Distro Review: LinuxMint 3.1

Part 1 in a 2 part series

I recently had the opportunity to try out Linux Mint, a new linux distribution aimed at capturing desktop user share from Microsoft. Linux Mint is a Ubuntu (debian) based distribution with some interesting user interface improvements, a few notable additions, and some closed source files that Ubuntu doesn’t ship with. I know first hand that when my windows user friends come over and use my laptop to check their email, they are often taken aback by the graphical user interface differences between linux and windows.

Where Linux Mint Excels:

1. A User Friendly Interface

I know first hand that when my windows user friends come over and use my laptop to check their email, they are often taken aback by the graphical user interface differences between linux and windows. In windows everyone knows that the start key is on the bottom left hand side of the screen. In a typical Gnome-based Ubuntu distribution of course it defaults to the top left and doesn’t even appear as an obvious button. Windows users don’t know what the hell they are looking at. Linux Mint gets around this by removing the top bar and putting the ‘start’ (or program access) key at the bottom left of the screen. Where Ubuntu drops the ball, Linux Mint does a fairly good job of avoiding confusion for windows users.

Linux Mint Desktop Screenshot

As you can see from the screenshot the start button is not quite as obvious as a windows XP or Vista start key with the highly identifiable Microsoft logo, but a good deal more intuitive than a typical Gnome desktop.

2. The Start Menu

The start menu looks just like Windows XP/Vista. Menu items are grouped in a logical manner consistent with the average desktop user’s experience.

Linux Mint Start Menu

3. The Control Panel

One of the most daunting things to a brand new-to-linux user is finding the locations of all the individual component-specific control panels. We have a font control a display control, a desktop control, an accessibility, a network, and countless other controls typically listed in the drop down menu under the system tab when Microsoft has them all neatly located in a ‘Control Panel’ dialog box. Linux Mint organizes them in a nicely organized intuitive display as well:

Linux Mint Control Panel

4. Graphics Card Support

Mint ships with a nice little installer called ‘Envy’ for installing non-free video drivers from ATI and Nvidia. Unfortunately my graphics card on my laptop is an ATI radeon mobility which uses the standard driver so I was unable to test it out. In addition since my graphics card is so pathetically old I am unable to use the Open GL Beryl desktop. Mine defaulted to the standard gnome. However, it does come bundled with beryl and emerald. Here is a picture of some Emerald window decorations you can choose from:

emerald control panel

5. Wifi Support

Strangely my wireless adapter (which uses the fairly standard atheros chipset) didn’t work with the live cd version of Mint, but once I installed it to my drive it worked without a hitch. For unsupported wireless adapters, Mint comes with a handy NDIS wrapper installer so you can just insert your wireless card’s install disk, browse to it and install it for use in Mint.

6. MintDisk: NTFS read/write and drive mounting out of the box

Mint disk is a handy little tool that automatically mounts ntfs partitions – and not with the typical read only access that you get from a vanilla ubuntu install. Worked perfectly for me and could work hand in glove with ndiswrapper to install windows wireless ethernet drivers on dual boot machines.

mintdisk ntfs small

I have only had a couple of hours to play with it so I expect to have a lot more to say in part 2.

HOWTO: Use Songbird, Tor, and Privoxy to Anonymously Stream (or Download) Media Files

Disclaimer: downloading media that you don’t own is against the law

Get SongbirdGet SongbirdGet SongbirdGet SongbirdGet SongbirdGet Songbirdtor

In case you haven’t heard Songbird is a great open source media organizer and content scraper. With a couple of small tweaks you can set it up to anonymously download (backups of your existing) media or stream media from millions of sources online. With a Linux, Mac, and PC compatible version (Ubuntu users check out this cool installer script), Songbird gives you the option to store a copy of media you find through it’s various search engine plugins to your media collection, or bookmark it’s location online and add its URL for streaming to it’s handy built-in media library. Since Songbird is open source, there are lots of user contributed plugins to allow you to stream music from lots of online sources like last.fm, skreemr, google search, and more every day.

Step 1: Songbird

Install a nightly build of Songbird available here

Step 2: Tor & Privoxy

Install the Vidalia Bundle available here. If you are running windows you will see two new icons in your icon tray letting you know that tor & privoxy are running.


Step 3: Tor Button (optional)

Install the Tor Button for Firefox available here

Currently the biggest drawback from using Tor as an anonymous proxy is the download speed bottleneck using it creates. Installing the Tor Button allows you to quickly switch your proxy settings in Firefox so you can stop using Tor and Privoxy when the speed of normal browsing becomes an issue. Unfortunately, the built in version of Firefox is incompatible with the latest tor button so you will have to manually edit your proxy settings in Songbird to use a tor router. If someone knows of a way to force compatibility please let me know.

Step 4: Manually configure Privoxy proxy settings in Songbird

Click on Tools –> Options

Songbird Options

On the Firefox dialog box that pops up click on connection settings.

Connection Settings

Enter in Privoxy’s default proxy settings (Unless you have manually changed them)

Configure Firefox to use privoxy

Step 5: Install the skreemr search addon

Skreemr is a pretty good site to search for music. You can download the addon so you can stream music from skreemr here. Once installed you will need to do a quick restart of Songbird (remember songbird is firefox based and sometimes those annoying restarts are necessary) and you can start searching for music to listen to.

Step 6: Search for music

On the top right hand corner of the Songbird GUI will you see a search box that lets you pick your search engine, again, much the same way firefox lets you pick the search engine to use. Choose skreemr and you are ready to go!

skreemr search

That’s it! Happy searching!