Linux Mint – More reflections after a month of use

Some more pleasant surprises from the Linux Mint distribution (and probably applicable to all distros):

  1. NO MEMORY LEAKS/CONSISTENT UPTIME EXPERIENCE: I use lots of programs. So far, none of them have posed significant problems in slowing down the system after repeatedly opening them, using them, and closing them within a single, 24hr+ session of leaving the computer on. This is somewhat unprecedented. On my old Windows XP SP2 system, the computer would become sluggish after about 12 hrs of use. I can leave my Linux box on all night (and several nights in a row), and clicking on the Start button feels the same as ever, without any slowdowns.
  2. LESS RAM USE: I’m using 35% of 2 gigabytes of RAM right now, which is pretty nice. Compare this to the 50-60% of use in my old Windows environment (again, probably due to antivirus software and the like).
  3. SYMBOLIC LINKS: I first learned of these from my recent Ruby-learning days, when someone talked about using them in Linux environments to do some tricks on directory paths/structures. But basically, Linux uses symbolic links, or symlinks, instead of the standard shortcuts used by Windows. The way a Windows shortcut works in Windows Explorer is that, after you double-click it, you are transported to that target’s destination (which is likely a completely different path than the one you were in before you double-clicked it). A symbolic link is the same, except that, while the contents of the target folder show up after you double-click on the symbolic link, your directory path does NOT change. At first, this feels a bit weird, but, it all makes sense. You don’t have to hop over between 2 different directory structures to move files around. So, if your symlink is located on the Desktop, and it points to a folder called “Documents” under your username, what you’ll see in nautilus after you double-click it is something like /username/Desktop/name-of-symlink (instead of /username/Documents). If you have the target folder opened up with the symlink folder opened up next to it, and edit the contents of either window, you’ll see that the other window gets updated automatically. It’s one more piece of flexibility for the user. Of course, this means that, if you forget the actual directory path of your target folder, you’ll have to right-click on the symlink and open up its Properties dialog box. But this is a trivial issue that has not come up for me in actual practice.

UPDATE May 10, 2008: See my post “Linux Mint Tips” about a memory leak on mintMenu, and a way to get rid of it. (By the way, although this memory leak revelation sounds bad, my system now uses more like 20% of my 2 GB of RAM because of the memory leak fix mentioned in that post.)

Linux Mint (4.0, “Daryna”) + Compiz Fusion Screenshots

I just can’t resist — here’s a screenshot of my desktop in action. It’s using the Desktop Cube and Rotate Cube plugins for Compiz Fusion (adjustable in ccsm, as described in the last post), with a dual monitor, 3360 x 1050 resolution, with a 6-sided hexagon as my “cube” (the number is arbitrary — you can have up to 16; the number of sides the cube has is determined by how many “workspaces” you have, which can be set up separately from the preferences menu of the Workspace switcher icon, which is part of the Panel (Linux Mint lingo for the Windows XP Taskbar)).

You don’t have to worry about the minimized window buttons on the Panel adding up in an unsightly way on your Panel, because all windows/programs indicate their presence in the Window List area on the Panels that are in the same Workspace as the window (e.g., if you have 10 windows opened up on Workspace 1, those windows will NOT show up on the Panel area in Workspace 2). The idea is to have maybe 5 or 6 windows open at a time per Workspace, and then to use the other spaces as necessary.

And below is a shot of my workspace.

The gadgets on the right are those nifty Screenlets that I talked about in the last post (CircleClock, ClearCalendar, ClearWeather, RingSensors, and AllCoreCPUUsage). In case you’re curious, the wallpapers are from here. I just slapped two of the wallpapers together to achieve a separate look for the left and right monitors.

One of the coolest parts about the Desktop Cube/Rotate Cube combination is that, even when you’re rotating the cube around, all the screens are LIVE — yup, the clock digits will keep counting, the movies will keep playing, and you’ll be able to see them all change (even system dialog boxes that have progress bars on them will update live). This is how much the Compiz Fusion developers care about the user experience; kudos to them.

