Sunday, September 12, 2010

MintMenu - Now with Even More Awesome

mintMenu is certainly one of the best tools developed by the Linux Mint Team. You can do a bunch of stuff right from within the Menu, like uninstalling programs, adding them to favorites, creating shortcuts or even making them start at boot. A cool feature was that you could install new packages by simply typing their name and clicking the Install this package button. The problem was that you had to know the exact package name in order to do that. Otherwise, you would have to select the "search the repositories" option to find what you were looking for.

It is not the case anymore, as the new and improved mintMenu (that will be default in Linux Mint 10) digs deep into APT and fetches, almost in realtime, all the packages that have the word you were looking for connected to them.

But this is not the only improvement. You can now perform Google and Wikipedia searches, query the Dictionary, look for Tutorials, etc.

As a video always does a better job explaining things than me, here it is! Enjoy!

Oh, you might want to install the new mintMenu yourselves. To do that, go here and choose one of the two methods at the end of the article. If you are running LMDE and decide to download the new mintMenu package, you can install it by opening a terminal within the location of your download and typing "sudo dpkg -i mintmenu_5.0.4_all.deb". Once it is completed, logout and log back in again and it should be ready to serve you.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Distro Hoppin`: Linux Mint Debian Edition

Awww... the baby is all grown up now! Yeap, the time has come for the Mint bird to leave the purple nest and fly to its true ancestor, Debian! With Ubuntu taken out of the equation, I present you... Linux Mint Debian Edition, recently announced by Clem & Co., an experiment started three years ago that now has a clear future ahead of it. 

For now, we will have to make do with 32-bit only support and GNOME as the desktop environment. If you want to test it yourself, you should also grab a DVD, as its 875 MBs of data won't be able to squeeze onto a CD. At least there are plenty of mirrors available + a torrent file to make the download as quick as possible.

I was expecting an Install only ISO, but the Mint team managed to offer us a Live environment, in which my computer happily booted. The experience was a smooth one, with no unpleasant surprises, so off I went to the "Install Linux Mint" icon. Here is where the differences start to show. After pressing next on the default English language, I had to select the timezone from this huge list. Goodbye auto-detection, goodbye pretty map... sigh. :D I kid, I kid, it's not that bad, and I'm sure it will improve over time. The HDD-prepare step is also quite different and a bit less user-friendly than Ubuntu's, but still doable even by a less-experienced user.

At the user creation window, my machine was assigned a KickAss hostname: ms-7519-desktop. Nice! GRUB was next on the list, after which the review page came along and then it began. The lack of polish is also seen during the actual installation process, as instead of the usual eye-candy slideshow, a single awkwardly positioned short presentation accompany the user. Nevertheless, the distro's main features are efficiently highlighted: "Rolling distribution", "Fast and responsive" and "Desktop-ready". The first one is, in my opinion, also the most important one. Rather than reinstalling a new version every six months, Linux Mint Debian Edition comes to stay on your HDD. New features, patches, fixes and program versions are added to your system through the regular upgrade channel. But, being based on Debian Testing, you should also expect more crashes and errors than usual. 

But let's get back on track. Where were we? Ah, the installation. It took only a mere 10 minutes to complete, without any incidents on the way. So, a restart and a textful, imageless boot sequence later, I was inside LMDE. With the same theme and the same layout, it's like looking at the exact copy of Linux Mint that was released a while back under the Ubuntu umbrella (damn you Rihanna!! I cannot see or hear this word without the cursed "ella, ella e e" echoing in my head each and every time). There is a nice selection of wallpapers and themes in case you get bored with the default ones, but still are lazy enough to not open Gnome-look and hunt for others. Yay! 

The famous Mint Main Menu is, of course, on-duty and ready to serve you with the generous software selection offered by the distribution. From here you can add your favorite applications to, well, the "Favorites" section, you can uninstall programs or even add them to the startup sequence, so they'll be up and running each time you power up your computer. Piece of cake (which, I am happy to inform, is NOT a lie)! And let's not forget, if you type in the name of a program that is not yet installed, you will be offered the option to either search the repositories for it or install it straight away if you got the name exactly right. 

