Getting Started with Linux Mint

Wednesday, November 21, 2018 @ 4:23 pm

In terms of operating systems the most common ones are Windows, macOS and Linux. Out of the three, Linux is most synonymous with “free”. Linux Mint is a Linux-based operating system and considered by many to be the most friendly. This blog post will go through Linux Mint and recommendations on setting it up.

As of the time of this post the latest version of Linux Mint is 19. However this blog post will focus on version 18.3 because I experienced random hard freezes on version 19, and 18.3 has been rock-solid for me.

Linux vs Windows:

It helps to compare and contrast the various major operating systems out there. Since macOS is derived from Unix, it shares quite a few traits with Linux so I will just compare Linux vs Windows.

Windows:

  • Pros:
    • Better application support/library (e.g. Adobe Master Collection, 3D modelling) and games
    • More hardware support
    • Familiar interface for many people
  • Cons:
    • Tends to be memory/CPU hungry
    • More vulnerable to malware, viruses, security issues
    • Needs to be defragmented to maintain disk performance
    • Lacks a centralized application library/built-in capabilities like a keyboard shortcut manager
    • Sometimes buggy system updates are forced on you, and you need to restart after most system updates
    • Less customizable than Linux
    • More telemetry/analytics than Linux

Linux:

  • Pros:
    • Lightweight and stable (Linux in general is the operating system of choice to run servers)
    • Strong protection against viruses/malware
    • Auto-organized start menu
    • User-friendly updates (no need to restart your computer every time)
    • Virtually everything is free
    • Respectful of user choices and privacy
    • Because updates aren’t forced on you, it’s a perfect “set-and-forget-it” operating system
  • Cons:
    • May not be compatible with certain hardware
    • Some major software like Adobe products are not natively available in Linux (possible if you emulate them with Wine, run a virtual machine, or dual-boot)
    • A slight learning curve if coming from Windows (lesser so if coming from macOS)
    • Due to the sheer number of Linux distributions out there (e.g. Gentoo, Linux Mint, Ubuntu (Xubuntu/Lubuntu/Kubuntu…), Debian, openSUSE, Manjaro, Arch, Fedora, etc.), it’s easy to fall into analysis paralysis
    • If you specifically choose advanced updates, you might run into issues with kernel updates

This page goes through the above pros/cons in more detail.

Linux Mint:

Linux Mint is a Linux operating system and comes pre-installed with necessary drivers for your wifi/graphics/hardware devices to work out-of-the-box, and essential software such as the LibreOffice Suite (a free, open-source equivalent of the Microsoft Office suite). Running Linux means that you probably do not need to install an antivirus, worry about malware, rogue system updates that delete your files, or having to restart your computer every time you do system updates. Linux has a built-in firewall, built in keyboard shortcuts manager, a software manager where you can install a wide variety of programs for free, and much more.

In this regard Linux Mint is perfect as a “set-it-and-forget-it” operating system. Although, as this post will show, you can tinker around with it and customize almost every setting.

Linux Mint comes in three “flavours”:

  • Cinnamon: sleek and modern
  • MATE (pronounced “mat-ay”): more stable and faster desktop
  • XFCE: most lightweight and stable

Various people swear by each of the flavours; Cinnamon is visually pleasing out-of-the-box so it is the most popular. For more information on the three you can visit this page:

Although there are more features and better support in some editions than others, and some do run faster and use less resources than others, they’re all great alternatives and choosing the right edition is largely a matter of taste.

Other than their features and performance, Cinnamon, MATE and Xfce also represent three different desktop environments, with different menus, different panels and configuration tools. The right one for you is the one where you feel at home.

My personal preference is XFCE.

There are a couple of ways you can try Linux Mint:

  1. Set up a virtual machine on your existing machine (using VirtualBox) – here is an excellent walkthrough
  2. Burn a DVD/flash a USB with Linux Mint and test run it as a live session (without installing it)
  3. Install Linux Mint to your computer as an actual operating system

I personally recommend trying to run Linux Mint in a virtual machine on your existing operating system because you are able to quickly look up solutions. Also you can easily start from scratch if you run into any problems. If you do go the virtual machine route, I recommend trying out MATE or XFCE as they are more lightweight and would likely run better in a virtual machine than Cinnamon

If the virtual machine route is not an option, I’d recommend getting an unused computer and using method #2 above and using Linux Mint as a live session (Linux in general is great at revitalizing old computers).