Linux Mint (Daryna) Tips

I’m writing this post to give some tips on various topics for those people new to Linux Mint.

If you ever have trouble using Linux Mint, you can always google for the answer. Be sure to include “ubuntu” in your search, because anything from the Ubuntu forums (a massive repository of every topic you can think of) will be applicable to you (since Mint is based off of Ubuntu).

Also, for custom themes, go to gnome-look, and click on GTK 2.x and Metacity for the themes. To install/add a theme, just download the .tar and drag-and-drop it into the “Theme” tab under “Start Button -> Appearance”. You can then click on the “Customize…” button and select the new theme’s settings in the tabs therein. The GTK 2.x themes basically change everything inside a window (like how sliders, progress bars, and checkboxes look). The Metacity ones also do the same, but some Metacity themes only modify parts of a window (like the smoothie theme I have installed, which only modify window title bars).

After a default Daryna install, you’ll be automatically using the CompizFusion environment. To really modify everything about it, you need to install something called compizconfig-settings-manager. This application is all about customizing your CompizFusion environment. (For some reason, it does not come preinstalled with Daryna). Once you install ccsm, your “Visual Effects” tab in the “Start Button -> Appearance” dialog box will update with a new button under “Extra” with “Custom,” and the “Preferences” box will bring up ccsm. Or, you can access ccsm via the much quicker way of Start Button -> Advanced Desktop Effects Settings.

To add custom shortcut keys that you can press any time to launch apps or show folders (or any other terminal-based command), go to ccsm, then General Options -> Commands, and type in the commands. To open up Writer, for example, you would type “oowriter” into one of the command lines (there are 12 in all, commands 0 through 11). Then, go to the Actions tab and under Commands, just assign the proper Keys. The Super key is the Windows-start-button-key on your keyboard. If you feel like 12 is not enough, you can just create a folder that itself includes a bunch of app launchers, and then just type something like nautilus “/link/to/folder/with/links” into one of the command lines (this means extra double-clicking on the app launchers to start them, but hey, it’s not a big deal for me at least). The other alternative is to use the OS X/Mac-styled “Dock” on the bottom of your desktop (but I find this method a bit wasteful, and dirty, with screen real estate), named Avant Window Navigator (Awn).

If you want to have Japanese, Korean, or Chinese input, you’ll have to download SCIM. This can be buggy, but if you set it up right, you’ll get it to work just fine. I’m currently using SCIM Bridge (I don’t recall exactly why I stopped using SCIM but instead opted for SCIM Bridge, but I bet it’s because of something I read in the Ubuntu forums somewhere). You’ll most likely have to google it up a bit, since downloading it alone in Synaptic is not going to do the trick for getting it to work properly in Gnome-based apps (like Gedit) and non-Gnome based apps (like Firefox). Check this page to see what I mean.

The Totem Movie Player works most of the time, as well as MPlayer, which both come with Daryna by default. But you should also install VLC as a backup. For some reason, Totem can’t use the slider too well (it slows down a lot, or just crashes) for some movie files. It’s not a serious problem, but
something worth mentioning.

On a related note, Amarok, the default music player/organizer, is KDE-based. This means that it will look ugly/different than the rest of your core, Gnome-based applications (so your cool GTK 2.x theme from gnome-look won’t work on it). Call me nitty-gritty, but you can use the leading Gnome-based music player Rhythmbox to replace it. Some people prefer Banshee, but the default interface looks a bit cluttered compared to RB. (Unfortunately, no Linux music app easily scans and tags on replay-gain info like foobar2000 — yet. I think there are currently some script-based approaches, but it’s too much work for me, and nowhere near as simple and elegant as foobar2000’s implementation. RB does support replaygain playback, however — you’ll just have to activate it. BTW, the “gconf-editor” is the dialog box that pops up when you right-click on the Start Button and click on “Preferences.”) 2.3 does NOT recognize OpenType fonts (.otf files). This means that even if you add them to your fonts:/// directory, oowriter will not list them in the dropdown list of fonts. The current solution is to deconstruct them and convert them into .ttf files (google it), but it looks like a bit of a mess, and the converted files have been reported to look uglier than normal.

