2012-07-31

Long-Term Review: Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce

If you've read my very recent review of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce, you'll know how pleased I was with it. Given that my latest long-term review of Kubuntu 12.04 LTS "Precise Pangolin" just ended, I needed something new, so this was going to be it. Follow the jump to see what this is like over the course of 7-10 days.

Day 0

In my previous long-term reviews, I simply summarized the results of live USB session testing on my personal laptop and my UROP desktop because the original review may have been many weeks before. Because the original review for this was published so recently, I will just refer you to that; also, the live session worked well on the UROP desktop.

Day 1

The installation process is standard for Ubuntu and its derivatives. There are only two minor complaints that I have. The first is that the installer window cannot be resized, which makes it quite annoying to scroll through and make changes to a list of partitions where only one or two entries are visible at a time. The second is that the question of where to install GRUB occurs in the same step as the partitioning, rather than at the end; this means that instead of the installer smartly recognizing the device on which Linux Mint has been installed and suggesting that as the installation target for GRUB, it instead suggests the installation medium (in this case, my USB drive) as the installation target, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Other than that, the process took only a couple minutes, after which point I rebooted.

Interestingly, the boot menu no longer appears to be themed. GRUB only shows plain white text on a plain dark gray background; I don't know if this is now standard for Linux Mint or if it is an artifact of GRUB as installed by Kubuntu previously. After that came the blank boot splash screen that has become typical of Linux Mint, and after that came the MATE Display Manager (MDM) which is the standard login manager for all editions of Linux Mint save the KDE edition. It's a fork of GDM 2.20 and is equally customizable, but unfortunately one thing it can't do (unless a proper theme is chosen) is show the users in a list. This means that I have to type in my username along with my password every time I want to log in; considering that this is just a normal desktop computer, that seems rather unnecessary, so I made it a point to replace MDM.

The first thing I did after logging in was run the Linux Mint Update Manager and install all updates. That took a few minutes, and after that, I ran the Synaptic Package Manager to apply the remaining updates to core packages like the Linux kernel and X/11. After that, I removed large packages I wouldn't be using like Pidgin, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Banshee while installing packages that I would be using like Redshift, the Elementary icon theme, the "Greybird" GTK+ theme, LightDM (and I had to make a minor edit to its configuration file, changing "cinnamon" to "xfce"), and GConf-Editor. After that, I purged the system of all Compiz-related packages, added the PPA maintained by Mr. Daniel Van Vugt, forced the versions of Compiz packages to be from that PPA, and reinstalled those. Once those were installed, I locked their versions to prevent further upgrades, given that the packages in the PPA are technically older than the ones in the main repository. Unfortunately, the Linux Mint Update Manager does not respect locking package versions in the Synaptic Package Manager and claims that further updates are available; this is not a regression because it was true at one point even for my installed system on my laptop, so as was the case then, I had to open that and right-click the relevant packages and elect to ignore future updates for those packages. Finally, I added Compiz and Redshift to the list of programs to start upon logging in, removed things like MintWelcome and the Bluetooth applet from that list, made many of the same customizations to the desktop as I did in the original review, and made Plymouth use the normal Linux Mint theme rather than a blank screen for the boot splash.

After that, I rebooted and found in the boot menu that the newer Linux kernel had indeed installed correctly. Beyond that, Plymouth was in fact using the themed boot splash. Finally, LightDM rather than MDM appeared when I needed to log in. The only issue with that was that it showed a garish purple background that is the standard for Ubuntu. I searched for tips in the Ubuntu forums for fixing this, found one, and changed the background to what I wanted; the only issue is that when LightDM starts, it momentarily flashes the purple background before showing the desired background.

With all that said and done, Linux Mint with Xfce works absolutely amazing. I was able to do all my usual UROP work through SSH just fine. I'd like to see how it goes in the coming days.

Day 2

The only issue I had today was with LightDM, and that was in the fact that the initial purple flash combined with the out-of-place branding were starting to annoy me. I decided to remove LightDM and reconfigure MDM as per instructions found after searching online, but I couldn't seem to customize the default theme at all or make a clickable list of users. I decided to switch to a plain theme, whose GTK+ theme and background I could customize. This does have a clickable list of users so I don't have to type in my username in full every time I want to log in. The background worked fine, and the GTK+ theme was changeable in the login screen itself. I was able to click on my username to be prompted only to type my password; hence, it feels a lot more like GDM 2.30 to which I have become accustomed, and that made me pretty satisfied. Other than that, things worked fine overall.

