Linux Mint, The Ubuntu That Should Have Been?
Last night I downloaded and tried out Linux Mint 4.0 (Daryna).
Before continuing I’m going to say up front I purposely avoided using Mint because I was under the impression it was just an "Ubuntu with some nice stuff added to it". And there’s a few distros out there like that.
Not so with Mint as I found out.
Here’s what I was able to do with Mint:
- Configure dual monitors – and they actually worked.
- Play Flash animations in a web browser
- Play DVDs
- Play MP3s
Sound impressive? Of course not.
Want to know what’s truly impressive about the above? I didn’t have to go to the command line once. I was able to do all of that completely from the GUI. There was absolutely none of that frustrating-beyond-belief command line crap.
In addition, the interface is super clean, super easy and honestly speaking I wish Ubuntu did all this stuff this easily.
I seriously suggest checking it out. It’s a CD-sized distro so it doesn’t take forever to download – a nice touch.
Begin nerdy technobabble here:
Dual monitor follies
I run an nVidia GeForce 7 series video card with 256MB on board. It has two outputs; DVI and VGA. I have a widescreen 1680×1050 LCD on the DVI and a 1280×1024 LCD on the VGA.
My DVI is on the left; the VGA on the right.
On the surface this really shouldn’t matter, right? Wrong. The VGA port always defaults as Screen 0 and DVI as Screen 1.
On other distros I’ve used it’s always been a challenge (said politely) to instruct via xorg.conf to use the DVI as Screen 0, but no matter how many times I rewrite that @#*&@! file and restart X, the screen flashes a few times and defaults back to VGA as screen 0 all the time, every time.
In Mint I still have the same issue, however, the nVidia setup was by far the smoothest I’ve seen since Sabayon.
After initial install the "restricted" nVidia driver is immediately available as a card-looking icon in the task area so I didn’t have to go hunting for it. Very cool. Click ‘n’ enable. Nice and easy.
In addition, the installation of Envy was listed as an app you can just click and install. It does all the compiling crap so you don’t have to. Were you to do it manually it would take at least a good 15 minutes (or more) of typing a bunch of crap in a terminal without even a guarantee of getting it working correctly. But Mint takes care of it all.
My dual-monitor setup works fine save for the fact the login screen still defaults to VGA first (as it is configured as Screen 0 because I have no other choice). But once inside GNOME the screens set themselves proper. I can deal with that.
I only have one real issue: I can’t enable Desktop Effects.
What’s interesting is that Envy reported I could enable Desktop Effects after a reboot.. but it doesn’t work.
If I configure the system to use a single monitor (either one), I get full Desktop Effects enabled easily. It’s only in the dual setup with Xinerama that it does not work.
Why I was able to do dual-screen full-on effects in Sabayon but not in Mint is anyone’s guess. The only real difference as far as X is concerned is that Sabayon was using KDE environment while Mint is GNOME. I’m under the impression that it should (keyword there) not matter which desktop environment you’re using, but maybe it does.
Totem Player worked first try!
Can you believe it? After the install of Mint (even before I installed Envy) I could pop in a DVD and it started playing. No issues whatsoever. Incredible. No downloads required, no codecs needs, none o’ that. It just worked. Hallelujah.
My only gripe with the Totem player is that it’s a bit too basic compared to PowerDVD for Windows. I have basically no sound options that I could locate (such as boosting volume for loud environments) and the picture options were also a bit lacking.
But aside from that, it worked and that’s the most important thing.
No wheel options for the mouse
In Windows XP I have my mouse wheel-click set as a double-click and use it all the time.
While it’s true the wheel does proper scrolling in Mint (something very much appreciated), I could find no options in the Control Center for mouse wheel options. Either I’m not looking hard enough or maybe there’s some other package I can download that will give me those options. All I want is the wheel-click to be a double-click; that’s all I require.
Network is fast without any IPv6 disabling required
On a few distros I’ve tried (such as Fedora 7 and Ubuntu 7.10) the IPv6 is enabled by default. This ordinarily isn’t a problem per sé but depending on your ISP it can slow down your internet to a crawl.
In this situation you either type in about:config in Firefox and set network.dns.disableIPv6 to true or manually turn IPv6 off via, you guessed it, a manually edited file. The file is different depending on what distro you’re using.
Some Linux nerd made a comment to me once that disabling IPv6 cripples the network on the box but never said exactly why. Well, it’s already crippled by the fact when IPv6 is on the internet speeds crawl, so what’s the @#*&^ difference? Hmm?
Linux nerds are funny like that because they’ll always point out your problems but never offer solutions other than RTFM. Yeah, thanks a lot. What manual? A-ha! Gotcha there, Charlie. And no, "Google it" is not a proper answer either. Try helping instead of blabbering, jackass.
But I digress.
I didn’t have to do any of that IPv6 disabling crap in Mint. The networking worked flawlessly and the internet speed was fast like it should be.
As an aside, on a recent tryout of Fedora 8 it didn’t have the IPv6 issue on my network 7 did.
Mint Updater works well
The updating program for Mint is actually a bit better than Ubuntu because it states severity levels for each update listed, denoted by a big 1, 2 or 3. This is a really nice touch and truth be told, I actually haven’t seen update severity levels listed in any other operating system that I know of (Windows and OS X included). Not like this, anyway.
Crashes apps less
In Ubuntu as well as others there would be times I’d have to do the tried-and-true "kill app" thing. This normally happened because an app was looking for something that wasn’t installed (i.e. a codec, driver or whatever), but the fact Mint has all that stuff pre-installed gives pretty much every app more stability. Why? Because if an app searches for something it needs to run, it’s there.
I only ran into a "Mint needs [this] to launch [this]" when in the Control Center – and it only happened once. But the Control Center didn’t crash. It just reported the error, you click OK and go back to where you were.
Yeah, I know this sounds overly simplistic but I have experienced times in other distros where the Control Center/Panel/Whatever would actually crash if that happened and you’d have to "kill" it before going back.
Super key works without any need for combination keystrokes
In no distro of Linux is the Win-key ever called the Win-key. It’s always called the "Super" key.
And I were putting Linux on a Mac I’d call it the Apple or Command key.
Why? Because that’s what they keyboard shows it as. I don’t see a Superman logo on that key so there’s nothing super about it.
In some distros I can head to the Control Center and set a keystroke to pop up the Applications menu when I press the Super key. In others it’s required to have it as a combination like Super+A.
In Mint I can pop up the apps with the Super key alone and I dig that.
And yes I do this because that’s the way the Start Menu is brought up in Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP.
Conclusion (for now)
Later on I’m going to see if I can get VMWare running in Mint and also see if I can fix that Desktop Effects thing for the dual monitors.
For those who ask why I care about Desktop Effects so much, if you’ve ever used Beryl you know exactly why. It absolutely blows the doors off of anything Windows or OS X can do as far as user experience is concerned. Is it useful? No, but who cares? It’s modern, it’s cool and it looks awesome.