Linux Mint will be based only on Ubuntu LTS

Linux Mint founder Clement Lefebvre announced an important decision taken on the Mint release cycles. Starting immediately with Linux Mint 17 “Qiana”, the Ubuntu-based operating system will be based only on the LTS releases.

The decision is significant as this shows the direction is which Mint is moving with more stability in mind. Fewer releases immediately means that the focus of the development will be on the same package base for the next 2 years. The complexity involved in the upgrade paths from version 17 to 17.1 to 17.2 will also be reduced to a great extent.

Of course this doesn’t mean that users will need to sacrifice the latest updates in important applications. Clement confirms “Important applications will be backported”. However, the change in the release mode will boost the pace of development as developers can focus more on development than spending more time in regressing each new Linux Mint release.

With the change in the release mode which takes effect in Linux Mint 17.x, the imminent release is now very important to the Mint developers. This is going to be the release which will receive security updates till 2019, backports and new features till 2016. This is also going to be the only package base on focus (besides LMDE) till 2016.

So while users will be seeing lesser number of major releases of this extremely popular OS, there will be no lack of important application features which will keep getting backported.

Why do you need license from Canonical to create derivatives?

Last year during an interview Jonathan Riddell, the lead developer of Kubuntu, told us that Ubuntu teams were telling Linux Mint that they needed a license from Canonical in order to use compiled packages from Ubuntu.

Clement Lefebvre, the founder of Linux Mint, confirmed in his blog post, “I personally talked to the legal dept. at Canonical (for other reasons, they’re telling us we need a license to use their binary packages) and it is clear they are confused about LMDE and Mint. They don’t know what repositories we’re using and they don’t know what we’re doing.”

So the question arises, do Ubuntu derivatives need license from Canonical? Jonathan disagrees and says, “… no license is needed to make a derivative distribution of Kubuntu. All you need to do is remove obvious uses of the Kubuntu trademark. Any suggestion that somehow compiling the packages causes Canonical to own extra copyrights is nonsense. Any suggestion that there are unspecified trademarks that need a license is untrue. Any suggestion there is compilation copyright is irrelevant in most countries and untrue for derivatives almost by definition. Any suggestion that the version number needs a trademark licence is just clutching at straws.”

Canonical has been very vague about their trademark and copyright issues from the very beginning. Despite FSF’s suggestion to avoid words like Intellectual Property (IP), Canonical changed their licencing policy to ‘Intellectual Property rights policy”. According to Jonathan this policy was “much more vague about any licences needed for binary packages”.

Yesterday (Feb 13) Canonical’s Community Council released a statement on Canonical Package Licensing. The statement is aimed at Linux Mint and another ‘un-named’ derivative. However the statement doesn’t do anything to address vagueness around the licence one requires to create an Ubuntu derivative. What it does do is tell such derivatives to discuss with Community Council instead of going public. Since the Community Council din’t really address the issue, potential users have no clue whether and why do they need licence.

Even CentOS or Oracle Enterprise Linux don’t need any licence from Red Hat to create clones.

Jonathan has an answer for such potential derivatives, “From every school in Brazil to every computer in Munich City Council to projects like Netrunner and Linux Mint KDE we are very pleased to have derivative distributions of Kubuntu and encourage them to be made if you can’t be part of the Ubuntu community for whatever reason.”

Linux Mint falsely accused of being “insecure”

Oliver Grawert made a pretty blunt claim on the Ubuntu Developer mailing list a couple of weeks ago, stating that Linux Mint is insecure, and that he wouldn’t deem it secure enough to do his banking. This claim appears to be mostly based on the fact that Linux Mint, by default, does not install certain updates, because they form a danger to the stability of the system.

Now let’s break this claim down, shall we?

