My first foray into the wonderful world of FOSS – enter Linux Mint

Free open-source software is the new thing, folks. It’s the way to go for the future.

I whined a few posts ago about the woeful state of Ubuntu 7.04. Well, even though that experience was discouraging, I still had the desire to get into Linux nevertheless, since Linux is free, and known for its reliability. So I tried a bunch of different distros (the latest stable versions available as of today, through their various Live CD’s), including Fedora, Damn Small Linux, openSUSE, and Linux Mint–and settled on the lattermost.

My criteria for evaluating each distro (on my Dell D505 Laptop) was simple: automatic recognition of the widescreen LCD’s display resolution on the D505, and wireless networking.

Mint (version 4 — “Daryna”) was able to correctly identify the screen resolution (all the other ones I mentioned failed–actually, I think I only tested Fedora on my desktop PC, so I’m not so sure). I was thoroughly impressed with this simple automatic resolution support.

As for wireless networking, it was almost TOO simple to implement. I had tried to implement it unsuccessfully in Ubuntu 7.04 before, with the Ndiswrapper driver installation tool (which is, to my knowledge, a little program that converts a windows-only driver file (via the familiar .inf file) and translates it into something that Linux can understand). Mint had AUTOMATIC integration of this little utility into its start button (via Administration -> Windows Wireless Drivers)!! This is the equivalent to probably 72 hours of an Ubuntu newbie’s quest to do the same. Incredible. (To those who are curious, all I did was download the Win XP wireless card driver from the Dell website (through my Windows desktop machine), extract the self-extracting .exe archive, dump those contents onto a USB drive and then plug int the USB drive into my D505. Then, I just opened up Mint’s Ndiswrapper implementation as explained above, and pointed to the .inf file on one of the extracted subfolders on the USB drive.) Afterwards, Mint automatically detected the need to do a firmware update on the wireless card, and asked me where to get the firmware. Lo and behold, it had an automatically-suggested web location for this file (which seemed to be a generic file for such wireless cards on laptops–although I can’t be sure). At this point, I just hooked up an ethernet cable to the D505 to download this firmware update. After some more informative, automatic popup dialogs from Mint, I rebooted (because the wireless card didn’t work right away). Then, I just filled in the 3 or 4 boxes for manually setting up a new wireless network (i.e., pointing to my home network that already has 3 other Windows machines on it). THAT WAS IT. IT TOOK ME ABOUT TEN MINUTES TO SET UP, INCLUDING THE TIME IT TOOK FOR ME TO SLOWLY READ THROUGH EVERYTHING THAT MINT TOLD ME.

Hats off to the Mint developers. And did you know that any program/update for Ubuntu is compatible with Mint? (Mint is based off of Ubuntu). It’s almost too good. It is good.

And Mint comes with some cool, snazzy window/desktop effects (you can set the level of effects, from off to highest). I no longer envy Apple MacBooks as far as pretty GUIs are concerned.

So yes, I’m really enjoying the Mint experience so far. Very user friendly. The only thing I need to figure out is how to disable system sounds on boot up. But that’s a really minor issue.

UPDATE: March 25, 2008: Simply going into the system sound settings and disabling the login/logout sounds, and rebooting, did the trick. 😉