The guide below will go through methods #2 and 3.

How to Install:

You can follow the in-depth installation guide here, this video, or continue reading for my high-level installation guide:

  1. IMPORTANT: back up important files before proceeding
  2. Download Etcher
  3. Download the Linux Mint edition you want (for the purposes of this guide XFCE is used)
    1. You will most likely want the 64-bit version, 32-bit if your computer is older
  4. Procure a USB stick at least 2GB in capacity which you don’t mind erasing
  5. Plug the USB stick into the computer
  6. Open Etcher:
    1. #1 select the USB stick you want to set up as a Linux Mint install USB (IMPORTANT: make sure you select the right drive)
    2. #2 select the .iso of Linux Mint you downloaded in step #3 above
    3. #3 flash the image; Etcher will also verify the USB stick has been correctly written to and automatically eject the USB when done
  7. Plug the USB stick in the laptop/PC you wish to run Linux Mint on
  8. Power off/start up the computer and press the correct hotkey(s) to go into the Boot Device selection menu (usually F12 but this varies across manufacturers). If you run into any issues at this step refer to this page (if you continue to have problems, try plugging the USB stick into different USB ports)
  9. In the “GRUB” menu, ensure “Start Linux Mint 18.3 ____ 32/64-bit” is highlight and press enter
  10. Linux Mint will boot into a live session which allows you to explore it without having to actually install it to your computer (everything is stored in RAM/memory)
    1. Take some time to explore Linux Mint: open Firefox and surf the web, open LibreOffice Writer (Microsoft Word equivalent), check out GIMP (photo editor)
  11. You can stop here if you’ve tried Linux Mint out and you’re not interested in installing it simply restart your computer, take out the USB stick, and you’ll boot into your regular system. If do you want to install Linux Mint, click on the “Install Linux Mint” icon on the desktop
  12. Go through the process:
    1. Connect to your wifi network when prompted
    2. (recommended) enable “Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, Flash, MP3 and other media”
    3. you can choose to dual boot Linux Mint with your existing operating system
    4. (recommended) do NOT enable “Encrypt the new Linux Mint installation for security”
    5. (recommended) do NOT enable “Encrypt my home folder…”
  13. Once the installation process has finished, click on “Restart Now” (you will be prompted to unplug the USB stick and press Enter)
  14. Go to Menu – System – Update Manager, select “Just keep my computer safe” when prompted to select an update policy (if you have some experience with Linux, you can consider choosing “Let me review sensitive updates” instead)
  15. Refresh to get the latest updates and click on “Install Updates”
  16. Reboot when all updates have been installed

You’re all set! If you’re new to Linux or wish to learn more: https://linuxjourney.com

One thing to keep in mind is take your time – Linux is a whole different operating system and ecosystem. Spend time familiarizing yourself with where things are and how to perform basic tasks.

Installing Programs:

The beauty of Linux is the centralized software library. Gone are the days of going to sketchy sites to download programs for Windows.

  1. Menu => System => Software Manager (or when you open the menu, type in “software” to quickly search the start menu)
  2. Browse through the software library. Some notable ones are:
    1. Skype
    2. Dropbox
      1. If you run into the issue where the Dropbox icon doesn’t display properly in the system tray:
        1. Run dropbox stop && dbus-launch dropbox start from the terminal
        2. Right click on the Dropbox icon in the system tray. Go to “Preferences” and turn off “start Dropbox on system startup” (otherwise Dropbox will keep starting up the same broken way every time)
        3. Next, from the main menu, edit autostart programs. Add the following program to autostart when you log in:
          dbus-launch dropbox start
    3. FileZilla (FTP client)
    4. Chromium-browser (Chrome for Linux)
    5. qBittorrent (torrent program)
    6. Geany (text editor)
    7. Wine (emulator to let you run some Windows programs)
    8. Bleachbit (system cleaner)
    9. VLC (video player)
      1. To set VLC as the default video player: right-click on a video file, “Open With Other Application”, select “VLC”, tick “Use as default for this kind of file”
      2. You may need to repeat #1 for other file extensions (i.e. .mp4, .mkv, .wmv, .avi, .mpeg)
    10. Discord (group chat)
    11. Steam (gaming)
    12. VirtualBox (if you want to run a virtualized Windows operating system within Linux Mint)
    13. Handbrake (convert videos)

