Why I Made The Swtch to Linux Mint

03/04/2012 § Leave a comment

I’m a very big fan of the BSD fork of Unix and use OpenBSD exclusively as a network stack (pf, SMTP, bind, name, squid), but for the desk top it always seemed a little kludgey to me, so I’ve always used Linux. I’ve tried many different flavors of Linux, but settled on Ubuntu for a desktop machine after I reading about it on Slashdot. It was (and still is) by far the smoothest install of all I’ve tried, and I think its popularity bares this out. I’ve been using it since Fiesty Fawn and was very happy with it.

Mid 2010 Canonical announced Unity, and in doing a little digging I found some comments by Shuttleworth himself explaining to the effect that the X system was very buggy (and I agree), and they had been wanting to improve Linux’s entire graphical subsystem; the fruits of that effort are Unity Desktop. And of course there would be some changes to it as a result.

I don’t want to be “that guy”, the curmudgeonly old dude who rejects new technology, so I tried real hard to embrace Unity. But I’m a stickler for desktop real estate- I always set task bars and launcher pallets to auto-hide when they have them, and I like to set the color scheme to combinations that are easy on my eyes (and Ubuntu’s brown/rust scheme is just hideous, I’m sorry), and I like to use minimally-sized window borders and so on… the list goes on. I don’t mind too much setting these things up after a new install, but I do demand the ability to set things up how I want them. Its one of the joys of Linux that you can set things up how ever you want.

So after having run Hardy long after Natty Narwhal had been released I decided an update was long due. After the update I tried very hard to get used to Unity. But I couldn’t deal with that left side application launcher thing; its huge, and uses rules to hide and reveal itself in non-intuitive ways, as far as I was concerned. Then I noticed that the login screen had an option to use the classic desktop. After flipping that on I was almost home free. I had to do some research to figure out how to configure a few things to the way I liked and *bingo*, I was back in my old stomping ground. Life was good.

THEN, a year later, things changed drastically. First, Oneiric Ocelot was released, riding static on a distro really isn’t a good idea. Plus, I munged up my package manager system, and since I use autotools that was an untenable condition, so time for another step up in distro. After letting upgrade do its work I logged into to my new set up fully expecting to be able to configure the system as I had last time. I had done my research and knew that Gnome Classic and Metacity had been removed from the release but could be installed using Synaptic and making a few changes. But I started having problems when I got actually configuring things; not all of my customizations were coming together. For one thing it took me forever to figure out how to set the window manager to use the Crux design, which I prefer to all others.

I have a netbook I run Linux on exclusively; the thing sucks up Linux like a hose. The biggest deal with this book is rather than using a shitty Broadcom wifi chip its using an Intel device that Ubuntu has supported since Feisty that supports promiscuous mode, and the GFX subsystem is another Intel chip, the GM45. Intel, probably not surprisingly, actively supports OSS with a relatively open policy with regard to their specs. More drivers mean more users. I get full device support, powered by a 1.3 GHz Celeron CPU, not an Atom, 4 GB ram, and an HDMI port. All inside a netbook form that allows easy access to the SODIMMS and the 3.5″ HD. And I use it with a wonderful VIZIO 24″ LCD, this is a necessity; I dock the book by simply hooking it to the HDMI and use a bluetooth mouse and kb and get working. Its a set up I’ve gotten very comfortable with, and Natty handled it beautifully. When I dock it I switch off the book’s display and audio and switch them to the LCD.

So after installing Onerirc I did my usual HMI switch. Immediately both displays went dark. Obvious problem. After letting the “keep this config” prompt time out and I was back to being able futz with things I tried again. Same problem. After screwing about for a bit I found that I could have both displays only. I was prepared to live with it as long as I could use the 24″ as my main display. But I couldn’t have that either. I couldn’t find any way to move the system menu to the larger display. Well, that was a problem.

Months earlier I bought one of those tiny Via Artigo pcs intending to use it primarily as a media server with Ubuntu as its OS. During hours of tinkering with different distros trying to get the video working (and it doesn’t, Via only makes drivers for Windows) led me to try Mint as a possibility. I installed Mint, and have been happy with it ever since. My video set up works exactly the way I wanted it to! Life is good again. Be sure to install Cinnamon if you want the old Gnome 2.2 action. Its pretty sweet, it gives you back the old functionality on top of the Gnome 3.0 stack.

Seems I’m not alone, read this blog post.

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