Linux Mint 3.1

The Mint desktop after I've had my way with it

Mint. It flavors your toothpaste, makes peppermint patties all the more enjoyable, and now it powers your PC. I installed the Ubuntu / GNOME-based Linux Mint 3.1 on an Acer Aspire 5100-5674 laptop in late September, and have been using the system for about two weeks without too many hiccups. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The installation process went without a hitch and took about half an hour. I opted to use the entire hard drive, so it beats me how effective Mint’s partitioning tool is. Upon restart, I was presented with your typical log-in screen, and was pleasantly surprised to find that my laptop’s default screen resolution of 1280×800 was recognized.

I logged in and started performing the usual post-op tasks, starting with 3D drivers for my video card (ATI Radeon Xpress 1100). For this, Mint provides an everyman’s tool: Envy.

Butt-ugly, but it does the job

Choosing the “Install the ATI driver” option resulted in the proper video drivers being downloaded and installed (luckily I’d already plugged into my wired network, else the script surely would have come down with a case of the bends). Upon restart, I fired up a terminal and ran the ol’ “glxgears” command, and all was well—at ~1500fps.

Sound worked without nary a pop or scratch. Thanks to a Python script provided in the Mint forum, my built-in Broadcom wireless card works, though after an hour or so of surfing the Web, I had my first system freeze-up in two weeks. This may or may not be related to wireless drivers; I’ll have to wait and see if the problem recurs.

Two pieces of hardware that refuse to play nice: the ENE flash card reader and the Acer OrbiCam. The card reader will supposedly be supported by an upcoming version of Ubuntu; I haven’t looked too deeply into the webcam problem as I’m not a webcam kind of guy. I suppose it would be nice to have if a 19-year-old cheerleader named Ashley wanted to cyber. :P

On the desktop side of things, the included GNOME 2.18.1 is its usual minimalistic self, save for the inclusion of the Mint Menu:

A bit silly, though the search function is nice

…which strikes me as an attempt to keep up with Windows Vista’s beefed-up Start menu. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s worth replacing the standard (and quite efficient) GNOME main menu unless you specifically prefer the Vista-ish style.

On the topic of GNOME, I should point out that in a previous article, I offered a list of annoyances that kept me from using GNOME as my primary desktop. Let’s see what’s changed, if anything:

  • Window manager maximization troubles—gone, for the most part. One or two apps still have trouble remembering how to stay maximized; I’ve been told that it’s an app issue and not the fault of the window manager. An improvement, regardless.
  • File selector dialog—still has a tendency to open up at the bottom of the screen, forcing me to drag the window up so I can resize it to give me a decent file view. This is unforgivable.
  • The automount feature in Nautilus seems to no longer interfere with CD / DVD burning. Hurrah!
  • Mime types and file type icons are still not editable via a handy dialog box, ala KDE or Windows. Not quite unforgivable as the file selector problem, but annoying nonetheless.
  • Scrollbar width is still not easily adjustable. I’m sure this will become more of an issue as higher DPI monitors become more mainstream.
  • Screensaver options are still unavailable.
  • GnomeBaker—I gave up and started using K3b, a vastly superior CD / DVD burning application. No Mode 2/XA problems there.
  • GNOME panel menu editing is now as easy as right-clicking the launch button / logo and selecting “Edit Menus.” Good job, boys and girls.

Overall, Mint has satisfied my lust for a good office system that lets me listen to MP3s while I work or watch videos during my lunch break. My laptop’s boot time is about 60% faster than it was using Vista, and the odd audio-versus-network overhead problem that caused my sound to skip in Vista is blissfully gone in Mint (I suspect this is the case with most modern Linux distributions). The included audio and video codecs work out of the box—though Firefox tends to crash often with the Flash plugin installed. But that’s always been the case with Flash in Linux, and it will most likely continue to be the case as long as Adobe refuses to treat their Linux presence as more than just an afterthought.

But I digress. ;)