If you want to burn a basic data CD/DVD, you don’t have to get Brasero or anything like that — you can do it straight from nautilus (“File Explorer” in Windows XP). From nautilus, click on Go -> CD/DVD Creator. This will create a folder for you to drag and drop all your to-be-burned files into. Once you’re
done, you can click on “Write to Disc.” I’ve so far used this feature only once with a DVD+R disc, but it worked just fine (and Windows XP recognized it just fine, too). To burn CD/DVD images (e.g., .iso files), just right-click on them in nautilus, then click on Write to Disc…, and follow the dialog box. I haven’t burned an image yet, but I’m sure it works fine (to be integrated into nautilus, I take it that it’s a very mature process).

For the latest cool linux apps, go to,,,, etc. Google is your friend (search “linux apps”). Mint comes pre-installed with the base/common files required to run KDE-based apps (like Amarok), so indulge yourself from both Gnome and KDE apps. The general workflow for well-known applications is to first google about them first, then search their names from Synaptic, and then just install from there (no downloading and building from source or anything difficult like that). If you end up downloading a .deb file, then just right-click it, and click on Open with “GDebi Package Installer”. The (less friendly, more time-consuming method) is to type in dpkg –install file.deb from the terminal.

One really nifty app is called Screenlets. It’s a clone of OS X’s “Dashboard Widgets”. Get it now.

That’s all I can think of right now.

EDIT: In response to Comment 1: executing apt-get install name-of-package from the terminal is fine as an alternative to selecting a package from within Synaptic, but you’d still only want to do this after finding out all of the information behind the package anyway. I personally never use this because I find using Synaptic more informative about the package. But hey, if you know what you are doing and want the package by typing in the terminal, be my guest.

UPDATE April 25 2008: I’m pretty sure this setting is by default upon a fresh Mint install, but Super + Left Click and Drag is the shortcut for grabbing the dragged-out area as a screenshot. The screenshot image, in .png format, will automatically appear on your desktop. Isn’t this great? No more of Windows’ ALT + Print Screen, going into Photoshop/GIMP, pasting, cutting out a layer with the desired selection, creating a new image, then pasting the selection, and saving it as an image!!! I just thought I’d share this shortcut/hotkey, because for a while I was clueless why mysterious bits of .png files were appearing on my desktop (due to button slips from the shortcut that I use often, ALT + Left Click and Drag, which is the command for moving windows — and because the left ALT key is adjacent to the Windows/Super key). BTW, another useful hotkey is Super + Middle Click and Drag (the middle mouse button), which is for resizing windows; this is useful because for the theme I have (and I think also with the default Mint theme in Daryna), the window borders are tiny, and it’s tough to resize windows just by finding the border with the mouse pointer.

Here are a some more hotkeys on the same topic: CTRL + ALT + Right Arrow will rotate the “cube” (or whatever polygon you choose to have) one time to the right (well, literally, the left, but you get the idea). CTRL + ALT + Left Arrow is the counterpart. CTRL + ALT + Left Click and Drag will drag the cube in any direction you want (do note that you can let go of the CTRL and ALT keys after left-clicking; you don’t have to hold them down the entire time). The backsides of the cube will look very dark for those windows that are far away; to get an evenly-lit look (as the post after this one shows in the screenshot), right-click on the Start Button, and click on Preferences. This will bring up the gconf-editor, and from there, navigate to /apps/compiz/general/screen0/options, and for lighting, uncheck the box. Credit goes to sillyxone for the solution. On a related note, if you notice that your windows’ inactive title bars look a little strange (and not a solid color), then this is because you have the Reflection plugin (under the “Effects” category) activated in ccsm — disable it and the reflections will go away from the inactive title bars.

UPDATE May 10, 2008: If you want the title bar of inactive windows to remain opaque/solid and not transparent, then you can turn off the transparency by going to the gconf-editor, and editing the /apps/gwd/metacity_theme_opacity value to 1. (Source).

