September 15, 2009

Linux Mint Xfce on Notebooks and Netbooks

Two of my favorite things converged over the weekend - Linux Mint, which I think is an excellent distribution for average users, and the Xfce desktop, which I find myself using and liking more than either Gnome or KDE, especially on netbooks.  So the Linux Mint 7 'Gloria' Xfce Community Edition was a welcome addition for me.  The following are a few notes that I have made about installing and configuring it on various of my notebook and netbook computers.

- The Mint Xfce Community Edition is built from the Xubuntu distribution, in much the same way that the standard Linux Mint distribution is built from the standard Ubuntu distribution.  It looks like it includes all the 'mint' utilities, such as install/update/backup/disk/nanny, and the same artwork and themes as the standard Linux Mint distribution.

- Installation is essentially identical to installing the stand Mint or Ubuntu distributions.  When the installation is complete it boots to a gdm session manager, and on login you get a pretty standard Xfce desktop (very similar to Xubuntu).

- When the installation is complete, the first thing to do is let mintUpdate install all updates.

- mintUpdate does not pick up all of the updates that have been made by Ubuntu for the base distribution.  At the present time, for example, Linux Mint still runs on the 2.6.28-11 Linux kernel, while Ubuntu is running 2.6.28-15.  If you want or need to have all of the latest updates, you have to run the Synaptic Package Manager, select "Status" from the display options at the bottom left, then "Installed (upgradeable)" from the status list.  That will show you what upgrades are available, then you can select the ones you want, or simply click "Mark All Upgrades" and "Apply". 

- Even after updating with Synaptic, you're still not quite home free.  Mint Xfce uses Wicd for network management, and like Xubuntu it is using version 1.5.9.  The latest version, though, is 1.6.2 - and I have found that on my HP 2133 Mini-Note with a Broadcom wireless adapter, the older version of Wicd causes the system to hang during boot very frequently if the wireless adapter is enabled, but the newest version of Wicd does not.  So, I update to the latest Wicd by adding their Repo to Synaptic.  Of course, you could do this before doing the full update with Synaptic, and it would then be updated along with everything else.  The Sourceforge pages for Wicd contain instructions for doing this.   (Hint: the -O- in the wget command is an upper case letter O, not a numeric 0, it is used to direct the output of the command to stdout; if the entire command works, you should get a response of "OK")  After adding the key and repo, all you need to do is click "Reload", then "Mark All Upgrades", then "Apply".

- The sound on all three of the notebook/netbook systems I have installed on was working immediately after installation, but after installing all updates there was no sound.  I had to click the mixer icon in the panel, select controls and add "Master", then un-mute and set the volume level.

- The mintDisk program will automatically mount any FAT or NTFS partitions it finds on boot.  If you don't want/need those to be mounted you can control that through Applications/System/mintDisk

- The visible desktop icons are selected in "Desktop Settings...".  Because screen space is at a premium on netbooks, I remove the Trash, Home and Filesystem icons; on ordinary notebooks with larger screens, I leave them on.

- On my netbooks, I set up two panels on the Xfce desktop.  In addition to the standard one at the bottom of the screen, I create a new one on the right side of the screen.  I move all of the simple "icon only" objects there, such as the mixer, clock (which I change to analog), workspace switcher, notifier and show desktop, and I add a Logout button.  That leaves only the text items on the bottom panel - the menus and task list.  I then set both panels to "Fixed position" and "Normal Width", and the bottom panel to Autohide.  The idea behind all of this is that netbook screens are small, so I need to save space, but there are certain icons I like to be able to see and access at all times.  For those, the netbook screen generally has more room to spare horizontally than vertically so I shift them to the right side and don't hide them, and then hide what is left on the bottom panel.  I like the result, but it is really a matter of taste.

- I was very pleased to see that Linux Mint includes Opera in its Software Manger package list (aka mintInstall) - and it is even at the latest version (10.00) already!  Firefox is of course included in the basic installation, but I prefer Opera in most situations.  It's nice to have it included in the package manager, so it will get updated automatically and thus save me from having to keep an eye on Opera updates.

- In fact, it is interesting and probably worthwhile to start mintInstall (Applications/Software Manager), and just click the "Featured Applications" to see what is there.  Lots of good stuff.  I generally also install Picasa and the VLC media player, for example.

That is essentially what it took to get the Linux Mint Xfce distribution installed and configured on my systems.   I strongly recommend it to casual users, and I honestly think that even experienced users are likely to be pleased and impressed with it.  I certainly am.

jw 15/9/2009 

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