“It might for exmaple allow security updates (which are explicitly hacked out of Linux Mint for Xorg, the kernel, Firefox, the bootloader and various other packages)
so that you dont have to go online with a vulnerable system ;)”

Where should I begin? His claim that it’s a hack seems a good place to start. In Linux Mint, there’s a text file which can be found at /usr/lib/linuxmint/mintUpdate/rules, which assigns a level to certain packages, with level 1 being updates being tested and distributed by the Linux Mint developers, and level 5 being the most dangerous kinds of updates, which are known to affect the stability of the system in some cases. Is this a hack? First of all, the levels can be found in a text file, so for a power user it would be absolutely no trouble at all to just edit that text file. But what about the average users? Well, let’s have a look at Linux Mint’s Update Manager. Let’s go to Edit -> Preferences. Poof! Does this look like a hack to anyone?

linux-mint-update

By default, level 4 and 5 packages are not installed by Linux Mint’s Update Manager. With a few clicks, though, the whole issue is suddenly non-existent. Beware the stability of your system, though.

Then there’s this claim that it withholds updates from the Linux kernel, Xorg, Firefox and the boot loader. This is partially true. Linux Mint does, by default, withhold kernel and Xorg updates. As most long-time Linux users will know by now, kernel, xorg and boot loader updates often break the system. Is a broken system better than a slightly less up-to-date system? If you’re a regular desktop users (if you’re not then this doesn’t affect you, because you shouldn’t be using Linux Mint anyway), the answer is no. The Linux kernel does, to some extent, affect security. This is of importance to companies running big servers, but to a lesser extent for the regular desktop user, because they simply don’t form a compelling enough target to spend the time exploiting a kernel vulnerability (also because Linux Mint, unlike Ubuntu, comes with a Firewall pre-installed, making the task even more difficult).

Then, Xorg. Xorg does for a big part affect the security of the system, but seeing as Xorg still can’t properly separate input being sent to different applications, I don’t think a potential hacker is going to be bothered much by the “security updates” for Xorg anyway. A seemingly innocent application could capture your bank account details as you are entering them into your web browser, and you’d never know. If attackers get to the point where they actually have access to your Xorg session, then you’re screwed anyway ,and no security fix is going to stop them anymore.

The boot loaders… Please, Oliver. Enlighten me. How does the boot loader affect security? Are we Microsoft, now? Are we soon going to develop our own implementation of “secure boot”? Because unless we are, I’m missing your point with this one.

I saved the best one for the last; Firefox. Let’s have a look at the /usr/lib/linuxmint/mintUpdate/rules file again. It clearly states Firefox is a level 2 update. Level 2 updates get installed by default. I think it’s safe to say mister Oliver was simply attempting to add some juicy fud to his claims to make them spread faster, or otherwise thoroughly uninformed about the matter.

This situation has been blown up to be a much bigger ordeal than it really is, which is partially because of news sites mindlessly copying Oliver’s claims, without conducting any research of their own into the matter. This is exactly why you should never take claims from only one source for facts.

Clement Lefebvre, the Linux Mint project founder, has since made a statement and confirmed that Oliver Grawert seems “more opinionated than knowledgeable and the press blew what he said out of proportion.”

Linux Mint brings HTML5 to MDM

Linux Mint has quickly climbed the ranks in the past few years and has surpassed Ubuntu on Distro Watch as the most popular distribution (conditions apply).

With the next rendition of Mint they have added yet another personalization feature that is sure to get a lot of attention. The MDM is the default display manager for the login screen in Linux Mint and it now supports HTML5!

The new MDM will feature 3 different login screens, also known as greeters. GTK, GDM and the new HTML. The HTML5 greeter screen which uses Webkit and is fully compatible with themes written in HTML.

Using HTML and web technologies within Linux Mint means you can now create beautiful dynamic themes using web content. MDM HTML themes add features that allow one to define not only the way the login screen looks but the way the navigation works as well. This gives you the an ability to choose how the end user interaction works. To give an example of this, you could essentially make a user have to play mini game or watch a flash intro in order to log in. Personally I’d stay away from anything to do with flash but the possibilities this adds are nearly endless.

“MDM 1.2 will be available in Linux Mint 15 and will feature the new Webkit greeter and a selection of HTML themes,” says Linux Mint founder Clement Lefebvre. “MDM 1.1.x available as BETA for theme artists on github.com, the development branch of MDM (1.1.x) already features a functional Webkit greeter.”

