own customization and there are some extra tools not present in Ubuntu.

Ubuntu releases a new version every 6 months and Linux Mint releases follow the Ubuntu release by a month or two. The current Ubuntu release is 8.10 (aka Intrepid Ibex) and the corresponding release of Linux Mint is 6 (aka Felicia). Also like Ubuntu, there are seperate 32 and 64 bit versions, and you can get it with the default Gnome or KDE or XFCE if you want. I installed Linux Mint 6 Gnome.

The installation process is very similar to that of Ubuntu. When you log in for the first time you are given the option to enable the Root account, which is by default deactivated in Ubuntu. One of the first things to do with any new installation is get it up to date with all the current patches. This works exactly like it does in Ubuntu:
sudo aptitude update
sudo aptitude full-upgrade
There was a problem I an into early on, which was a kernal mount error when using the default kernal. Mint comes with two options to use for the kernal, 2.6.27-11 and 2.6.27-7. By default, it uses the former, but when I kept getting the same error, I switched to the latter and everything now works great. Both kernals are available to choose from at the GRUB boot screen. The way to change the default option is to edit the config file located at "/boot/grub/menu.lst".

Inside this file, at the bottom, all of the boot options are listed. The default is the the first one listed, which has an index number of 0. The next has an index of 1, followed by 2, and so on. To change which is the default boot option change the integer number on the line that starts with the word "default". It should be near the top. Give the system a reboot to check that it works.

All of the appropriate drivers were automatically selected except for two, graphics and sound. I have an Nvidia graphics card in my desktop and Nvidia does not have open source drivers. Because of this, Mint selects an open source driver that provided significantly reduced functionality by default, but the system tells you there is another driver available. If not, this can be selected by going to System>Administration>Hardware Drivers. I selected the recommended Nvida restricted driver and upon reboot my graphics worked perfectly.

My desktop has a Creative sound card. Creative does provide any binary Linux drivers my sound card, but they do provide source code. Download this and entract the contained folder of code from the tarball. Using Terminal, navigate into that folder and enter these commands:
sudo make
sudo make install
This compiles and installs the source code. When I rebooted, my sound worked. Mint includes a bunch of software just like Ubuntu, but there are some additional things I wanted to install:
avant-window-navigator (Mac OS X style dock)
ssh (full SSH package, including the server)
filezilla (FTP/SFTP/FTPS client)
vlc (media player to replace the included Totem)
sunbird (calendar application from Mozilla)
amarok (popular Linux music player)
songbird (a music player from Mozilla with an interface similar to iTunes)
The names listed for these are their package names so to install any of them it is a matter of typing "sudo aptitude install [package]" at the Terminal. I also updated OpenOffice.org just like in Ubuntu which I described here.

Linux Mint includes the same firewall I discussed here, but it included a GUI which you can find at System>Administration>Firewall configuration. There are some other differences between Ubuntu and Linux Mint which I also noticed. Ubuntu included a .bashrc file in each user's home directory by default, but Mint does not. Also, for a graphical installer, Ubuntu has one called "Add/Remove Applications" and Mint's is called "mintInstall".

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