Some programs I recommend which aren’t in the library:

  • Tor Browser (secure web browsing):
  •  Signal (instant messenger):
    • curl -s https://updates.signal.org/desktop/apt/keys.asc | sudo apt-key add –
    • echo “deb [arch=amd64] https://updates.signal.org/desktop/apt xenial main” | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/signal-xenial.list
    • sudo apt update && sudo apt install signal-desktop
      • Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. When you type no dots will appear. Press Enter when you finished typing your password.
  • KeepassXC (password manager):
    • sudo add-apt-repository ppa:phoerious/keepassxc
    • sudo apt-get update
    • sudo apt-get install keepassxc
  • Riot (group chat):
    • sudo sh -c “echo ‘deb https://riot.im/packages/debian/ xenial main’ > /etc/apt/sources.list.d/matrix-riot-im.list”
    • curl -L https://riot.im/packages/debian/repo-key.asc | sudo apt-key add –
    • sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get -y install riot-web

If you want to set your computer up as a local LAMP server (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PhpMyAdmin) you can do so in just two commands:

  • sudo apt-get install lamp-server^ -y
    • Configure MySQL with a root password then run the next command
  • sudo apt-get install phpmyadmin -y
    • When prompted for the web server, make sure “apache2” is highlighted and then press the spacebar to add an asterisk in the box so it appears as [*], and then press Enter

Personal Preferences:

Below are some changes I’ve made to the default Linux Mint settings, feel free to read through and do the ones that suit your needs. Note that some may be specific to the XFCE edition of Linux Mint:

  1. (recommended) Menu – System – Synaptic Package Manager => Settings – Preferences – tab General => Section Marking Changes: tick: Consider recommended packages as dependencies => Click Apply => Click OK
  2. (recommended) Menu – System – Driver Manager => select any installable non-free drivers EXCEPT intel-microcode or amd64-microcode
  3. (recommended) Menu – Settings – Settings Editor (not Settings Manager) – xfwm4 => Double-click on mousewheel-rollup and set the value to FALSE (by clicking on TRUE). Click on “Save”
  4. To be able to drag-and-drop window items in the panel to re-arrange them: right-click on the menu icon => Panel => Panel Preferences => Items tab => click on Window Buttons => click on the clipboard icon => “Sorting Order” change to “None, allow drag-and-drop
    1. Feel free to explore the other options and set it to your personal liking
  5. To show the battery status in the system tray (useful for laptops): Menu – Settings – Power Manager: tick: Show system tray icon
  6. To set the screensaver to a blank screen: Menu – Settings – Screensaver => choose “Blank Screen Only”
  7. To remove “Switch Users” from the start menu: right-click on the Menu button – Properties => Tab Commands: remove the tick for: Switch Users
  8. Speed tweak for LibreOffice: open LibreOffice Writer => Tools – Options… => LibreOffice – Advanced – Java Options: remove the tick for: Use a Java runtime environment
  9. If you want to disable visual effects for increased performance: Menu – Settings – Desktop Settings => Window Manager: set it to plain Xfwm4 (instead of Xfwm4 + Compositing)
    1. If you like visual effects you can keep it as Xfwm4 + Compositing
  10. Add some keyboard shortcuts:
    1. Menu => type in keyboard => press enter => Application Shortcuts => Add:
      1. Command: thunar
      2. Shortcut (press on your keyboard): Win/Command + E
      3. Command: x-terminal-emulator
      4. Shortcut (press on your keyboard): Win/Command + R
      5. You can also change the shortcut for one of the existing xflock4 entries to: Win/Command + L
  11. Menu – Settings – Workspaces => Number of workspaces: set it to 1 => Click Close
  12. Menu – Settings – Window Manager => Style tab => “Mint-X-compact” (personal preference; feel free to try out different styles)
  13. Menu – Settings – Appearance => Style tab => “Mint-X-Blue
  14. I really like the Numix Circle icon set. To install it, go to Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following:
    1. sudo apt-add-repository ppa:numix/ppa
    2. sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install numix-icon-theme-circle
    3. Once installed, go to Menu – Settings – Appearance => Icons tab => “Numix Circle Light