Also, I noticed that, contrary to my report of no memory leaks, the default mintMenu that comes with Daryna has a memory leak!! To change this, you need to install the latest mintMenu from the “romeo” depository. Open terminal, and type gksudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list. (You can do “sudo” instead of “gksudo,” but I read somewhere that for launching graphical programs (like gedit), you should do “gksudo” instead. Of course, you can be old-school and do sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list instead if you prefer working in a text/terminal setting.) You should see the “Romeo” repository’s http address commented out. Uncomment it (by removing the # pound sign at the beginning of the line). Now, open up the Package Manager from the mintMenu (Start button), and click on Reload. Now, click on Mark All Upgrades. At this point, mintMenu and some other system programs unique to Linux Mint should be upgradeable to the “unstable” versions from the Romeo depository. Click apply. That’s it! (The new mintMenu from Romeo is the same one to be used in the upcoming Elyssa release of Mint, and there should be no memory leaks (well, there is certainly less memory usage than the old mintMenu, I can tell you that much myself).)

Also, I’m currently using the Aurora GTK Engine (get it here), version 1.4, as my window theme. It’s sooooo beautiful. One thing is, sort of like the latest Clearlooks theme from a review I read about the new Gnome 2.22, there are no dotted lines around selected buttons (also called “focus rings”) with the Aurora theme. Perfect! However, make sure that you install libgtk2.0-dev from the Package Manager first before compiling (you need this to avoid a warning; see this page to read more about it). The rest of the instructions are on the page from the link above. And the correct command is –enable-animation, with two hyphens in front, not just 1, like it says in the download link I provided. Otherwise, all of the installation instructions are the same. Be sure to do sudo su (or just sudo for every command) before typing the ./configure and make and make install commands, to avoid any whiny errors about not having permission to access folders or whatnot. The theme is beautiful–the progress bars move around like in Mac’s OS X, but in a less “in your face” way (I never liked how the progress bars looked in OS X). And lastly, if you’re curious about where to find the darn “Engine options” settings that the download page talks about, you can find it under /home/your_user_name/.themes/Aurora-looks/gtk-2.0. In this folder, there is 1 text file called gtkrc. Inside this file, you’ll find all the editable variables that the download page references.

UPDATE May 11, 2008: I just remembered — including the Romeo repository in Synaptic might actually be much painless for you: try going into Package Manager -> Settings -> Repositories, and see if there’s a Romeo repository that has been unchecked. Check it to enable it, and reload to get the mintMenu “unstable” version. I just can’t remember if I added romeo manually in the sources.list file or not, so in your case, you might not even have to bother with sources.list.

UPDATE June 2, 2008: I stopped using the Aurora GTK engine/theme, because after a while I realized how it slowed down my computer (I’m running an overclocked Q6600 at 2.8 Ghz + Nvidia 8800 GTS 320 MB — certainly a mainstream, if not higher-end, computer for today’s market standards). Instead, I started using Clearlooks-flat-compact instead. I like how it kills a lot of the unnecessary white space you see in the default themes that come with Daryna. I think Ubuntu Gutsy had a lot of white space, too. Use the DejaVu Sans Condensed font to make it even more compact. (Daryna doesn’t come with this font, so you’ll have to download it from DejaVuWiki, and install it per the usual font installing process (drag .ttf files into the fonts:/// directory in Nautilus, and then run sudo fc-cache -fv in the terminal); the font will not show up on the list in the Appearances dialog box’s font list, but instead will show up under DejaVu Sans, along with its Bold, Italic, and other variants.)

Also, thanks to this post from the Ubuntu forums, I’ve been able to finally get Firefox to accept the scim hotkeys of switching between my default English keyboard and Japanese input. Don’t worry about all that stuff about locales in that post — to be honest I’m not exactly sure what he’s talking about. Just following the instructions in the first half of the post (basically making …xinput.d/scim, xinput.d/none, and xinput.d/default look the same). However, unlike what the poster there suggested, I typed in “scim-bridge” instead of xim for the GTK and QT_IM_MODULE variables; maybe xim works for you, but for my Daryna setup, “scim-bridge” works perfectly.