Even though Mint now received extra geek points for being built directly on top of Debian, it doesn't mean you can't still brag around with wobbly windows, cubes and whatnot. Unfortunately, it isn't as easy as it used to be. First of all, there's no "Hardware Drivers" app anymore, so you will have to grab your gear and go hunting for your proprietary GPU drivers in the deep, dark forests of... SYNAPTIC! Or you can choose the Software Manager. Whatever tickles your fancy, really. Me, having a current NVIDIA card, I just installed the nvidia-glx package, along with nvidia-settings and nvidia-xconfig. If you have older chipsets, you will most likely have to go with the 173xx legacy driver. Once the installation is complete, there is one more step to perform: open a terminal and type 'sudo nvidia-xconfig' and Mint will take care of writing the new configuration file so you can enjoy the benefits of the proprietary driver. 

You will then restart your machine and observe that there's nothing really Compizish about your desktop, so you will pop open the Appearance window and notice, in despair, the lack of a "Visual Effects" tab. OMGOMGOMG, what do I do noooooooow? Fret not, my dear reader, as the luxuriant jungle of Synaptic (yes, there is also a Synaptic jungle) holds the answers to your prayers once again. Of course, you could use the 'compiz --replace &' command, but why not explore other possibilities too? So, pop up the software manager, search for fusion icon and install that sucker. It will then appear in your notification area of your taskbar. Right click, point to "Select Window Manager" and select "Compiz". 

Then open up a window and start freaking out because your window misses one important element: the TITLE BAR! AAAAAAAAAAA. Take a deep breath and right click on the fusion icon again and go to "Settings Manager" where you will put a checkmark next to "Window Decoration". YAAAAAAAY, you can has title bar agaaaain! But wait, why can't I move it around? WHYYYYYY? Because there's another checkmark missing in front of the "Move Window" button, duh. :) Furthermore, check the "Resize Window" and "Application Switcher" boxes. So, once you can perform at a normal level again, you can start messing around with wobbly effects, rain, cubes and other shenanigans (for added fun, install the "compiz-fusion-plugins-main" and "compiz-fusion-plugins-extra" packages).

There is quite a large update pile waiting for you once LMDE is installed, and you should expect to receive updates more often than the Ubuntu based Mint. On top of that, every once in a while, something will break, but, almost everytime, Synaptic instructs you on how to fix the problems, usually by running a command in the terminal.

As far as the included software bundle goes, there's nothing really to tell the Main and Debian editions apart: Firefox with Flash included, Pidgin, Rhythmbox, VLC, GIMP, OpenOffice, XChat, Transmission, etc. Of course, the LMDE will always have the latest versions of said applications. Oh, if you encounter any kind of problem, just pop open XChat and you will be automatically connected to the Mint Chat and Mint Help channels, where there is almost always someone willing to help. 

Sadly, there is one quite serious issue with the sound server, meaning that you won't be able to play sound from two different sources. Case in point: I watched a few videos on YouTube (with sound), then I wanted to listen to some music so I fired up Rhythmbox and it played them mighty fine. Then, when I went back to YouTube, there was no audio coming out of the videos. And on top of that, closing the window resulted in a freeze and I had to force quit out of it. Next, I opened Firefox again and bam, sound was back on, but now Rhythmbox keeps its mouth shut. Sigh... 

If you have Windows partitions on your HDD, they are easily mounted and written to from within Nautilus, the file manager. You just have to provide your password and you're done. Hardware-wise, the HP Deskjet 3940 printer works as good as it can in Linux (I really should be getting a new printer - the difference between Windows and Linux performance is just ridiculous). USB drives are auto-mounted in a few seconds and my Edimax USB wireless receiver works like a charm. The Samson C03U USB condenser microphone was also ready for recording at once.

There seems to be a problem with the time, as even though I selected the correct timezone, the clock is three hours forward. And if I correct it, it messes up the time in Windows, and fixing the time in Windows will break the time in Mint and so on. :D Bah, time is a lie anyway, so who needs it? Another pet peeve is the way the fonts look on screen. Even though I installed the Microsoft fonts (and that made webpages look a bit better) and adjusted the hinting, there's still something wrong with their consistency. It's a pleasure to look at text in Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distros so, if you figured out what Canonical's secret is, please share.


Certainly! Though a beginner might want to have a helping hand from a more experienced user during the installation process of the system itself and the proprietary drivers, once that's out of the way, it's pretty much the same smooth experience as it is with the main edition. That is if you're luckier than I was with the sound server. The developers did warn that there are some rough edges to be expected and indeed they are. But, considering the fact that this is the first version of the Debian edition, the quality of this OS can only go up from this point, so, needless to say, I have high expectations for the future development of this experiment. If you like keeping your favorite applications up to date at all times, or if you simply hold a silly grudge against Ubuntu, go grab LMDE. Enjoy!

Download Linux Mint Debian Edition here!