Day 3

Yesterday, I was able to change the GTK+ theme of MDM to match that of the desktop. Today, when I logged in, I found that the GTK+ theme had reverted to the default that comes with the desktop. I hope that having changed it as the first thing done today will keep it like that for a while; if not, I may need to go digging through some configuration files to make it permanent. Otherwise, things worked fine today.

Day 4

Today, as with yesterday, the GTK+ theme in MDM had reverted to the default, which was annoying. I decided to rectify this by replacing MDM with GDM, which I've used for a while and am OK with using now. Unfortunately, there appears to be some small PNG image file which causes a conflict between GDM and MDM, so GDM could not be installed. I decided then to revert to MDM and just use the default themed style which requires me to type in my username every time I want to log in.

Also, I've found that some things like Eye Of GNOME and Thunar in Linux Mint with Xfce are a little slower than I'd like to see. I can understand why Eye Of GNOME is slow: it was never particularly fast in the first place, and it's a GNOME 3 application in Xfce. Thunar, though, surprises me in how it doesn't actually seem to be any faster than Nautilus in GNOME (versions 2 or 3, or Caja in MATE); plus, it lacks features like tabbed browsing, split views, and the ability to navigate using both buttons and breadcrumbs (and the breadcrumbs seem to choke on long directory names). Given that Thunar is now almost as tightly integrated into Xfce as Nautilus has been into GNOME, there doesn't seem to be much hope for me to fully replace Thunar with something else, so I'll just have to stick with it for now. That said, in my past long-term review experiences, I have found that Gwenview and Dolphin in KDE seem to work quite a bit faster, and of course both are much more powerful.

Otherwise, things worked fine today. I was able to get my UROP work done as usual.

Day 5

One of the things I wanted today was to use and customize LightDM to either remove the momentary purple flash at the beginning or replace the color with something less obtrusive like black. Somehow that slipped my mind, so I'll get to that tomorrow. Anyway, other than that, things worked fine as usual today.

On a related note, I reviewed Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE and found that none of the video players included were able to play some of my local video files properly. Just to be sure, I tried the same files and more with a live USB of the Xfce edition, and those all worked with VLC and GNOME MPlayer, but not all worked with Totem. This isn't too surprising because I've had mixed results with Totem in the past, so that's why I usually stick with VLC or GNOME MPlayer when I need a full video player (i.e. not Gloobus-Preview) anyway. This also means that at this point, I am basically set on installing Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce on my personal laptop. I will wait another week to finish this long-term review and go a few days into the long-term review of the KDE edition, but because of my wireless Internet issues stemming from Linux Mint 9 LTS "Isadora" no longer recognizing my ethernet cord, I will probably do the installation next weekend. While I will go through with the long-term review of the KDE edition in full, I probably won't wait for that to finish to do this installation because that won't be done until the last day that I am on campus for the summer.

Day 6

Today I tried to configure LightDM to replace the momentary purple flash with something else. Unfortunately, some of the configuration files that are usually present for LightDM in Ubuntu are missing on the installation in Linux Mint due to the lack of Unity and other Ubuntu-specific components; this includes the file needed to change that color flash. Then I found out that LXDM, the login manager for LXDE, has theme support as well as the capability of displaying users in a list rather than forcing users to type in the username in full. When I installed and tried to use it, though, it displayed a list of users like "syslog", "usb[something]", and "saned", but not my own username. I had seen a post about this when looking up general information about LXDM, so I went back to that and tried to effect those changes, including but not limited to blacklisting those weird usernames and whitelisting my own username. Unfortunately, none of those things worked, and LXDM refused to recognize my own username (when I opted to log in with a username not on the list) as valid. Hence, I had to go back to using LightDM and bite the bullet regarding the purple flash. I guess if I install Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce on my personal laptop, I could deal with that, though it might be a little annoying; that said, I feel that it's less annoying than MDM lacking proper theme customization support.

Other than that, though, my work went fine. On a slightly related note, I've been following the development of SolusOS 2, and it looks like the first beta release is fast approaching, and it will come with support for Compiz and GNOME 2 panel applets. That sounds incredibly exciting, because that may actually be the closest I'll get to replicating my current setup on my laptop. I guess this means that Linux Mint with Xfce may no longer be a total certainty, but then again, SolusOS 2 won't be officially released until next year (because that's when its parent Debian 7 "Wheezy" will be released), so I could hold onto Linux Mint with Xfce for a few months and then switch if SolusOS 2 indeed works the best.