Although its not ready for everyday use just yet, its certainly fun to play with. Any one wanting to give it a try should follow the instructions provided here:

  • Grab and install the latest development package for MDM at http://build.linuxmint.com/automate/www/instances/linuxmint/ubuntu/pool/main/m/mdm/
  • Open a terminal and remove the Mint adjustment by typing this (without the quotes): “rm -f /etc/linuxmint/adjustments/15-mdm.overwrite”
  • Reboot your computer

Then:

  • Launch the MDM setup tool by clicking on Menu->Administration->Login Window (or from a terminal with “sudo mdmsetup”)
  • In the “local” tab, set the “Style” to “HTML”.
  • Make a copy of /usr/share/mdm/html-themes/mdm and modify it to create your own theme
  • Place your theme in /usr/share/mdm/html-themes or drop an tar.gz archive of it on the setup dialog to install it
  • To test your theme easily, we made an emulator!
  • Open a terminal and type “mdm-theme-emulator”
  • Click “open” and select your index.html file
  • Click “Add dummies” to add random users and sessions to your theme”

Let us know what you think of MDM?

Linux Mint 15: What’s Cooking In The Out Of The Box Operating System?

I now refrain from comparing Linux based distribution because what my needs are could be different from yours and what works for you may not work for me, but I am really impressed with Linux Mint in the ‘out-of-the-box’ experience department, it’s becoming one of my favourites along with openSUSE and Kubuntu.

If we look at the consumer grade Linux-based operating systems which are ‘factory’ ready for a user, Linux Mint tops the chart, leaving Ubuntu and similar ‘desktop OSes’ behind. Whether it’s MP3 or MP4 playback, everything works out of the box. It comes with all the drivers and codecs that one needs — just download the appropriate version of Linux Mint. Due to this ease of use Linux Mint has become one of the most used distribution among the people I know. Unlike Ubuntu which keeps its business goals in center and want users to change and adopt, Linux Mint keeps its users in the center and changes the OS accordingly.

This Ubuntu-based distribution has also showed how Gnome 3 can be extremely useful and customizable with few hacks and extensions. As and when needed, the Linux Mint team forked a project (if upstream was not ready to change) or picked alternative to give users what they wanted. Unlike Ubuntu, the innovation happening in Linux Mint is focused on users and not themselves. The next version of Linux Mint is already in the pipeline and Clement Lefebvre has updated the roadmap for Linux Mint 15 with focus on several components – Cinnamon, Nemo, MDM and Mint Tools.

Cinnamon 1.8

Version 1.8 of Cinnamon is expected to bring further enhancements which include the ability for Cinnamon Settings to browse/install/remove/update themes/applets/extensions/desklets remotely. It also aims at ‘merging’ the Cinnamon and Gnome properties within the same setting tool – Control Center. They are also considering rework on Cinnamon 2D. As Lefebvre writes on the GitHub page:

Rethink Cinnamon 2D, fallback to a non-shadow CPU-less intensive session in software rendering mode and/or Muffin/OpenBox (whatever happens, the user should know he’s not running the “real” Cinnamon, he should be told why, and he should find himself with a working WM (even a minimalistic one like OpenBox)).

In the eye candy department the team is planning to introduce configurable color schemes for themes, calender events similar to that of KDE and upgrade Menu applet with mintMenu features (highlight new apps, install/remove apps, search the Web). They are also planning to add new applets for email notification as well as RSS feeds. The new desklets proposed are – system monitor, picture, video, slideshow frame and terminal.

Putting some sense in the file manage: Nemo 1.8

Gnome’s default file manage Nautilus (now Files) is going through a major transformation and has been stripped from any ‘useful’ functionality, rendering it useless when compared with much more powerful file manages like Dolphin.

I still don’t get the ‘smartphonization’ of desktop operating systems – but that’s subjective. In my opinion KDE got it right — they have all three form-factors covered – netbooks, tablets and desktop without any compromise on either. Linux Mint seems to be doing the right thing with Nemo by keeping alive the features needed on desktops.

