SiKing

October 10, 2008

Linux Mint on Thinkpad T43, part 2/2

Filed under: iotal,linux — SiKing @ 12:00 pm
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Linux Mint logoI have been with Linux Mint (and GNOME) for little over 3 months now, several software upgrades, and I think even 2 kernel upgrades. This distro is rok solid and I would recommend it to anyone without hesitation!

In this second post I wanted to go a little more into the distro itself. There are already numerous reviews online, so the below will be just some of my own rants and things that I would improve; and being unemployed right now, maybe I will.

Software: What I liked and what I didn’t

Right after install, before any user changes, I tried some additional things, like mounting external drives, playing various multimedia formats, and playing around with the various tools. Everything worked right out of the box with very little problems.

Wireless

Wireless support, as in Ubuntu, is handled by the Network Manager from GNOME. Being new to GNOME I initially had some issues figuring this thing out. The tool gives absolutely no feedback on what it is doing – the flyover text is usually wrong. Sorry guys, but this one needs work. I know that wireless is difficult at best of times, but I need to know if you’re connecting, trying, sleeping, whatever. And especially if you’re not working, why not. A swirly thing flying around in a circle is not feedback! Tell me what you don’t like, and maybe I can try and fix it. Eventually, after some trial-and-error I did figure out how the tool operates, and especially how it gives you feedback, but my initial impression was that it was plain stuck.

One additional improvement that I would like to see for NM, would be a second mode of operation – call it “home user mode”. Assume that there is one account that has Administrator privileges, and several other accounts that do not – the “Desktop user”. In this home mode, the administrator would set up the preferred network(s) with appropriate security and access keys, which would then all be copied (perhaps after being prompted to confirm the action) into all existing and future user accounts. That way the casual users are not bothered by that pesky WEP vs. WPA, 64-bit vs. 124-bit keys, keyring, and all that other junk.

Package Management

Mint is derived from Ubuntu, which is derived from Debian, hence the native software packages are .deb. There are several graphical front ends, the default being Synaptic. There is also a mintInstall tool, which is suppose to make installation of most popular packages easier. Personally I feel pretty comfortable with Synaptic and so I do not make much use of mintInstall. There is also mintUpdate which automatically checks for updates to all installed packages. The only changes that I made to mintUpdate is to check every 5 days instead of the default every 5 minutes 😯 , and to not bother me with level 3 updates – but neither of these is necessary, just my preference.

One thing that is sorta annoying though: any user that is created as a “Desktop user” does not need to have mintUpdate running, because they can’t do anything with it even if they wanted to – it requires sudo access, which they do not have. For all current and future Desktop users mintUpdate should be disabled by default.

Software

Languages, in the Ubuntu repositories, are a friggin’ mess – at least from my point of view. Could someone explain to me the following? I am bilingual, and so I installed support for Czech to get the dictionaries. Now in Thunderbird when I compose a message, I have the options: “cs_CZ”, “Czech (CZ)”, “cs-CZ” in certain parts, and “Cechia (CZ)”. How about this one: I have a slight patriotic streak, and prefer the Canadian variant of English over the US. So I installed language-support-en. Now I have like ten different English languages, each one at least twice, but not one single version of Canadian English. I had to install that manually, separately for Thunderbird and separately for OpenOffice.org.

After install, I had some problems with Flash plugin. Apparently Mint 5 comes with version 10.0.218; I could swear that mine came with 9.something.outdated. The only reason why I know this is that I had to upgrade it, because several websites, that are absolutely essential to my daughter’s existence 🙄 , did not work. Well, at some point during the upgrade I screwed something up. Although the Flash plugin did work, Synaptic (or any of the other package managers) were completely unaware that had one. Eventually I did fix it, but it did take some investigative work.

Update 08/12/25: Mint5 comes with both Macromedia Flash player 9.0.21.78 and Adobe Flash player 10.0.b218. Things might have gotten confused the first time around.

I tried to get BOINC going; this is probably one of the most worth-while volunteer-driven projects on the Internet today. I had some problems getting the graphical screensaver to work as I wanted, so I decided to dig a little deeper into it. I even went so far as to create a .mint file for it. It turns out, that this is currently not available under Linux. 😦

Desktop

Brightness control is all wacky, on my machine. There is a range of 7 steps that you can have brightness set to. You would expect that pressing the up or down key once, would raise or lower the brightness one step. However, this works only in the up direction. Going down jumps one step below the previous bottom-most level. For example, let’s say that I take my brightness down to level 4 (3 down key presses), and then I go back all the way up (3 up key presses). When I press the down key next time, I will be taken straight down to level 3 – one below the last bottom-most level!

Keyboard Shortcuts I cannot get to do anything; open it up from System > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts. Click Help gives me “There was an error displaying help: Help document user-guide/user-guide.xml not found.” No idea where to get the user guide from. Change or disable any Shortcut has no effect – only the old combination still works. Still searching for a clue here – anyone?

Update 08/12/25: I got these to work now. I suspect I had my keyboard model initially configured wrong in the layout; I now use “IBM ThinkPad 560Z/600/600E/A22E” model.

Update 08/12/26: To get help, install gnome-user-guide.

mintMenu – my kids love it (that is not a put down, they actually do), I myself prefer the default GNOME menu. One change that I would make: any user that is a “Desktop user” (meaning that he has no sudo access) does not need to even see the System submenu (as everything there requires sudo access). These accounts should have this menu turned off by default.

Miscellaneous

From the don’t-eat-yellow-snow department: I tried some of the things I found in an article 10 ways to make Linux boot faster. After turning on the CONCURRENCY (#10: Use a hack with Debian), I lost all wireless. All the other ideas were less useless. Be careful of these crackpots!

There are several apps, where the screen oddly flashes at a very annoying frequency – Google Earth, SuperTux, and probably others. Apparently the problem is somewhere between ATI drivers, openGL, and Xorg – basically extremely complicated to fix. The workaround is that you need to (temporarily) disable Compiz with: metacity --replace. Unfortunately putting this in front of the command that launches the app, such as metacity --replace && googleearth does not work; it’s going to have to be done with some sort of (nohup metacity --replace &) && googleearth or sumtin’or’ther. I’m still working on this one.

Update 08/11/09: Found a workaround here. Thanx Tom!

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