Day 7

Today I tried again to configure LightDM to replace the momentary purple flash with something else. This time, I replaced the Unity greeter with the GTK+ greeter. After configuring some text files to use the desired background and GTK+ theme and reconfiguring LightDM, I restarted to find only one minor problem: the "Computer" icon is the purple one from the Humanity icon theme rather than the black one from the Elementary icon theme. This is a slight issue, but it may not have come up if I had chosen to install only LightDM and its GTK+ greeter without the other Ubuntu-related dependencies. Anyway, I think it is a much smaller issue than the purple flash, and it provides a login interface akin to GDM 2.30, which pleases me; plus, my username is automatically selected, so I just have to type in my password. (For the record, that was also true of KDM in Chakra and Kubuntu.)

Otherwise, things went fine again today. I was also able to apply software updates without a hitch.

Day 8

Today I once tried again to configure LightDM to replace the purple "Computer" icon with something that fit a little better with the theme. This time the fix was easy; I just had to remove the Humanity icon theme. After that, LightDM used the standard blue GNOME "Computer" icon, and while that doesn't completely mesh with the black icon from the Elementary icon theme, it works far better overall with the rest of LightDM as I have configured it.

Also, I wanted to see if I could configure LightDM to use a picture for my account. I found online that putting a picture in the directory "~/.face/" would work, so I created that directory and put a picture there. Unfortunately, LightDM didn't change. That's an extremely minor issue, though, so I didn't concern myself with it further.

Finally, I decided to give Gloobus-Preview one last shot just because I could. I installed it and configured its keyboard shortcut in the CompizConfig Settings Manager, and restarted the computer. After that, it wouldn't work quite right, in that it would flash momentarily and disappear when the desired keyboard shortcut combination was pressed; holding down that shortcut for longer would make it stay, but it would also bring up many different instances of Gloobus-Preview. Furthermore, all of those would open to the home folder regardless of what other directory or file in what other directory was selected to be opened. Oh well, I pretty much knew anyway that Gloobus-Preview was a lost cause outside of GNOME 3 and any desktop that uses Files (the new Elementary OS file manager forked from Marlin).

Otherwise, once again the day's work went without a hitch. I was able to do everything as normal.

Conclusion

Customized Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" Xfce Desktop
On My UROP Desktop
This is probably the best of the three long-term experiences I have had thus far. I mean, I really did like KDE, but there isn't anything quite like being able to customize the desktop to work exactly as intended to a 'T'. There really wasn't much separating this Xfce desktop from the customized GNOME 2 environment on my laptop, and that's a great feeling. The next long-term review (starting tomorrow) will be of Linux Mint 13 LTS "Maya" KDE, but because of sound issues with that, I will definitely be installing the Xfce edition. Also, I was kind of hoping to check out SolusOS 2 Beta 1 for its compatibility with Compiz and GNOME 2 applets, but that isn't out yet. Plus, there are two things that I want to try out when I feel comfortable doing so: Bumblebee (the Linux software meant to make use of dual NVidia + Intel graphics setups, as in my laptop) and Steam, and both (especially the latter, though maybe not so much the former) are likely going to be better supported by derivatives of Ubuntu (e.g. Linux Mint) than by derivatives of Debian (e.g. SolusOS, not including Ubuntu itself). That's why I don't feel bad about going ahead and installing Linux Mint with Xfce; there's also the fact that my wireless Internet connection is terrible, so I very soon need a new or reinstalled OS to be able to recognize my laptop's wired ethernet card. Anyway, the actual installation will happen not later than 2 weeks from now, and I'll write about it here.

4 comments:

  1. Have you tried Xubuntu. I am using it and find it very good. Even able to change to Nautilus from Thunar. All my sound and video files play without any tuning, using either VLC or Gmusicbrowser. Rhythmnbox is also available.

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    1. @Bernard Victor: I'm a little suspicious of your claim that Xubuntu allows the replacement of Thunar with Nautilus. I mean, sure, it may be possible to superficially make it such that new directories open in Nautilus, but do the places in the Xfce "Places" menu open in Nautilus as well? If that's possible, then I would be highly impressed. Anyway, I haven't formally reviewed Xubuntu, but I have checked it out in my spare time and I think it works pretty well. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. Replies
    1. @ringo28: Linux Mint uses MDM by default. I prefer LightDM, so that is what I used. Thanks for the comment!

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