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Archive for October 23rd, 2010

One week, three distributions (Day 6: Linux Mint Debian Edition)

October 23rd, 2010 7 comments

To round out the week I installed the newly released Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE). Like the other posts I have made I will walk you through my first impressions as well as the general overall feel of the distribution.

Install

LMDE’s install is something quite different from the experiences I had with Ubuntu 10.10 and Kubuntu 10.10. While it is still a very polished installer (complete with a single slide slide-show even!) it does lack a couple of features that make it far less user friendly. Where the other installers basically held your hand in every way, LMDE requires at least some technical understanding in order to complete. For instance there is no friendly auto-partition step, instead LMDE leaves the user to do it manually with GParted. While hardly the end of the world it is enough of a challenge that you could no longer just hand this disc to your non-technical friend and let them have at it. However once that step is complete the installer is very straight forward and rips through the installation in a matter of minutes.

First boot and drivers (oh my!)

I have to say that my first impression of LMDE was a mixed one. On one hand it spewed text everywhere as it booted, which I assume came from its Debian heritage. On the other hand the boot was ridiculously fast. I know it’s been one of Canonical’s goals to make Ubuntu the fastest booting Linux distribution but I have to say that a stock install of LMDE (and maybe even Debian Testing) will easily give that claim a run for its money.

Once at my desktop I was presented with a very familiar Linux Mint set up. If you were to place this desktop next to Linux Mint’s Ubuntu derivative (Linux Mint 9 for instance) I would be very hard pressed to spot any differences.

Unfortunately one thing that was glaringly missing was the lack of the Ubuntu automatic driver detection and install system jockey. Without jockey I had to resort to Fedora-esque measures in order to install the correct driver which is necessary for correct display and power management on my laptop. For reference here are the steps I took in order to install the proprietary ATI driver and setup my X configuration:

1) Run the following command in order to make sure you have the most recent package list

$ sudo apt-get update

2) You may want to now install all available updates so that we start with the most recent kernel

$ sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

3) Install the kernel headers so that we can configure it to work with the ATI driver

$ sudo apt-get install linux-headers-2.6-$(uname -r | sed ‘s,.*-,,’)

4) Install the ATI driver and control panel

$ sudo apt-get install fglrx-control fglrx-driver

5) From there just follow the instructions on my post here in order to generate the new X configuration file and maybe even fix your vsync issues at the same time.

I have read that jockey is currently being ported and will appear in the LMDE repositories so hopefully this small issue will be solved quickly.

Rolling release = LOTS OF UPDATES

One of LMDE’s big selling points is that it is a rolling release, which means that you will continue to get new packages and updates on your system without having to reinstall at 6 month intervals like some other distributions. Strangely though LMDE does not ship with update checking enabled which I found kind of weird. A quick forced check later and I discovered why the team may have made that choice

That’s right, almost 500 updates… Almost every package on my newly installed machine had to be replaced updated. This is definitely a release for people looking for the newest software but could easily lead to update fatigue for everyone else.

32-bit working system vs PAE kernel broken system

One of the unfortunate things about this release is that it only comes in a 32-bit version. As I run a 64-bit processor with 4GB of RAM it irks me to know that I am not using the full potential of my system. I starting looking into Physical Address Extension (PAE) kernels as a solution to this problem. PAE kernels, for those who don’t know, use a system of memory indirection in order to allow a 32-bit processor access to more than 4GB of mappable memory. In the case of Linux the PAE kernel can map up to 64GB of RAM.

After a bit of googling I stumbled upon instructions to install a PAE kernel by simply installing the linux-image-686-bigmem meta-package. Unfortunately this quick fix, as most often is the case, didn’t exactly turn out well and actually broke my GDM system. Without GDM I was unable to log into my desktop and this experiment came to an end. In the interest of time I decided to just reinstall instead of trying to troubleshoot how to fix what I had inadvertently broken.

Software selection

The software selection in LMDE is impressive and in many ways is what Ubuntu’s used to be. Here you will find (pre-installed) Flash, the Java and Mono runtimes, an MP3 codec and even the Gimp. Everything, like the other Linux Mint releases, is designed to make it so that the user does not have to search for solutions to missing functionality.

Because this is a rolling release it doesn’t really make sense for me to review the included software as much as it does to just mention it. For web browsing LMDE, like Ubuntu, ships with Firefox. To send and receive e-mail it calls upon Firefox’s cousin Thunderbird. Instant messaging is handled by Pidgin and your music collection is controlled by Rhythmbox. F-Spot remains as the photo manager, unlike Ubuntu which replaced it with Shotwell, while Gwibber and Totem round out the release.

Conclusion

Currently Linux Mint Debian Edition is somewhat of an enthusiast’s release. It has the potential to be a great rolling release but it’s pretty obvious that right now it needs some work to get there. For instance, why when I updated my software, did my GDM background change to a Debian one? The team over at Linux Mint knows how to polish a distribution and so I’m confident that they will do the same for Debian Edition.

Pros:

  • Rolling release which means you always have the most recent software
  • Still has that Linux Mint charm to it

Cons:

  • The distribution still needs a bit of polish before I could see myself recommending it to all but seasoned Linux users
  • Being a rolling release might result in update fatigue



I am currently running a variety of distributions, primarily Linux Mint Debian Edition.
Previously I was running KDE 4.3.3 on top of Fedora 11 (for the first experiment) and KDE 4.6.5 on top of Gentoo (for the second experiment).
Check out my profile for more information.