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.

Very annoying.

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.

image But y’know, come to think of it, it would be kinda cool to see a Superman logo on that key.. But it’s not there. Oh well.

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.

Comments

  1. Cool. I have a couple Daryna CD’s laying around, popped it in once. Noticed I can watch DivX(or was it Xvid?) video files, said thats nice, and went back to Mandriva(which has support for mp3′s and all that fancy stuff “out of the box”). I never really gave Mint a chance. I, like you, am coming from windows and hate the command line(which ubuntu has forced me to go to several times). I can say that when I started Mint it did look very nice and whatnot. I did notice that Mint got my wireless(laptop, atheros(most problematic for linux if you didn’t know) based) working without editing any files like the blacklist and stuff… which I had to do in Ubuntu… after installing the ndiswrapper… really big hassle.

    But I think I will check out mint a second time… and yes, beryl and compiz are truly awesome… and aren’t resource hogs like lets say aero for vista.

  2. What prompted me to give Mint a shot is the fact a crapload of people downloaded it according to DistroWatch.com. The number was high enough to tell me “Well if that many people dl’ed it, it can’t be *that* bad”. Even though I had worries it was just another Ubuntu clone, it definitely isn’t. It’s just better all around.

    And a small update: The software portal for Mint installs apps so easy it’s not funny. Picasa, Filezilla, Google Earth, Acrobat Reader, Audacity? Works, works, works, works, works, all on *first* try and it lands launch icons in the proper places.

    And screencast recording *with* sound? WORKS. Also on first try. No command line required. It’s all on the portal site. I’ve never seen app installs this easy in a Linux – *ever*.

  3. Great review!
    I am a Linux Mint enthusiastic since December, the best Linux distro I ever tried in my life… and you’re right, it’s just what Ubuntu should be!

  4. You can live without the commandline in Ubuntu too. Use Firefox for install Flash and Totem will ask you if you want to download codecs the first time to run it (and does it since last April), or you just install VLC from Synaptic and it’ll play anything for you. Ubuntu doesn’t contain all of these extra stuff because not everywhere is legal to play certain things, which is really sad.
    But I recommend Linux Mint for any new Linux user, it’s really easy and if they want to learn they will move to another distro.

  5. If you are interested in VMWare check out Virtualbox (.org), a gpl virtualization app, very slick, very stable.

    It runs on Lin/Win/OSX, highly recomended.

  6. I’ve heard of Mint before, but like you, I’ve always just thought of it as another “knockoff”. I enjoy using Ubuntu, however I usually end up getting frustrated with it for some reason or another…usually having to do with something video related (I too use a NVidia card). Maybe I’ll have to give this a try and see if it works better. It would be nice to have some of this stuff work right out of the box for once. The out of the box dual monitor support is also intruiging.

  7. I just wanted to point out the reason that many Linux distros, including Ubuntu avoid having codecs and full dvd accessibility.

    Many codecs are patented, and Linux cannot in most countries legally play the dvds you buy at stores. libdvdcss (I believe its current name is) is illegal in most countries that respect copyright law and also have some variant of the DMCA (though one can argue the main reason that the backers of CSS enforce this law against it is because they wish to sell a license to everybody who would play dvds to decode them).

    It’s basically to avoid litigation. As for the dual screen and flash animations, I agree it would be nicer if Linux had these easier to config, but again it’s probably a patent issue, copyright issue, or closed source issue.

  8. Ok,

    So heres the part where I say, its Free and its not ever meant to directly compete with Windows or OSX. If you don’t like the command-line why use gnu/linux? Its one of the best things about it.

    If you can’t enter a few simple commands into a virtual terminal with a browser open, then OSX is what you need. This review sounds like you couldn’t figure out screen0/screen1 and when Mint does it, BEST.DISTRO.EVER.

    gimme a break. News just in: Linux provides free butter!! BEST.Distro.EvER!!!

    RTFM and Google are absolutly the best advice you can give newbies to linux otherwise every kid who thinks using gnu/linux is ‘kewl’ would be screaming about how to do the simplest thing on the forums.

  9. LOL @ Noob Linux users.

  10. In your comment about using the “Super Key” alone to launch your applications menu, does that mean it launches the custom “mintmenu” (which pops up when you click the logo in the lower left corner)? I can’t for the life of me figure out how to map the super key to open the mint menu, and the mint forums haven’t been any help.

  11. Yes and no. You can configure it to launch a “floating” applications menu which holds the same contents as the Mint menu, but I was not able to get the Super key to launch the from-taskbar Mint menu itself.