The Linux Mint team forked Files and created Nemo. The team is planning some improvements with Nemo for the version 1.8. It will offer file preview and bring some UI improvements such as sidebar selection, independent path bar, better looking breadcrumbs etc. They are also planning something that Lefebvre calls, “Action API (reads desktop files in /usr/share/nemo/launchers. An action is basically a text file which defines a name, an icon, an executable and which file extensions nemo shows the action for when the file is right-clicked. A typical example of this would be a “Edit tags” action which would apply to *.mp3 files.).”

MDM & Mint Tools

They are also working on enhancing MDM and plan to add add a “border” property to “entry” objects so themes can get borders around text fields and write a new renderer which supports animations and interactivity to get on par with unity-greeter in terms of looks. Mint tools will get some UI improvements for Software Management as well as live installer.

All these proposed features look promising and will only enhance the user experience for a Linux user. If you have not tried Linux Mint yet, you can try the latest stable release code-named Nadia.

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Linux Mint 14 Released

The Linux Mint team has released their newest Linux distribution,  Linux Mint 14 “Nadia”.

Linux Mint 14 offers two choices:  MATE, or Cinnamon.  The improved MATE offers the classic GNOME 2 desktop environment.  While the more modern Cinnamon is a fork of the GNOME 3 shell.   Both downloads come in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. 

In  MATE 1.4,  Linux Mint claims to have fixed bugs which have existed for years.  Bluetooth is now working, as is MATE-keyring.
 
The new Cinnamon 1.6 offers an improved alt-tab dialog and a new workspace switcher with persistent workspaces:

Workspaces are “persistent” in Cinnamon. This means you can create a workspace whenever you want by clicking the “+” button and it will remain there until you decide to delete it. You can log off or even reboot, your workspaces will remain the way you defined them.

The Linux Mint team seems particularly proud of the Cinnamon project.  Besides greater stability, the new version boasts 800 code improvements,  which is 2.3 times more than previous Cinnamon changelogs.

Other new features:

  • Cinnamon’s new sound applet featuring cover artwork.
  • Cinnamon Desktop includes a forked version of the Nautilus file browser called Nemo   
  • MATE desktop features the Caja file browser with Dropbox support.
  • New version of the themeable MDM display manager
  • Linux Mint is based on the new Ubuntu 12.10.

 

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Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

The Linux Mint team has announced the release of Linux Mint 13 KDE. This is an important release for KDE and Linux Mint users as it brings the latest and greatest technologies from KDE and Ubuntu.

The Good: Feel The Power of KDE
What I like the most about KDE is the way it offer total control over your PC, which Ubuntu Unity or Gnome Shell misses. Customization is another area where KDE excels over others and Linux Mint is no exception. From the System Settings you can control almost every element of your machine. You can go ahead and explore system settings and intrigued by all that there is in the offering.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

You can change or install new themes and icons with a single click (something impossible under Ubuntu at the moment).

Watch the below video to check out the customization that Linux Mint offers.

Linux Mint KDE also enables a user to use the good ol’ panels and you can create as many panels you want and place them wherever you want. At the same time, you can pin your favorite apps to the panels as you wish.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

Linux Mint uses the familiar KDE menu which is a neat Application Launcher where you can also ‘search’ the apps without having to go through each menu. You can access your Applications, Storage, and other settings right from this menu. You can also pin your favorite apps here so that you can access them with one click.  All the applications are neatly placed under appropriate categories so a new user won’t have to struggle to find all the apps which are available.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

Another cool trick Linux Mint KDE has up its sleeves is Krunnuner. It allows you to not only open apps, files, folder and websites without leaving your keyboard but also perform basic tasks such calculation and conversion. It’s just two keystrokes away: Alt+F2

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

Linux Mint 13 packs the latest and greatest KDE on top of stable and easy to manage Ubuntu. So, while you get the advantage of using a Debian based distro – huge repo of packages, flexibility of PPAs to expand it further, and increasing support for Ubuntu by more and more players, at the same time you also get the power of KDE.

