Thursday, August 15, 2013

Linux Mint 15 Olivia - Observations

I've been an opensuse user for the last several years and usually really enjoy running it as my workstation's desktop operating system. But, as the 12.1 repos have started to unceremoniously vanish from existence, I've finally decided that enough is enough. I had been thinking about possibly another rpm based distro or even going in a completely different direction (like Arch) while avoiding any Debian based distro, but Mint has held such a commanding lead on for such a long time, I thought it might be worth taking a look.

Here's some observations from the first few days.

The Good


My Xorg memory leaks aren't present in this version. This represents about 1/3rd of the reason I started looking outside my normal opensuse comfort zone.


Mint's KDE 4.10 environment is fast. So far I haven't even gone in and shut off all the silly animations and junk. Normally, however slight the amount, these things interfere enough so that it's obvious I'm spending time waiting for animations to draw when I could be already clicked onto the next step. The animations on Mint seems so well tuned that there's actually some benefit to having the animations enabled. Otherwise, the transitions are so fast you have to almost stop and evaluate whether you clicked something and an action actually took place.


VMware Workstation 9.02 installed and ran perfectly right out of the gate. Stock install, didn't have to go and fetch linux kernel header packages or anything.


I missed aptitude. I gave Ubuntu (kubuntu, specifically) a try many years ago and generally didn't like it. Traditionally I'm a Red Hat derivative guy, and moving to a Debian derivative was a little shocking. But aptitude was such nice piece of curses based package management. I found myself opening a shell window to install packages instead of using the gui package managers and I may continue this with Mint.


Speaking of aptitude, the stock set of repos with Mint are fairly well rounded.
When I go into the main Mint repo in a browser, I see the last 11 versions of Mint. This represents the other 2/3rds of the reason I'm giving up on opensuse. I'm incredibly sick and tired of having my repos dry up and vanish on me every couple of point revs. I'm done being forced to do a full OS upgrade of a perfectly working desktop just because someone's OCD is preventing intelligent repo management. The 'zypper dup' upgrades may work for some folks, but they never, ever, ever work as expected for me. Doing a 'zypper dup' is always an 8 or more hour ordeal for me.


Java works a bit better. I work on a large amount of HP enterprise class hardware. Unfortunately, doing away with Java is not an option for me because of the iLO management interface. While not perfect, the Java support is definitely better and I can reasonably expect it to work when I open up a remote console window.

The Bad


Firefox default search engine is Yahoo. Google isn't even present as an option in the drop-down choices. This says a lot about Mint's priorities. Spoiler alert: it isn't you.

Let's all pretend VLAN's don't exist.

If your only network connection requires VLAN tagging, you will have *no* internet access during the installation.

The Network Settings panel hasn't the faintest hint of VLAN support (before or after installation). If your installation is already underway, maybe you can use your mobile phone to Google how to set up VLAN tagging. Otherwise, hopefully you looked up how to configure VLAN tagging before starting to install Mint. The process of configuring VLAN's is obscure and stupid, similar to an enterprise Linux distro, definitely not what you'd expect from a premiere desktop Linux distribution. And since VLAN's don't exist in Mint's world and consequently do not appear in documentation, you'll have to take an educated guess on how to add them to the /etc/network/interfaces file. After you've finally figured out that the appropriate file to edit is /etc/network interfaces, that is.

I tried setting my physical ethernet interface to "link-local" just to get it out of the way of my VLAN interfaces while keeping it active. This vaporizes the ability to configure your dns servers. Even if you had used the Network Settings panel to configure dns servers previously, it quietly deletes them and replaces them with opendns. On the plus side, the Network Settings panel doesn't complain if you set your ethernet interface to "manual" and then leave everything blank except the dns servers.

VLAN network interfaces *never* show up in the Network Settings panel. You're 100% command line and text file editing to manage your VLAN interfaces.

EFI (and GPT)

EFI support is terrible. Almost everyone's is, Mint's is just worse.

With EFI present, it is not possible to complete the installation without an internet connection. Period. Even if you open a shell and manually preinstall the necessary packages (which *are* present on the live iso), the installer is hard coded to download the EFI related packages from the online public repos. It never even bothers to check if those packages are already installed, nor does it try to install them from the iso. Since VLAN's don't exist in Mint's world, if your only network connection requires VLAN tagging, you're completely out of luck. For that matter, if for any other reason you don't have internet access during the install, you're completely out of luck if you booted from the EFI loader.

Also absent are GPT partition management utilities. In general, it seems like it would be best if you just didn't start the Mint install until you'd already burned a bootable image of Parted Magic in preparation for having to do any partition editing.


During install, the tail command does not work at all. Nor tailf. It shows you the last few lines of the file and just sits there with its thumb up its ass. I found a forum post where someone mentioned this issue a year (and a few Mint versions) or so ago with no response. I don't really like using less and its "F" function to follow files, but at least it works.


sshd host keys don't get generated. If you're expecting to immediately be able to ssh into your newly installed Mint host, forget it. There may be an official and proper way of doing this, but fortunately I had saved my host keys from my last Linux desktop distro so I just restored those right into place with no fuss.

Minor missing package nits:

gnu screen

Some popular but missing packages...

Try installing taskjuggler. Go ahead. With no ruby knowledge. Just try it.
Despite the well rounded stock repos, once going outside their scope, I feel like I'm really up the creek. Being an rpm guy, though familiar with package management in general, normally I know exactly what to do in any situation. Everything from how to find the difficult-to-find packages, to porting source rpm files from other distros, to building my own packages from the spec up I have no problem handling. I've even automated building Solaris packages on my own. I'm no stranger to this. Yet every time I go looking for HOWTO docs on deb packages, I feel like I'm looking at VCR schematics when generally all I want to do is stop the time from flashing 12:00.

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