Sunday, July 27, 2008

SSC #71 Its Linux and its Minty Fresh!

This week I'd like to talk to you about Linux Mint.  I think I may have mentioned it a few months ago, but I'd like to give it the proper treatment this week.  So without further ado, I present to you, dear reader, Linux Mint 5, codenamed Elyssa.

One thing you must understand about Linux is that due to its open nature, anyone can use the sourcecode from an entire operating system.  It is sometimes slightly frowned upon, such as in the case of CentOS repackaging and redistrobuting pretty much the entire RedHat operating system.  While there's nothing official and no-one is getting sued, some have questioned if CentOS is hurting RedHat's business.  CentOS is free, RedHat is a commercial distrobution that charges money for its newest edition, as well as for support.  One could argue that CentOS is eating RedHat's lunch, but as CentOS isn't making money from doing this, nor is it providing professional support channels, those who use CentOS would likely have gone for a free distrobution in any case.  Its just something that comes along with being Open Source. 

Based on Ubuntu, Linux Mint is a re-branded and repackaged offshoot with many very nice improvements.  It started out simply as just Ubuntu with audio/video codecs added in, but its grown beyond that by quite a bit. While it started out as just a pet project by one man in his spare time--and really, it still is just a pet project by one man in his spare time--with the help of the communty of users he has gathered, its become quite well rounded and has improved upon Ubuntu in many ways.

Unlike the case of CentOS and RedHat, Ubuntu has not shown any hard feelings at all about the existence of Linux Mint (nor any of the other offshoots).  Ubuntu is free, and Canonical only seeks to make money by providing professional support services.  Being that Ubuntu itself has pretty much the same repackaging/improvement relationship between themselves and their parent distro, Debian, there's not much really they could say.

Anyway, on with the story.

I decided recently that I wanted to wipe my laptop and re-install Ubuntu.  I had been using the same installation for over a year, and while it had started out with 7.04 Feisty Fawn, I had upgraded it to 7.10 Gutsy Gibbon, and then a couple months ago, 8.04 Gutsy Gibbon.  I had upgraded through the automatic upgrade tool, and while it still worked fine for me, I felt that it might run a little better if I were to wipe and start again.  The reason for this is that I tend to do a lot of tinkering around with things in keeping with the learning process and I had tinkered with a few things I should probably had read more about first.  So it was sluggish.  Easy enough to fix.  I backed up my home folder and some other files from around my system that I thought I would need (specifically /lib/firmware where my wireless card drivers resided).  

I was in the process of reaching for my trusty Ubuntu install disk, and suddenly recalled having downloaded the Linux Mint ISO (disk image).  Figuring I would just install it for long enough to give it a test drive for review purposes, I popped it in and installed Linux Mint 5.  At first look, it seemed to be just like Ubuntu with a couple visual upgrades, no big deal.  But then I started to notice little changes... small details and improvements.  

If you have ever driven a luxury car (not that I can afford one, but I've driven one a time or two) you notice that for the most part its just like a regular car.  It has the same controls--gas pedal, brake pedal, steering wheel, shifter--where the "luxury" part comes in is in the small details and little amenities that make you feel like you're in a well-crafted machine.

Linux Mint is like that.  Attention has been paid to the small details to make the user experience just that little cut above the rest.

So I went about setting the desktop up in my own fashion, and installed the software that I have come to rely on.  About a month ago, I set about learning how Ubuntu's software repositories worked and I took all of the .deb software packages that I had downloaded and put them in a relatively small (4 gigabytes) software repository served out across my home network.  This allows me to quickly and efficiently set up a freshly installed machine in about half an hour, much quicker than downloading software and updates for each machine.

I was relieved to learn that Linux Mint was not changed enough to make it incompatible with my Ubuntu packages.  All the software I had downloaded previously worked just fine with it since it was based on Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy Heron, so that was a big plus. So after adding my home repository to the /etc/apt/sources.list file, I simply opened a terminal and typed in "sudo apt-get install vlc ssh audacious audacity virtualbox frostwire wine" and let it do its work.  A short while later, my freshly installed system was decked out in all of the software i know and love.  Going back in I noticed a couple things that were missing from a default Ubuntu installation, most notably games and a VNC (remote desktop) viewer.  The games I can do without, and a moment at the terminal with "sudo apt-get install xvncviewer" set that to rights.  

There are graphical ways to install software as well, such as the handy-dandy Synaptic Package Manager, which is included in the default Linux Mint installation, as well as a new thing called the Linux Mint Software Portal.  The software portal is great for those of you who are new to Linux.  Its entirely web based and works in your web browser.  It shows all the available software in easy to understand webpages with screenshots and descriptions.  Click one link and it will automagically install the software. Presto Chango!  But it was more than I need for my setup, and I already had the packages I needed stored locally on the LAN.  But I do plan on checking out new software via the software portal.  Its just such a beautiful solution to the problem of software installation.

Linux Mint also includes a neat utility to upload files to other people.  This is great for casual computer users.  If you're trying to send a file to a friend that is bigger than 10 megabytes, you quickly find that you can't email it since it is too big to send as an attachment.  There are lots of things to solve this problem, such as Peer2Peer software or web-based file-transfer services like, but few of them are as easy as the Linux Mint file transfer utility.  Just right click the file and click Upload.  Once it is completely uploaded, you get a link to give your friend where they can download it.

See what I mean? Little touches and amenities that make all the difference.  But unlike a luxury automobile which not all of us can afford, Linux Mint is something we can all afford.  Its free to download, free to copy, free to share.  Go and get a copy for yourself at and check it out.

So at the end of all of this, I have decided to stick with Linux Mint.  Its a hard thing to do to get me away from Ubuntu, but with Linux Mint, I get all of the benefits of Ubuntu, plus those elegant little touches that make it just that much more enjoyable.  See you next time!

If you live in Russell County or the surrounding areas and you need help fixing your computer, give me a call at (606) 219-4088 to set up an appointment.

If you have a question or comment, feel free to email me at

If you'd like to read my past articles, browse to

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