Trying Mint Maya (MATE edition)

I deleted WinXP from my test computer, and that freed up enough space that I could install a second system, in addition to opensuse 12.2 (I’m testing Beta2 at present).  I have heard many people say good things about Linux Mint, so I decided to take it for a test run.  I went with the MATE edition, rather than the Cinnamon edition, because the test machine I am using has limited graphics capability.

Mint is a distro that is based on Ubuntu, and uses the Ubuntu packages and repos.  One might call it a repackaging of Ubuntu.  Version 13 (Maya) is a long term support release, meaning that I could keep in installed and expect security updates to continue until April 2017.

MATE is a fork of Gnome 2, by people who don’t much like Gnome 3.  That seemed the Mint version for me to try, since I am not a big Gnome 3 fan.

Getting the software

Mint comes as a live DVD iso image.  It is just a little too big for a CD, running at a little under 1G of space for the iso file.  I installed it on a USB flash drive, planning to first test while running from the live media, then later install for more detailed tests.

Running from live media worked quite well.  So I decided to install.  While running the live MATE software, there is an Install icon on the desktop.  So I double clicked on that to start the installation.


The first install screen was a checklist.  The installer wanted the power to be plugged in (not running on battery), it wanted an Internet connection (I had an ethernet cable connected to my router), and it wanted to be sure that there was enough disk space for an install.  Those checks all came out looking good.

The next screen told me how it planned to install, and what I might delete on the disk.  It gave an alternative where I could do expert mode partitioning.  I chose the expert mode.  I had already divided my older XP partition into a 15G partition for Mint and a 5G partition to use as swap.  It was easy to configure those.  I did not configure a separate “/home”, but allowed that to be part of the root partition.

Next it asked about the time settings.  It suggested that I select Chicago time.  That seemed suitable, since I am in a Chicago suburb.  Mint comes from Ireland, so I was surprised that it suggested a Chicago time.  But perhaps it was doing geolocation, based on the IP address of my internet connection, and and guessed the timezone from that.  It did not ask whether I wanted the CMOS clock set to UTC — it just assumed that.  But perhaps it could tell that I was already using UTC.

It then proceeded with the install, which mostly consisted of copying the live system to the hard drive then installing grub2 for booting.  At some stage, it did prompt for the name and password of a login user for the computer.

The installed system

Before long, I was running the installed system.  It was easy enough to configure the way that I wanted, and it seemed reasonably congenial to use.  It is a little different from the gnome 2 versions of opensuse that I had previously used, but similar enough that it was easy to work with.

I had no difficulty setting up a WiFi connection, so that I could remove the temporary ethernet cable that I had used during install.  There was no authentication required to setup the WiFi connection.  Later checking shows that users in the “sudo” group can setup WiFi connections.  Anyone else will be asked to authenticate as one of those “sudo” group members.

Software management

Shortly after the first login, a tray icon indicated that there were several hundred updates available.  I clicked the icon to start the install, which went quite smoothly.  In particular, I did not have the problem I saw with fedora, where an update run would fail if more than around 100 updates were selected.

Installing updates did not require authentication.  Later checking of polkit rules suggests that users who are not in the “sudo” group would have been asked to authenticate.

Once the updates were installed, I rebooted.  Then I installed a few more software packages.  In particular, I installed “ecryptfs-utils” so that I could have an encrypted private directory, I installed “csh” and I installed “rcs”.  The software manager seemed to be easy enough to use.  Installing new software did require authenticating as one of the users in the “sudo” group.

Root access

Similar to Ubuntu, Mint does not provide a root password.  Access to root commands is done with “sudo”.  Authentication for “sudo” requested the password for the user I had setup during install.  This is different from how I have accessed the root account on opensuse, but is still quite straight forward to use.


My disk drive has an encrypted LVM, where opensuse 12.2 Beta2 is currently installed.  I was not prompted for a decryption key for this.  That is unlike installing opensuse or fedora, both of which requested the key.  I recall, though, that in earlier testing with Arch linux, the trick was to manually decrypt before starting the install.  I did not try that with my original install, because I did not want to overwrite the opensuse system that I am testing.

As a later test, I did a trial run of an installation.  While running the live media, but before starting the installer, I used “cryptsetup” to make the encrypted LVM available.  That step went fine.  Next, I tried to scan for volume groups.  Back came a message that the lvm2 software was not on the live media.  So much for the idea of installing in an encrypted LVM.  It looks as if that would not be easy.

I’ve already mentioned that I installed “ecryptfs”.  Once installed, that worked fine for an encrypted private folder.  I seem to recall that, when setting up a new user account, there is an option for encrypted home directory.  And that probably uses ecryptfs (based on the rumors that I hear about Ubuntu setups).

Some surprises

I quickly ran into missing software.  That is, there was software that was not initially installed, but which I normally expect to find on a linux system.  For example, “xterm” was not installed.  There was a terminal application, namely MATE terminal which is presumably based on gnome terminal from Gnome 2.  However, I have some shell scripts that use xterm, so I installed it.  It was easy enough to install,

Another thing missing was “sshd”.  The ssh client software was there, for connecting to other systems.  But there was no daemon that would allow connecting into the Mint system from elsewhere.  Again, this was easy enough to correct, by simply installing the software.

Having installed “sshd”, I tried connecting from another system.  It connected without problem, though I think I had to open the firewall port first.  What surprised me, is that connecting took several seconds.  Perhaps this is a deliberate delay to slow down the ssh hackers who are prevalent on the Internet.

Overall assessment

Mint is well packaged, but seems to be oriented toward users coming from a Windows environment where they mostly use the GUI interface.  Experience unix users are likely to be initially frustrated by missing applications, though these problems can easily be corrected by just installing what is needed.

Personally, I will be staying with KDE on opensuse, because I have come to prefer KDE4 to Gnome.  However, Mint is a nice, well organized system, and I could quite easily adjust to using it.

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About Neil Rickert

Retired mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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