Linux Mint 18 – some early thoughts

I have used Linux Mint 18 on and off for the past few weeks, which was released about 2 months ago and overall it has been going pretty well.

As a daily driver, I’d be prepared to consider migrating to Linux Mint 18 completely. It is not perfect (but neither is Windows), and it does take some work to get it to look the way that I like, but overall it is a solid operating system. I think that for the foreseeable future, I will find myself dual booting between Windows and Linux, because there are programs that I need in Windows that are not available in Linux.

I like the way that Linux has chosen to undertake its development model. The team seems much more responsive to user feedback, which is why the OS became so successful to begin with. There is a “it just works” mentality that helps. In some ways, it is overly conservative, but I can see why there is a focus on stability above all else.

For now, I have opted to remain with the stock Cinnamon 3 desktop environment. (For those who do not know, Linux due to its open source nature has multiple desktop environments that can be paired with any operating system). Last month, in July of 2016 when I tried KDE5 on another distro, I found the stability to be unsuitable for daily usage. I hope that KDE5 improves between now and the next time I try it, but for now, I will stay with Linux Mint Cinnamon.

 

Tux

What I did after installation

Reading the change notes, I realized right away that I would have issues with my microphone. I install an application call “pavucontrol”, which offered better configuration for my microphone.

Fonts

I am not the biggest fan of the stock fonts.

Open the menu, and type Fonts. I swapped my default fonts to “Nimbus Roman No. 9 Regular” as my default font and “Nimbus Roman No. 9 Medium” for my title bars. The reason why is because if it is similar to the font Georgia, which is regarded as a very “safe” font for web use, and by extension all use of computer monitors, it should make visibility better. To be honest, I would recommend that Linux Mint the default font all around.

Furthermore,  I set the Hinting to Full, as that is my personal preference.

Clock

When dual booting, Linux uses Greenwich Time (UTC), so unless you live in that time zone, your time will be off.

timedatectl set-local-rtc 1

This will set your clock to the system clock. You will need to put “sudo” in front if you are not an administrator.

Updating the Kernel

One of the first things that I did early on was to update to the latest stable Linux Kernel. You will need to have the latest Linux kernel for the AMDGPU and other important drivers. It’s a simple series of commands (this will work in Ubuntu as well):

 

wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.7.2/linux-headers-4.7.2-040702_4.7.2-040702.201608201334_all.deb

wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.7.2/linux-headers-4.7.2-040702-generic_4.7.2-040702.201608201334_amd64.deb

wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.7.2/linux-image-4.7.2-040702-generic_4.7.2-040702.201608201334_amd64.deb

sudo dpkg -i linux-headers-4.7.2*.deb linux-image-4.7.2*.deb

Naturally, by the time you read this, 4.7.2 may not be the latest version of the Kernel, so be sure to check, so that you can change the directory and the file names accordingly. Check the change notes for Kernels as they often contain important updates.

After the install, all you have to do is to reboot:

sudo reboot

Then you should be able to get the latest kernel the next time you log in.

 

To get the latest version, I would recommend the following:

  1. Look up Linux Kernel, then find out what the latest version is.
  2. Then type the address (and substitute in bold for the latest version): wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.7.2/
  3. Find the equivalent files (for me as I am using a 64 bit distro, they will be under amd64). Get the first file and the 2 generics, then suse those for the bolded part (keeping the distro in front)
  4. Then replace for the 4th line where I type 4.7.2  for the latest version. Example (changes in bold):

wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.8.1/linux-headers-4.8.1-040801_4.8.1-040801.201610071031_all.deb
wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.8.1/linux-headers-4.8.1-040801-generic_4.8.1-040801.201610071031_amd64.deb
wget kernel.ubuntu.com/~kernel-ppa/mainline/v4.8.1/linux-image-4.8.1-040801-generic_4.8.1-040801.201610071031_amd64.deb
sudo dpkg -i linux-headers-4.8.1*.deb linux-image-4.8.1*.deb

This will get you the latest kernel. You just need to enter this into the terminal in super user (to complete the last command to rebuild the kernel) and reboot.

If there are problems and you have to remove the latest kernel

Just in case, if there are problems and you have to remove the Kernel

sudo apt-get remove ‘linux-headers-4.7.2*’ ‘linux-image-4.7.2*’

Be sure to change to your kernel version, but otherwise, this should send you back to the latest version.

A few areas Mint could improve

Bootspeed is slower than Windows 10

Although Linux Mint 18 is very fast when it shuts down (just a couple of seconds), the time to get into the operating system is quite slow.

I’m not sure why that is. I am running a 512 GB Samsung 850 Pro SSD (with about 8% overprovisioning) for by Windows 10 Pro x64 drive, and a 256 GB Samsung 850 Pro SSD for my Linux Mint 18 x64 Cinammon install. I don’t believe that Samsung Magician is available on Linux, but the the small overprovisioning that I assigned to my Windows disk and slight performance increases from a larger SSD (because all channels are fully saturated on the SSD controller) should have negligible real-world performance in the context of boot speeds. I’m forced to conclude that the operating system itself is booting slowly. I will continue to investigate whether or not it is possible to overprovision a Linux SSD.

Since I have installed my new SSD on my motherboard, the MSI X99A XPower AC, the bootspeed has been slower than I would like. BIOS A.6 seems to have improved it somewhat, but it is still quite a bit slower. Clearing the CMOS did not help at all. I will be trying to unplug all of my SATA drives and trying this again at some point.

I would recommend adding a progress bar as well so that it gives the end user some indication of how far along the entire process is.

The Clock

It doesn’t seem like much, but I find that it is little touches like this that can really make or break an operating system. By default, the system does not seem to have the ability to use a 12 hour clock.

It is a simple fix:

%A %B %e, %I:%M %p

For just the clock:

%I:%M %p

The logical solution would be a GUI option that would allow people to choose their preferred option. It doesn’t seem like much, but it is little touches like this that can really make or break an operating system.

Conclusions

Right now this is a really early post and I am far from finished with exploring the world of Linux Mint 18.

Amongst the recent crop of Linux distros, I would say that Mint has the best out of the box experience, but even then most users will find themselves having to customize it quite a bit for their liking. There are still a few rough areas around the edges.

Although the desktop is declining, I still believe that it is very important that Linux maintain excellent distros to further its mission. Distros like Mint, assuming they can continue to improve, go a long way in that regard. With such distros comes more users and more users comes the possibility for better hardware support, along with better applications as there is a larger market.

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