Continue reading if you want to optimize Linux Mint and if you’d be comfortable running a few commands. If not, at this point you have a perfectly functioning operating system!

Tweak Linux Mint 18.3 XFCE Edition:

The following tips largely come from the Easy Linux Tips Project (consider donating); note the tips on the site are for Linux Mint 19 (not 18.3). You can visit the site for tweaks for other Linux Mint editions (Cinnamon or MATE).

The following tweaks are for 18.3 XFCE edition (it may look overwhelming but take your time and make sure you enter things correctly):

  1. Open Firefox
    1. Paste about:config into the url bar of Firefox and press Enter. Click the button to accept the risk.
      1. In the search bar, type: sessionstore => Double-click on the item called browser.sessionstore.interval. Set it to 15000000 (six zeroes) and click the OK button
  2. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo sed -i ‘s/false/true/g’ /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/00recommends
    1. Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. When you type no dots will appear. Press Enter when you finished typing your password.
  3. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo ufw enable
  4. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo apt-get install fonts-crosextra-carlito fonts-crosextra-caladea
  5. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo apt-get remove mono-runtime-common gnome-orca
  6. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo mv -v /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/com.ubuntu.enable-hibernate.pkla /
  7. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo apt-get purge apt-xapian-index
  8. If you like visual effects you can skip this step. If not: Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo apt-get remove compiz-core
  9. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: iwconfig
    1. If you see Power Management:on, copy and paste the following: gksudo xed /etc/NetworkManager/conf.d/default-wifi-powersave-on.conf
    2. You will see:
      [connection]
      wifi.powersave = 3
    3. Change the 3 to a 2
    4. Save and close the file
  10. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: lsmod | grep iwlwifi
    1. If the output has “iwlwifi” in red, copy/paste the following code into the terminal: echo “options iwlwifi 11n_disable=8” | sudo tee /etc/modprobe.d/iwlwifi11n.conf
  11. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness
    1. If the output is “60”, paste in gksudo xed /etc/sysctl.conf
    2. In the file that opens, add the following to the end:
      # Decrease swap usage to a more reasonable level
      vm.swappiness=10
    3. If you have a solid state drive, set the value to 1 instead of 10
    4. Save the file
  12. If you have a solid state drive:
    1. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: gksudo xed /etc/fstab
      1. Add the word noatime to the line for your root partition and your other Linux partitions, just before errors=remount-ro so it reads: noatime,errors=remount-ro
      2. Save and close the file
    2. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: sudo hdparm -I /dev/sda | grep TRIM
      1. If you see “Data Set Management TRIM supported” => paste in the following command: sudo mv -v /etc/cron.weekly/fstrim /etc/cron.daily
    3. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following: cat /sys/block/sda/queue/scheduler (if your drive isn’t sda, change it accordingly)
      1. If the output does not contain “deadline“, skip this section
      2. If the output contains “deadline” but it isn’t selected (“[deadline]“), copy and paste this command: gksudo xed /etc/default/grub
        1. Find: GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”quiet splash”
        2. Change it to: GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT=”elevator=deadline quiet splash”
        3. Save and close the file
        4. Run the following command: sudo update-grub
  13. If you have a ThinkPad:
    1. Menu – System – Xfce Terminal => copy and paste the following (line by line):
      sudo add-apt-repository ppa:linrunner/tlp
      sudo apt update
      sudo apt install tlp
      sudo tlp start
  14. Reboot

Support:

If you run into any issues you can visit the Linux Mint forums or go through the Easy Linux Tips Project site.