  12. Shortcuts… Right click and edit your menu button. go to ‘system/preferences….’ and when you get to the ‘keyboard shortcuts’ icon, do a right click and ‘properties/launcher’. Now you’ll see it’s really called ‘gnome-keybinding-properties’ – Just for fun, open a terminal and type ‘gnome-keybi’ and press tab… then enter… find the action for ‘show the panel menu’. I disabled the alternative (I don’t need to use Alt+Space to bring up the window menu, so I clicked that and pressed ‘backspace’ so that it read Disabled).

    Try pressing ALT+F2 and launching gnome-control-center
    There’s the same keyboard settings icon…. but also you can go from there click ‘advanced settings manager’ (or ALT+F2 ‘ccsm’).
    From there, click ‘General’ and find the place to set ‘commands’ and ‘keybindings’. Now you can change just about Anything to do just about Anything you can think of at a keystroke, combination of keystroke, mouse button, mousebutton and screen area combination – wow. For your menu, how about you put the mouse in the bottom left and click RMB? no need to put our mouse on the icon. Set it to open like this AND using Alt Space.

    Now do that in Windows :P

    I prefer the ubuntu loading screen (black) but agree, Mint is fairly nice – and the desktop looks more like Windows (only one bar and menu at the bottom). Basicallly, it’s the same – gnome desktop usually has a bar at top and bottom. Bottom is for window selection, and easily deleted. Top easily set to autohide so that you have NO visible menu until you press ‘ALT+F1/F2/F3, only now I set it to open the menu with Alt+Space…
    All the ‘mint’ stuff is debian, and I tried it out with ubuntu. The menu is a rebadged ‘SLAB’ which nobody really liked until Mint came along (it’s all hype – SLAB isn’t anything new, it was left off, with the space saving ‘main menu’ available, but the ‘menu bar’ on the top left corner instead. Do a search, there are many floating around, but generally it’s best to get away from using the menu’s – isn’t that the best thing that Vista did for everyone?

    Within an hour or two, you’ll have customised it – it’s already more different from the original than the choice between Mint and ubuntu – but the ubuntu logo has more credibility, the African and Human echo’s make it seem a little more friendly. Minty fresh is an old idea, ‘fresh’ is rather corny, a little like ‘Amazing new Vista, with the Amazing 3D flip’.

    I’m using gnome/ubuntu, with innotek virtualbox giving me a fullscreen XP desktop on one workspace (sometimes integrated wherever I’m working) and possibly Vista on another. I have a dualboot option also for XP, so I can play my windows games.

  13. @Aphex

    “So heres the part where I say, its Free and its not ever meant to directly compete with Windows or OSX.” – I’m sorry, Canonical and many others would argue with you on this one, whether you like it or not, Linux is being pushed as the third alternative, which obviously will attract new users, get over yourselves, your little clandestine nerd-world is breaking up. And another clue, “it’s free” is no excuse for unfinished, broken, missing pieces, or otherwise unusable for the greater part of users interested. period.

    “If you don’t like the command-line why use gnu/linux? Its one of the best things about it.” – Absolutely wrong…the command line is both necessary, AND legacy…like 15 years legacy…it’s not the best thing about it by far. Two major player/groups are responsible for this with their inability to round off their GUI environments 15 or so years on, we all know who they are.

    The terminal is powerful, yes…needed by the user, no. In fact this is still the biggest complaint about linux in general. To boot, this complaint could have, and should have been addressed long ago, but the self important nature of open source app developers, and I’ll call it as I see it…the blatant last-mile laziness of devs to round off what is needed to use a modern OS for users has left us in the dark that is the terminal.

    Mint devs get this, but their numbers are few, yet they have managed to move this issue light years beyond all of their ‘famous’ counterparts, shame on all of them for this, get with the program.

    “If you can’t enter a few simple commands into a virtual terminal with a browser open, then OSX is what you need.” – The trouble with this argument is that it is almost NEVER a simple command, moreover, advice given for said commands once you wade thru the veiled insults, is rarely distro specific, and usually fails. Do you actually consider this a good way to do things this far along? C’mon, nobody buys this claim anymore.

    “This review sounds like you couldn’t figure out screen0/screen1 and when Mint does it, BEST.DISTRO.EVER.” – While I agree Mint is about the best I’ve used, ever…the Xorg screen allocation is something beyond their control is is still a problem for many depending on the hardware used, and no, it’s not an ATI/nVidia problem, it’s Xorg’s horridly sad infighting over basic functions leaving it crippled for so long that is to blame, try Googling ‘why Xorg sucks’, and you’ll find enough info on that subject alone to do a dissertation. Mint got it as correctly as they could, is that now a bad thing? Software that just works for people without lifting the hood, has a grip on ergonomics. Why don’t you go Google that for yourself, and get back to us?

