Mint 17 KDE – a review

As anticipated Mint 17 “Qiana” was released not too  long after the Ubuntu 14.04 on which it is based.  I waited a little longer, because I wanted to try the KDE version.  When I last tried Mint, it was the Mate version.  But that was a while ago.  I primarily use KDE, so that seemed to be the appropriate version for me to test.

The download was of a live DVD image, which contained the installer.  Downloading was simple enough.  I then checked with the MD5 and SHA256 hashes.  I could not find a gpg signature to check.

Booting

As preparation for booting, I copied the image to a USB.  In my case, I used the command

dd_rescue linuxmint-17-kde-dvd-64bit.iso /dev/sdd

from my opensuse system.

The actual copying went well.  The first hint of problems came when I attempted to boot.  I got to the point of a boot menu, and hit enter to continue.  The system hung at that point, and I had to power off to exit the hang.

There seems to be something wrong with the way that they prepared their boot image.  In particular, it appears to not be fully compatible with UEFI systems.  I was attempting to boot on a Thinkserver TS140.  I had secure-boot disabled, as the install documentation advised.  I did have CSM disabled, since my system gives a better UEFI boot menu that way.

CSM is the compatibility support module.  When enabled, there is support for legacy booting and for traditional BIOS calls during the boot.

As best I can tell, the Mint installer somehow depends on CSM.  Once I enabled CSM, it was able to boot.  Then, when I disabled CSM, it continued to successfully boot.  So it looks as if the installer is doing something on the first boot that depends on CSM.

I have repeated this.  I created a second USB, this time using an external IDE drive in a disk enclosure.  And, once again, it would not boot with CSM disabled.

Installing

Once I had solved the booting puzzle, installing seemed to go well.  I wanted to install in an existing encrypted LVM.  I did not see documentation on how to do that, so I followed the method that I had previously used with Ubuntu.  That is to say, I used “cryptsetup” to unlock the encrypted LVM.  I then checked “/dev/mapper” to see if the logical volumes were accessible, intending to use LVM commands to make them accessible if that were needed.

Then, in the installer, I chose the appropriate logical volumes for root and swap.  My home logical volume, I instead mounted to “/xhome” so that I could access it, but not interfere with the settings that were from my use with opensuse.

The install went well.  As expected, it would not boot.  So I used the same rescue method that I had previously used with Ubuntu.  And that corrected the boot problems.

Problems

I ran into only one problem, and I’m at least partly to blame for that.  I specified one user during the install.  Then, after the install, I created another user account with the User Manager tool.

I’ve been using “csh” as my shell for decades, so I wanted to use that.  I installed the “tcsh” package so that it would be available.  I then changed the shell of the  newly created user to “csh”.  I made that shell change using

% sudo chsh -s /bin/csh username

When I attempted to login as this user, I had a problem.  The login screen from MDM (the Mint login manager) only showed the original user that I had setup during install.  To work around that, I went to the settings for the login screen, and turned off the option to automatically select the last user.  With that change, the screen still only showed the original user.  But there was a place where I could enter a username for login.  That worked, and got me logged in.

Next came the problem of updates.  The update indicator at the bottom of the screen said that there were security updates.  Clicking on that opened a window with a button I could click to install updates.  But nothing happened.  No updates were installed.  The updater window just disappeared.

At first, I thought that the updater had crashed.  But a check on running processes showed that it had not.  I again clicked on the update icon.  I then looked at the logs, and they pointed out the problem.  They were complaining that my shell “/bin/csh” was not in “/etc/shells”.  Apparently, installing “tcsh” adds “/bin/tcsh” to the list of valid shells, but fails to add “/bin/csh” to the list.  I’m inclined to think that’s a Ubuntu bug.

I then edited “/etc/shells” to add an entry for “/bin/csh”.  I logged out and logged back in.  And now the login screen showed both user names.  Moreover, updating now worked.

Comparing with kubuntu

Mint KDE is very recognizably kubuntu with a different face.  I still have kubuntu installed on a different computer, so it was easy to compare.

The menus are a little different between kubuntu and Mint, but not greatly different.  The installed software, likewise, is a little different.

Mint has a prettier wallpaper, and a bunch of alternative wallpapers that can be selected.  Ubuntu has a bland wallpaper and no alternatives (though you could install some).  However, apart from those mostly cosmetic differences, the two seem quite similar, and recognizable different from the opensuse KDE that I normally use.

There are a couple of other differences.  At present, my kubuntu system seems to have a newer kernel than the Mint system.

Mint:
% uname -a
Linux nwr8 3.13.0-24-generic #47-Ubuntu SMP Fri May 2 23:30:00 UTC 2014 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

Kubuntu:
% uname -a
Linux nwr3 3.13.0-30-generic #54-Ubuntu SMP Mon Jun 9 22:45:01 UTC 2014 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux

And that’s with both fully up to date.  Since the Ubuntu kernel update was flagged as a security update, that’s perhaps a bit troubling.

The other noticeable difference is that kubuntu is using “pam-kwallet”, while neither Mint nor opensuse use that.  With kubuntu, as long as the kdewallet password is the same as the login password, the kdewallet is automatically opened during login.  That’s very nice for usability, though perhaps a little less secure.

Summary

Overall, Mint 17 KDE is a pleasing system.  It is similar to the kubuntu on which it is based, though with a more pleasing face.  But be cautious of the boot problems on a UEFI system (which I did not see with kubuntu).

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About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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