Linux Mint: With Freedom Came Elegance, and Some Pain

LinuxMint

I had read and heard so much about how Linux has improved over the years. I have also been endlessly postponing my plan  to take Linux on a test drive with no help whatsoever. Recently, I came across Linux Mint and decided I was going to take the plunge.

Installation

I downloaded Linux Mint , then I "burnt" it on a CD (not copy it on to a CD) and went through the installation process on a regular Windows PC. The CD took me through the steps of partitioning my hard drive (so I could still maintain my Windows installation) . The User Interface during the partition process was a little tricky. It was not obvious how to allocate the size of the partition. After a while I figured out that the sizing is done by a simple drag operation using the mouse.

The claim is that you can run Linux Mint from the CD to get a feel for it before installing it. But I found this to be unacceptably slow on most machines (especially older PCs).

Applications

Linux Mint comes with all the basic programs Firefox 3 , Open Office , Thunderbird for email etc. already pre-installed. Open Office fires up really fast unlike on a PC where I find it "dog slow".

Installing new programs is not the easiest. I for one struggled to install flash! I downloaded and assumed that a simple double click would do it. But it wasn’t as straight forward. I had to eventually save flash in the ~/mozilla/plugins directory (try figuring that one out on your own!).

Taking screen shots is done using the pre-installed GIMP Image Editor. I got to this program fairly easily but figuring out how to take a screen shot using it wasn’t as easy as Ctrl-Alt-Print screen in the Windows environment.

The software named Wine helps you run Windows applications on a PC. It does not work with Office 2007. Besides, I found configuring it to be not so straightforward.

You don’t need to install PDF. There is a pre-installed Document Viewer that opens up PDF documents. Open Office lets you write out PDF documents but I wouldn’t risk that for "official" documents, especially those with serious formatting (like Table of Contents etc.).

User Interface

The UI is pretty and pleasing. If you are a long time Windows XP user (like most people on this planet), getting used to the UI should be fairly easy though it could take some time, especially if you don’t posses  "nerd-like" tendencies somewhere deep inside of you. The ability to access remote servers via the Internet, mount and unmount them and access the files and folders is really easy (most average users don’t need this).

A Few Suggestions

  • The Filter feature should be made a little smarter. When you search for something that’s not obvious it opens up a dumb blank screen instead of something like "Were you looking for ….?" At a minimum it should display the Help files instead of a lame blank screen. Even typing in "Help" returns the same blank screen!
  • I have never been able to find the "Help" files. This should not be a big secret!
  • When I go into Hibernate mode it displays a message about not having enough "swap space" and that I should look into the Help files (which I can’t seem to find). I am sure I can figure this out with some effort. The reality is that most average users won’t have the time or the patience for this.
  • The audio stops working every time I return from suspend mode. I realized later that it was a known problem with a crazy hack available. This is an essential feature and should not be a "known problem".

Who is Linux Mint most suited to?

If you are a developer (developing web applications on non-MS platform) you could very easily survive with a PC running Linux Mint. In other words, a Windows PC would be a complete waste for a developer. Employers can save the extra investment in Windows when buying a PC for a developer. It gives users the pleasure of a terminal and command line interface along with a nice UI if they ever care for one. Installing the latest versions of PHP, PERL, MySQL and the like is a breeze.

On the other hand, if you are a sales, administrative and marketing type, you most likely live and breath MS Office. For such users it is a little too scary to abandon MS Office for Open Office or run MS Office on Linux using Wine . For example, if you are sending a proposal in MS-Word to a customer, most people I suspect wouldn’t want to risk writing it in Open Office, Google Docs or the like.

If you are one of those users who has multiple computers, and are open to a little experimentation, then Linux Mint can be a good addition to the mix.

In short, the Linux Mint is still very much a developers’ system first. Considering that it’s development is an entirely voluntary effort, this observation should not be a surprise. I am not sure if Linux Mint is tested with non-techies (at least non-developers) before it is released. If not, this would be a worthwhile step towards improving its overall usability.

Summary

My personal experience tells me that with some pain, pretty much anything that you can do on a Windows PC can be done today on a machine running Linux Mint (minus MS Office and not counting Open Office). For instance, I was able to get my printer, scanner and audio working on Linux Mint. I was also able to print using a wireless connection from a Windows PC onto the printer connected to the machine running Linux Mint, among other things.

Every time you run into a problem, it takes time to figure things out. In fact, it often requires serious patience and perseverance. The good news is that there is plenty of information available around the web. The bad news is that the average user is not ready for this kind of torture, though, after the initial "getting used to" phase things should be pretty smooth sailing especially if you are open to running web applications and need the machine mostly to send and receive email, browse etc.

The tag line for Linux Mint is "From Freedom Came Elegance". While it is certainly elegant it does carry with it some pain (some might say severe pain or other might even call it misery!) in the form of a learning curve, and problems  while installing basic applications as I experienced. On the other hand, a few years back I could not have imagined being able to install Linux and use it on a day to day basis without external help. Today, I am able to do it and I believe so can many other users. At a minimum, Linux Mint in its current form is a definite sign of progress for the open source movement but it still has ways to go before it can attract the average user. Further improving the ease of use (I don’ mean making it prettier), and being able to easily run Windows applications would certainly help this cause (Wine or its equivalent must be easier to configure at a minimum).

Trivia : Try playing Stick cricket (an online cricket game in flash) on Linux Mint and then on a Windows PC. The speed on Linux Mint is simply blazing in comparison!

Disclaimer : My adventures with Linux Mint is purely a personal endeavor. Any problem outlined here might be a personal limitation and not necessarily that of Linux Mint.

