Wednesday 16 February 2011

Linux Mint Debian Edition - First Impressions

This morning I got up early and replaced my Ubuntu 10.10 installation with a nice shiny install of Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE). LMDE is based on Debian testing, and is a rolling release. I've always wanted to try a rolling release, and one based on Debian ticks all the boxes. The important thing is that Debian and Ubuntu share the APT packaging system which thinking about it, is probably the main reason I use Ubuntu.

I've used regular Linux Mint a few times in the past and I've always been impressed, although I always end up back on Ubuntu, I'm not really sure why that is, probably that I can't wait to test out the newest stuff so I jump on Ubuntu as soon as a new release comes out. A rolling release of course solves that problem.


Installation was pretty smooth, everything worked out of the box from the live CD including wifi (although I did go out of the way to buy an Linux-friendly wifi card). The only minor issue was that my keyboard was set to some random layout (probs U.S.), it wasn't until I started the installation and set the correct keyboard layout that I could type punctuation without trial and error. But then that took effect immediately across the system. It's interesting, I don't remember that happening in an Ubuntu installation, maybe I just never noticed. Does Ubuntu detect the keyboard layout via your location (e.g. over wifi)?

The partitioning screen would be pretty confusing to a newbie, I didn't really like that all my disks were displayed at once, I'd much prefer some kind of separation like GParted uses. Another thing that was quite disconcerting was the lack of a "Format?" column in the table, instead relying on the filesystem type displayed under the "Format to..." heading, I wasn't completely sure it wasn't going to format my home partition and I had to double and triple check on the final installation screen to make sure I wasn't about to wipe my data. It would be nice to have some kind of definite "Yes, I'm formatting this partition" flag next to each partition entry.

Another minor niggle occurred when installation finished, I was told I could reboot into the system, but I wasn't given an option on that dialog to do so. That would've been nice.

First Run

Boot time was FAST. I got a bit worried when Grub popped up with a BSOD colour scheme, I thought something had gone wrong for a second, old habits die hard I guess. I did have one issue when I logged in though...

This is something that occurs in other (all?) distros, but it is an annoyance. If I select an existing home partition, that has an existing folder for the selected username it would be great if the installer could run chown -R user:user on that home folder. Otherwise if the user IDs don't match, the user is greeted to a bunch of confusing error messages and unable to write to their folder. Easy to fix if you know what you are doing, but really this is the installer's job.

Aside from that everything was great, LMDE feels really solid, I can't put my finger on it, but it *feels* more robust than Ubuntu. The Mint menu is amazing, easily the best program menu I've ever used. The Mint themes are beautiful, I'm not a huge fan of green though so I switched over to the dark and blue WildMint theme which is very nice. I did flick all the desktop fonts over to ttf-ubuntu just as a personal preference.

There were a few other minor niggles:
1. Synaptic is the package manager - a rebranded Ubuntu Software Centre would probably be nicer
2. I installed the indicator applet but it doesn't work, although I know this is down to Debian rather than LMDE, I'm sure it'll be fixed in time
3. No Plymouth, but that's in the release notes, and to be honest, I sort of prefer the scrolling text :)

I've got a queue of updates to install when I get home tonight, so perhaps some things are fixed. My next challenge is getting 3D acceleration on my ATI graphics card :)

EDIT: The BSOD grub colour scheme was changed after the updates to a much more subtle grey. Also, my ATI card is running pretty well with the open source drivers so I'll stick with that for a while.


  1. Nice post! I use debian testing and I love the rolling distribution... But mint is really attractive, they seem to polish the design so well, and I didn't know they had a testing-like distro...

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