February 10, 2017

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Taking Linux Mint 18.1 “Serena” for a spin

Sadly it’s been quite sometime that I’ve tried to spend any amount of time on a Linux desktop for fun (rather than work), even the general Linux category here on the blog is fairly dust ridden. In the proccess of starting this entry I realized that my last “going for a spin” post was from Ubuntu 12.04 and the last post about Linux Mint was about KDE & Superkeys in 2012. So with that depressing note out of the way, lets talk about the new Linux Mint 18.1 released two months ago.

The install of Mint is on my trusty Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 3 (The Gen 5 units are coming out this month, I want one). The most important test is “what didn’t work out of the box?” and the answer so far is: Nothing. While this machine isn’t brand new, its nice to have a Linux distro go onto a laptop with nothing broken. Now there was one minor issue being the HiDPI display.

HiDPI and Mint Cinamon

Since this Lenovo has a touch & HiDPI display, I’m operating at a resolution of 2560×1440. Out of the box everything is tiny, not totally unusuable but much smaller font and UI than I’d prefer to use. Fortunately the fix is easy, albeit hard to find:

  • Open the Menu
  • Type “general”
  • Launch General
  • Find the “User Interface Scaling” which is right at the top and set it to “Double (Hi-DPI)”

The one caveat, you might notice, is that the options are only regular and double. If neither of thoes settings work for your prefernce, then Mint doesn’t have the defaults for it. There must be command line options for it, but since double worked for me I stopped investigating here.

Impressions coming from Mac & Windows

My primary work desktop is OSX based and my primary home desktop is Windows 10. I’m very savy with both UI’s and have love/hate for pieces of both. Overall, Cinammon (the window manager, same as Windows Areo or OSX Aqua) is very attractive and slick. The menu, bottom taskbar and bottom tray are all obviously similar in design to Windows (not a bad thing). The general layout of the application close/minimize/maximize buttons along with application menubar is also very similar to that of Windows. Personally I like this more than OSX’s “detached” menubar.

However, when you dive into Nemo (which is the file manager), it has a distinctly more Mac vibe. The other thing that Cinnamon has out of the box is Workspaces. [L CTRL] + [L ALT] + [UP] brings you into what an OSX user would call Exposé or Spaces or Mission Control, in short an overview of your current workspaces. [L CTRL] + [L ALT] + [LEFT/RIGHT] allows you to quickly slide between workspaces. Unfortunately that’s the end of the out-of-the-box workspaces similaries to Mac. There is no “maximize to full workspace” feature like OSX has, not a huge loss since you can right click any application title and send it to any workspace.

Summary

This is just a “dip in the pond” of using Linux Mint 18. It has met all my out-of-the-box needs for: Working well, easy to customize, not too many obnoxious defaults, and not too many things need fixing. So I plan on sticking with it for a while and make the Linux Lenovo my default writing machine. With some hope I’m going to follow up this post with a few more in the series regarding the apps I’m using and how my migration project is going. For those curious about Linux Mint, I highly recommend it — especially for those wanting Linux while still having a more familar user interface. It’s built on Ubuntu so you get all the advtanges of Ubuntu without the Unity interface.