    “RTFM and Google are absolutly the best advice you can give newbies to linux otherwise every kid who thinks using gnu/linux is ‘kewl’ would be screaming about how to do the simplest thing on the forums.” – As mentioned above, there is NO UNIFIED MANUAL for linux…and most likely never will be, for many reasons.

    So, your answer is a lazy-a$$ cop out, but hey, I bet you feel big when you tell someone that, regardless of their age, or willingness to learn. I’ve actually had 20+ yr experienced people tell me, BTW, AFTER Googling it themselves because they had no clue, that my problem was unsolvable due to one frankly BS reason or another….that most likely would be deemed an unacceptable reason for said stunted or broken function in the Win/OSX world. But I’m sure that prompts yet another cop out response of, “well if they work better use them” meanwhile touting how awesome Linux is, and how we should try it. Seems a tad self defeating to me.

    Once again, the Mint crew have done a stellar job of making linux approachable and usable for ordinary users, and hats off to them for it, it’s got to be one hell of an uphill battle, considering the lame attitudes of most of the linux elite communities, never mind the corrupted world of hardware manufacturers with their horrid support of Linux in general.

    I recommend or install Mint at least twice a week to my customers who are interested in getting away from bloated MS OS’s and for one reason or another don’t like Apple. The Mint guys deserve all the support we can muster, not only for their efforts, but because out of the whole lot of Linux devs….they get it, they have a clue, and are willing to work towards a necessary goal.

    Those more worried about the OS than their egos know it too, as evidenced in the “Why Linux sucks” YouTube spots, done by….you guessed it, Linux Developers themselves! At least they are trying to address it, whilst fanboys merely use it to feel better about all that lost time in a terminal when their peers use their comps to get done what they need done.

  14. Actually, playing flash video IS impressive…. strangely

  15. Aviad Raviv says:

    m0deth, i couldn’t agree more about your view of how software should work.

    this reminds me of the lecture “why software sucks” and its all true!!
    the user just wants things to work, he dose NOT want to spend even two seconds figuring out why he can’t pause his youtube video…

  16. I am a old time pc’er ( I dislike mac/apple) no geek but I can biuld a box and setup an basic system or small network. I have always been interested in linux but have not ever had the time to really look into it, until now..

    As a total nubee I can say this, it is not easy to get started. Finding answers to simple questions about linux in general is not easy or straight forward. It seems all (well Most) linux guys assume we all have a clue, well we don’t that is why we are asking the “stupid” questions. The elitist attitude only stops many from investigating much less moving over to this side of the isle.

    So any distro that makes getting started easy (i.e. windows user friendly) is a good thing. I just downloaded and installed Ubuntu yesterday and got it running with no issues, got wine on it and ran in WOW, internet was np and had no issues with it asking me if I wanted my sound drivers installed (nvidia). Just got Mint and will be trying it too and after doing some more reading I am looking forward to the experience.

    The one thing I would like to see just to make using different distros easier (for the new guy) is an app that lets you set up a small partition so when you run “live” from CD it can install the drivers and files you need that are not in the CD, (/home??) maybe a stupid thought.

  17. floorman1 says:

    m0deth,i agree with you and think you hit the nail right on!!
    It is very difficult to find or get the correct answers to any problems from the know-it-alls using linux that actually have no idea on how they got started or who helped them get to where they are at now.
    I had a window pop up saying that i needed to restart x.OK,where the hell is x,what is a terminal.And to my suprise after asking for help in the forums,i was more confused than i was in the start.Asking the question of how to restart x or what a terminal was got me a couple of dumb-smartass answers which left me KNOWING that the persons that answered my questions didnt know themselves and were guessing.
    The huge user support base of some of these distros consists of some of the most ignorant people i have talked to.They think they know it all,ande when the time comes to amaze you with their intelligence,they baffle you with bullshit.
    I have been testing betas for microsoft for many,many yrs and i have used almost all of the versions of linux at some point or other trying to find the 1 for me.
    And i dont recall anytime i have ever forgotten to say open control panel when im telling someone how to change something in control panel.
    So far my favorite is ultimate edition and linux mint,the distro i have used most is pclinuxos,and ya know,i have yet to find 1 that will do dual monitors successfully(different wallpaper)most of the live cds work both monitors fine,but after installing i only have 1 visual on both monitors or the second monitor goes completely off).
    I have dual nvidia 9800gt vid cards,and only 1 of them works in any version of linux i have tried.I have never found 1 yet that works out of the box.

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