However when I look at Linux Mint I can’t stop thinking of Kubuntu or Netrunner which are using Ubuntu as the base to pack KDE SC. What intrigues me is the fact the Linux Mint KDE is funded by the same company (Blue Systems) which also funds Netrunner and now Kubuntu. It seems to be a lot of duplication there. So I am curious if there is any plan to merge these projects? I am also curious if Linux Mint/Kubuntu teams are working together as they share the same DNA?

When I asked Clement Lefebvre, founder of Linux Mint he said, “Blue Systems sponsor many projects, including Netrunner, Linux Mint and Kubuntu. These projects are different and independent though and there are no plans for them to merge.”

The Bad
There is not much to write bad about Linux Mint. This release suffers from the same issue which other Linux Mint release suffer from the same issues which are clearly listed in the release note. One may think that the infamous black splash screen is a bug but it’s not. This is by design. Once the system is installed the boot sequence is relatively fast. The black loading sequence doesn’t look out of place and it looks consistent across all computers, whatever driver you’re using. If you’d rather get a splash screen you can select one by typing the following command and selecting mint-logo:
sudo update-alternatives –config default.plymouth

Applications Management
Linux Mint comes with own customized Software Manager. It’s a great tool to enable users in installing apps. It’s actually better than Ubuntu Software Center as at times you need to install some packages and that’s a task which USC can’t  perform. For example I use iBus to compose in Hindi. When I install iBus under openSUSE or Fedora it automatically installs the m17 engine to enable languages. Under Linux Mint that doesn’t happen and you have to install the package manually. This is where LM Software Manager is better as under USC you can’t find such packages.

However, I think Linux mint should install the engine by default when iBus is installed so that unnecessary frustration is avoided.

I found the Software Manager to be a bit slower than Synaptic. The good news is, unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint comes pre-installed with Synaptic so you can use it to install or remove applications.

I did find the Software Manager to misbehave at times the package I was installing did get installed but it was showing ‘not installed’.

Beyond that there is not much to write in the bad category. The distribution is really stable and does a great job at packing KDE on top of an Ubuntu base.

The Ugly:  Linux Mint Default Search Is Messy
Linux Mint has switched to Yahoo! as the default search engine, which is powered by Microsoft Bing. Looking at Microsoft’s hostile attitude towards Linux, I don’t feel comfortable using there search engine so I switched to Google. But before doing so you must bear in mind that search engine is an avenue for the Linux Mint team to fund the project as search engines share with Linux Mint the revenue generated for them by Linux Mint users. So if you do want to switch search engine, do consider making a donation to Linux Mint so as to keep the project well funded.

Donate to the Linux Mint project

The interesting thing about using Yahoo! as the default search engine is that when you search for Linux Mint, the project doesn’t even appear in the first fold. It is buried under irrelevant ads or results.

Linux Mint 13 KDE Review

What’s DuckDuck Go Doing Here?
I noticed something which was not mentioned in the release notes. When I performed a search from the URL/address bar the result returned from DuckDuckGo. So, is Linux Mint using two different search engines? Yahoo! for the Firefox search bar and DuckDuckGo when you enter search terms in the URL? The problem that I faced was unlike the ‘search box’ where you can change the default search engine, there is no easy way to change the URL search engine unless you tweak the about:config settings.

Since there was no mention in the release note, I checked it with Clem and he explained,  “The default search provider is Yahoo, but only for the countries indicated in the release notes. In all other regions, or for parts of the OS where no localization is done (for instance in the URL bar) we’re still using DuckDuckGo as default. You can change the URL search provider by configuring Firefox. This option isn’t present in the menus but you can access it via about:config.”

Changing the default URL search provider can be a bit challenging for an average user. I think Linux Mint team should make it easier for users to change default search engines. While I support Linux Mint and will recommend donation, I also think there should be some flexibility when it comes to choosing a critical feature such as default search engine.