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13 Responses to Linux Mint: With Freedom Came Elegance, and Some Pain

  1. […] Go to the author’s original blog: Linux Mint: With Freedom Came Elegance, and Some Pain […]

  2. Acid_1 says:

    Ummm, I think you’re a bit off here. Swap space _should_ be made in the partition (where you have the choice of manual, guided all, or guided free), but it’s not, you have to use manual partitioning, not difficult at all. (Swap should be 2x your memory but no larger than 4GB). Second off, the live cd does give you a feel for the system, just it’s running off of a disc. So it’s slower, like, 25x slower…
    Linux is different than Windows, and until users realize this when they take the plunge, you will always find difficulty using it.

    http://linux.oneandoneis2.org/LNW.htm

  3. pkurup says:

    I did set the swap during the installation. So I don’t know why this message comes up. Also, if there is a problem, there should be an easy way to let the user troubleshoot. I hope that’s not too much to ask for? 🙂

    Regarding running off the disc, I understand what you are saying entirely. It was painfully slow to be of any use to me.

    Again, I understand Linux is different from Windows and I am not complaining, just trying to express my views and hopefully be useful!

    Like I said in my post, I did not try Linux Mint because I am unhappy with Windows. I did this purely for curiosity sake.

    Thanks for the link.

  4. Acid_1 says:

    Well, I must say, I think that it’s a good thing. It’s nice to know what a first time user trying to use Linux is going through when they first install, and then fix the difficult parts (not even make it more Windows-like, but just easier). Anyhow, good luck with Mint, and feel free to drop by the forums. There is always someone willing to help.

    http://www.linuxmint.com/forum

  5. cathbard says:

    Linux is not windows
    http://linux.oneandoneis2.org/LNW.htm
    There are thousands of people that use linux daily. It is not difficult, it’s just different. This is not proprietary software, you have to approach it differently. If you need support you ask the community via the forum or via the irc channel. Had you simply done that then ALL your questions regarding installation would have been answered.
    For example, screenshots? You just hit the print screen key on your keyboard. Gimp is hard to use? Do you remember how hard photoshop was the first time you used it? That aside, how much did gimp cost you? It’s not windows, you don’t hand over your credit card and your first born son when you want something, you get it for free thanks to the efforts of the thousands of people out there that contribute daily. Where else would you get thousands of applications that were installable for free at the click of a button? You simply have to let go of your old thinking – gnu/linux is not just different software, it’s a totally different philosophy.
    Most of your complaints could have been simply resolved by (dare I say it?) – rtfm.
    You simply haven’t grasped the concepts even at a basic level. A days reading and a few discussions in the irc channel would have solved all of that. It isn’t that gnu/linux isn’t ready for you; you aren’t ready for gnu/linux. Linux is not supposed to be a clone of windows, it’s a replacement. It’s different and that is it’s beauty.

  6. pkurup says:

    Regarding your first paragraph — I think you missed the part where I have clearly stated that I am confident that one can do whatever is needed on Linux and there is plenty of help available.

    Regarding your comment on GIMP. I never compared GIMP to Photoshop — I am no photoshop fan.

    The Printscreen button — I learned something from your comment. Thanks. I didn’t know this. And I had a hard time finding the help files as I mentioned and taking screenshots from GIMP.

    In general, I think you are being too sensitive because you are deeply loyal to Linux, which is understandable. You might have missed my disclaimer at the end of the article.

    My post was not meant to be a criticism of any sort, it was just an honest description of my personal experience of having gone though the process of test driving Linux.

  7. Acid_1 says:

    I understand man, it’s cool. Some people are too sensitive, and need to get over it. If you come on over to the forums, most people there are really cool and really nice, so feel free to drop by, we’d like that.

  8. Clem says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the review. Although I disagree on a lot of things it does help in understanding how Mint can be perceived from a Windows user point of view. Mint is designed with the novice experience taken into consideration and I truly believe it’s actually an easier system to learn and to use than Windows. Having said that, it is indeed hard for already accustomed Windows users to migrate and you illustrated that very well.

    I’ll make sure to go through the points you’ve risen in details and we’ll hopefully learn from them and from your review to improve future Mint releases.

    Many thanks,
    Clem.

  9. pkurup says:

    Clem, thanks for visiting.

    I am using Mint on a daily basis on one of my PCs. So I am happy and not complaining! In fact, I used Skype yesterday on Mint for the first time and it worked just fine. The audio not working when I return from suspend mode is my pet peeve right now.

    Btw, here is a simple UI suggestion. I clicked on the date/time on the bottom right of the screen. A nice calendar pops up. The “x -” to minimize the calendar is missing. I clicked on Locations (accidentally) and a map appears with the Edit link. This is definitely not intuitive and inconsistent with everything else where you have the “x -” on pretty much any window. In Filter when I enter Calendar it gives my the empty Tracker Search tool window. This is by no means a show stopper but indicative of an overall scope for UI improvement (even without being windows-like).

    Btw, I have managed to do more techie stuff like setup a webserver, mysql etc with a plan to run some apps locally. I still have some stuff to do before I can get there. None of these would have been possible for me to do single handedly had I not installed Mint.

    If time permits I will put together a list of suggestions as and when I come across them.

  10. Zwii says:

    google:
    linux mint user guide

    Much information to be had.

    Enjoy.

  11. […] I have nothing against Linux. In fact, I have recently become a regular active user of Linux Mint. This post is an attempt to capture my impressions of […]

  12. Mike says:

    I’m just setting up Linux Mint as a home file server so any article like this that bridges the gap between what I know (windows) and Linux is a real help. – Cheers

  13. pkurup says:

    Thanks for visiting. I have been using Linuxmint for sometime now and like it. The most annoying thing is that audio does not work once to return from suspend mode. So far I haven’t come across an easy fix. If you are using it as a file server I guess this won’t really bother you.

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