Installation notes, Linux Mint Debian 201204

Notes taken during a clean install of Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) 201204. This is a supplement to my notes on installing a new distribution.

WHY LMDE
To put this article in context, I shall begin by stating why I chose to try LMDE and by what standards I judge it. My first Linux distribution was Mandrake 8.1 way back in 2001, chosen because of its newbie-friendly reputation. Not only did it deserve that reputation, but Mandrake/Mandriva proved to be robust as well, never holding me back as my skills grew. No longer a newbie, I nonetheless appreciated that I could recommend my daily driver distro to Windows refugees: it made supporting them much easier.

Still, I had a list of things to look for in my next distro. Mandriva is RPM based, so I would want to expand my skills by trying something Debian based. I disliked spending weeks retweaking every new release, so I would want to try a rolling release distro. And over the years Mandriva had slowly lost market share, making it harder to find binary packages outside its (admittedly extensive) repositories, so I would look for a more popular distro.

Update support ended for my then current distro, Mandriva 2010.2, in July 2012. Mandriva’s then-current version, 2011, was supported for only seven more months, hardly worth the trouble to switch. So I decided it was time to consider other distros. So applying the criteria I had earlier set down, I decided to give the rolling release Linux Mint Debian Edition a try.

PREPARATION
I downloaded LMDE 201204, Xfce, 64 bits, and burned to DVD. The computer booted into it without trouble (user mint, no password) and I used it enough to know it was worth installing for further testing. I launched gparted (available on the LMDE live DVD), shrunk my home partition by 10 GB, and created a new EXT4 partition in the free space to hold the temporary installation. I then booted into my then-production distro to assure myself that the home partition was undamaged after shrinking.

INSTALLATIONS, TEMPORARY AND PERMANENT
Booting back into the DVD, I ran the installer from within the live distro. The installer also had gparted, so I could have done the partitioning at this point, but I believe it safer to partition prior to installation. I chose to install the entire filesystem under / in the temporary partition. I did not look for nor wish to mount other partitions from within the new distro, not wanting to put production data at risk.

Installation of the bootloader (Grub 2) detected that Mandriva 2010.2 was installed and offered to add it to the new bootloader, which I accepted. The installer asked to which partition I wanted the bootloader installed; I accepted the default setting, which overwrote the production distro’s bootloader in the MBR. Both of these decisions were errors, as shall be seen below. During user creation there was no option to manually set UID nor an indication that UIDs begin at 1000, details I failed to notice.

Upon completion of the installer I rebooted. The new bootloader showed both new and production distros; I successfully booted into LMDE.

After happily playing with my new toy, I attempted to boot into my production distro, which failed with a kernel panic. Searching the web I discovered that Mandriva’s and LMDE’s bootloaders don’t play nicely together: the former is Grub 1 (often called Grub legacy), the latter is Grub 2, and they are not compatible. Worse, I foolishly had not backed up my production bootloader. While recoverable, it seemed pointless to spend time in recovering an OS I had decided to replace in any case, so I went ahead and installed LMDE as my production distro.

And I’ve learned my lesson: Test new distributions with virtualization instead of a test partition.

CONFIGURATION
On first run, the Xfce import wizard appeared to import my old Xfce configuration into the new structure. Once imported, I configured Xfce to my liking. The package mintconfg-xfce was not installed out of the box; I installed it. It installs /usr/bin/xfce4-mintConfig, which is simply a GUI with links to other already-installed GUI configuration tools.

A UID mismatch locked all users out of our files but was easily corrected.

Regarding software, I installed and uninstalled the usual suspects. LMDE installs mono-runtime and dependencies, which I removed. LMDE installs Brasero, which has never worked reliably for me regardless of distribution or hardware. After ruining several blank discs I replaced it with the more reliable Xfburn, and configured Xfce accordingly (Settings – Removable Drives and Media – Storage – Blank CDs and DVDs).

As usual, Skype required burping and diapering to work properly.

I tweaked LibreOffice to launch faster, including enabling the LibreOffice quickstarter.

Occasional latency and hard disk activity was resolved by uninstalling tracker and catfish.

pm-utils was installed out of the box, but hibernation was broken: the system would hibernate properly, but when the box was turned back on it would boot normally rather than restore the hibernated image. Fixing the resume file uuid resolved the issue. There are no hibernation or restore splash screens, so a newbie would be left wondering what is going on. The pm-action commands must be run as root, something to take into account if you’re going to use scripts or tools to use power management (e.g. unattended hibernation on power failure).

Video driver configuration
lspci reports I have a “00:02.0 VGA compatible controller: Intel Corporation 82G33/G31 Express Integrated Graphics Controller (rev 10)”. It looks like I don’t have a xorg.conf file — huh?

$ locate xorg.conf
/usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d
/usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/10-evdev.conf
/usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-synaptics.conf
/usr/share/X11/xorg.conf.d/50-wacom.conf
/usr/share/man/man5/xorg.conf.5.gz
/usr/share/man/man5/xorg.conf.d.5.gz

OBSERVATIONS
Mint tries to be newbie-friendly, so there are GUI tools for some of the stuff I though I’d be reading manpages for. Having said that, LMDE’s newbie-friendly efforts have a long way to go. Examples:

  • Upon booting the live CD, you must enter the credentials of user mint and a null password. A newbie wouldn’t think to read the online release notes to find that out; he’d bail and run back to Windows.
  • There are no boot, shutdown, hibernation, or restore splash screens. No, I don’t need them. Yes, they might be easy to set up. But my point is that these are things a Windows refugee would expect and miss.
  • Newbies cannot be expected to fix broken hibernation.

Numerous GUI administration tools need to be run as root to work fully, but there’s no indication of that. It’s a no brainer for an experienced Linux user to guess the problem and relaunch them from a terminal as root, or make the system newbie friendly by using su-to-root in the relevant .desktop files, but a newbie isn’t going to figure that out. Tools with this problem include:

  • synaptic (on the Xfce menu, System – Synaptic Package Manager).
  • users-admin (on the Xfce menu, System – Users and Groups).

Still other GUI administrations tools that one would expect in a newbie friendly distro are simply missing. For example:

  • Video driver administration

I cannot recommend such a distro to a Windows refugee.

I am surprised and dissatisfied by how sluggish the desktop feels. Sure, I have an older box with only 1 GB of RAM, but when a fresh install of Xfce feels slower than Gnome 2 with five years of accumulated cruft did, something is wrong.

The people at alt.os.linux.mint try to be helpful but lack the technical depth of the folks at alt.os.linux.mandriva or alt.os.linux.mageia. Granted, I often misused those groups for technical questions that were off-topic, so it’s for the best that now I have to find where to best ask questions that aren’t distro-specific. I’m not a fan of web-based forums, so I have yet to try Mint’s forums, which is almost certainly where newbies would seek help rather than on Usenet.

In sum, LMDE strives to be my ideal distro — easy enough I can recommend it to a Windows refugee, full featured and secure enough for server use, and an agreeable user experience for me. But it’s not there yet.

ALTERNATIVES TO LMDE
Distributions with similar goals to that of LMDE include Ubuntu, the Ubuntu-based Linux Mint, Mandriva and its derivatives (Mageia, Rosa), openSUSE, Mepis, and Fusion.

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About Warren Post

So far: Customer support guy, jungle guide, IT consultant, beach bum, entrepreneur, teacher, diplomat, over-enthusiastic cyclist. Tomorrow: who knows?
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One Response to Installation notes, Linux Mint Debian 201204

  1. Pingback: Mageia 2 installation notes | A maze of twisty little passages

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