DuckDuckGo Needs To Buckle Up
I am a big fan and supporter of DuckDuckGo, but I feel that it seems to be not indexing sites and many pages. When I ran a search for Muktware story “Linux Mint 13 KDE Edition Released” it did not give any results so DDG user will never see millions of such pages. Same is the problem with Yahoo! and Bing, All these search engines are incapable of indexing millions of sites thus are no where in competition with Google. Linux Mint story was published on 23rd July and none of these search engines have the story indexed. Only Google gets it right.

I can’t say much about Bing or Yahoo! as they are powered by Microsoft’s search which is more about having its own product in every possible category instead of offering a few great products. I think Linux Mint might want to explore the possibilities of working with Google and use it as the default search engine.

Gtk Apps Look Ugly
As I wrote in this article for some mysterious reason Gtk apps don’t look good under Linux Mint (or Kubuntu). I use Gedit, Tweetdeck and Nautilus (as Dolphin can’t mount my Nikon D7000 camera) and there are some big issues here. When I copy files/folder in Nautilus it doesn’t highlight the selected items so I don’t know what is being copied. Same happens with text under Gedit or Google Chrome (which also uses GTK).

The Verdict
KDE is often criticized for being buggy. I have been using KDE for almost an year now and I never lost my work due to a crash. Yes, once in a while when you close Amarok or shutdown your system you will see a crash report but that’s all it is.

KDE, as I always maintained, is one of the most advanced desktop environments, without making any compromises the way Unity or Gnome shell have made to stay relevant on touch-based devices.

Instead of making any compromises the KDE teams have developed graphical environments for different devices. KDE’s Plasma Workspaces is the umbrella term for all graphical environments provided by KDE. There are many workspaces –

  • Plasma Desktop – traditional PCs which use keyboard and mouse.
  • Plasma Netbook – netbooks which are low on power and have screen restrictions
  • Plasma Active – targeted at touch based devices
  • Contour – mobile devices

So, when you use Linux Mint KDE you don’t lose any functionality and get the most out of your powerful desktop. In my personal opinion openSUSE has one of the best KDE implementation along with KDE centric distros. If Linux Mint can move more distro specific controls and settings in the ‘System Settings’ such as Software Manager, Repo management, it will enhance the user experience. System Settings will be one shop to take complete control of your Linux Mint system.

One area that I think Linux Mint need to work on for future releases is tight integration with Cloud, whether it be Google Drive, Dropbox or ownCloud. Linux Mint can also enhance user experience by integrating social network such a Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

I think Linux Mint’s primary goal is to offer a great distribution to KDE users, without interfering much, without coming between KDE and its users. I commend Linux Mint for doing so and doing it so well.

Linux Mint is an excellent distribution for a Windows user who wants to give GNU/Linux a try without having relearn everything from scratch; it’s an excellent distribution for a KDE fan who wants the easy of use of an Ubuntu-based distribution and it’s also a great distribution for those who don’t feel comfortable with Unity of Gnome shell. On top of that it is an excellent distribution for any Linux user who wants complete control of her machine. So, if you are any of these users you should give Linux Mint a try.

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Here Comes Linux Mint Mini PC: MintBox

Google just announced their first mini-PC running Chrome OS, Samsung’s Chromebox. Now another leading Linux distribution is coming out with their own mini-PC.

Linux Mint has partnered with is teaming up with Compulab, maker of fanless mini PC, to create Linux Mint powered MintBox. There will be two models of MintBox featuring the newly released Linux Mint 13 ‘Maya’. These MintBoxes will be running AMD G-Series T40N and T56N processors.

CompuLab is not new to Linux. They manufacturer a unique computer unit called the fitPC3, which comes pre-installed with a custom-made version of Linux Mint 12 featuring MATE 1.2 and XBMC. What has changed is the upcoming models of fitPC3 will be the branded edition and flash a Linux Mint logo. CompuLab will share revenues with Linux Mint team.

Clément Lefèbvre, of Linux Mint says, “We’re delighted with our relationship with CompuLab and with the units they produce. We’ll post a review of the “mintBox” and announce it as soon as it becomes available.”

It’s great to see that Linux players are realizing the needs of pushing their own hardware which offers an out of the box experience. KDE’s Aaron Seigo has also released their own tablet running KDE.

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