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This is a Beta? Wow....


These days the Distro I am always watching and waiting for a new release of, more than any other, is Mint. I have expressed that preference here quite a bit since I discovered Mint back in its 3.x release days. Mint 5.0 Beta is out now, and I am not really sure why it is considered Beta. All I have had with it so far is about 24 hours, but it is solid.


Good Parents


It helps that Mint starts with Ubuntu 8.04. I have been extremely impressed with that release on every computer I have put it on. The Mint team then layers on its own package selections as defaults, adds in its own themes and toolsets, probably does other things I don't know about, and creates Mint.


I really like the cool, dark themes of Mint. I also liked the earth tones of Ubuntu, and I really like the Heron desktop background artwork, but I think that, in the West, Mint's default colors are probably going to be more universally well liked, for the reasons I discussed in my last post at my personal blog.

Just an assumption though.

The Install


There is not much point going into depth on what a Mint install looks like here. It looks like an Ubuntu install with a Mint themed LiveCD desktop behind it. It is a LiveCD with and install icon on the desk. Seven panels. Same questions. Same annoying new time zone slippy sliddy map. I was glad to read in several full on Ubuntu install reviews that every one I read found that feature to be useless. It may take an impressive bit of graphical programming to make that happen, but I can not determine what useful purpose it has. I just use the TZ chooser pull-down menu below the graphic these days. In fact, one of the things I was curious about in Mint 5 was whether they would go to the trouble to take the Ubuntu-ism back out. Answer: No. Oh well.


The computer I used for this is my Dell D620 laptop. I had Ubuntu 8.04 on it already, so it was a pretty good bet that it would all work, and it does. With 2 GB RAM, dual core 2.0 Ghz T7200 processors, 1440x900 flat panel (detected and configured automatically!), and the Intel GMA 945 chipset, the D620 is a middle of the road laptop by today's standards. Ubuntu and now Mint make it act like a top of the line unit though. Everything is fast. The Compiz GUI effects are enabled by default and do not visibly slow the computer. The default effect choices are mostly useful rather than eye candy: Things like task bar preview, and window re-sizing feedback.


I have said it before, but it bears repeating: If Vista could feel shame it would be hanging its head. Linux and OS.X are living proof that you do not have to have top flight graphics cards to do all the fancy video compositing.


One other preference oft mentioned here: Mint does a SLED looking menu by default, with I just as quickly ignore (mostly) and restore the Gnome standard menus across the top.

First Pass

After I very quickly (less than 10 minutes) spun the Mint 5 Beta stuff to the laptops SATA hard drive, formatting over the "/"(sda2) but preserving "/home" (sda4). Layout like this as usual for me:


Disk /dev/sda: 80.0 GB, 80026361856 bytes
255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 9729 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x00019fb7

Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System
/dev/sda1 * 1 1824 14651248+ 7 HPFS/NTFS
/dev/sda2 1825 3040 9767520 83 Linux
/dev/sda3 3041 3283 1951897+ 82 Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda4 3284 9729 51777495 83 Linux


I booted back into Mint 5.0, logged back in to me, and it pretty much looked like the same desktop I had under Ubuntu. That in turn looked like the Mint 4.0 before that. All the look and feel elements, backgrounds, font settings, etc all there. A quick trip into Synaptic re-added all my default applications that I was missing. Things like HFS for reading Mac disks, Evolution plus debugging packages for email, and so forth: All told about 40 things not in the default LiveCD.


Things all worked, but I was having a bit of trouble with Evolution remembering a MS Exchange hosted IMAP server my email used to be on a while back. Nothing I could do surgically would convince it that the server no longer existed. It kept prompting me for my password to it. Very annoying. I used 'find' to search every file in my home directory for the server string, but nothing doing. It must have been coded or compressed in some way that a plain text search would not find.


I use HTML editing far more than standard OpenOffice file formats. It makes it easy to start a document in one place, load it up to Google Docs, and edit it there some more, then download it for a final polish in a different place. That means the OpenOffice writers default launch needs to be set to "ooffice -web %U". 'System / Preferences / Main Menu' makes short work of that tweak.

HTML Editor Digression


I did part of this post's edit is Quanta 3.5 under Mint 5.0. It crashed a couple of times, but saved the work so I did not lose anything. I am guessing it would be more stable in a KDE environment than a Gnome one... or it is just that this is a Beta. It is usable and useful though. Quanta is an interesting project, but it did manage to almost torch half this post. I had saved the post and exited Quanta... I thought. I then edited for a while in a few other editors. Then Quanta somehow got restarted, and saved a version from its project store back out to the disk, overwriting what was there with a much older copy. I cussed a bit, but then realized that the last editor I had been using, Komposer, kept a backup of the document, and was able to get most of it back.


I do not now really blame Quanta for this near erasure of my post. It is a sophisticated tool with tons of features, and it was working the same way many SDK's: Like my blog post was just part of a much larger project. It was trying to organize it into its internal data structures and not really assuming I was working from the external disk copy. Quanta wants to be used in the way it was designed to be used, within its project paradigm, not as a casual editor.

I did part of this post in Kompozer (yea backup files!), and for extra fun, part in Bluefish. I wish there was one really good HTML editor out there for Linux, but all of them bring something to the party I like, and other things I dislike, so that depending on what I am doing, I fire up one or the other.


  • OpenOffice Web: Good WYSIWYG, spell checking, but upper cases all the HTML tags, and drops in extra stuff at the drop of a hat. Trys way to hard to make things into paper documents rather than simple web pages like these posts.
  • Komposer: Based off NVU. Not being deeply developed anymore (which is better than NVU, which has not seen any work for years), has crashed a few times on me) tends to be more for WYSIWYG work. I like the tag cleanup tool, but wish it did more. If Komposer / NVU were being actively developed and had better spell checking I think that is what I would use more.
  • Google Docs:  Has taken to "severely uglifying" the HTML tags with "ID" stuff.  Its habit of dropping in unwanted <br> tags is unreformed, and Google has never fixed the screen presentation so it is more WYSIWYG. I mostly use it when I am doing a great deal of editing from all over the place or collaborating on something. One thing though: You just can't beat its revision system. It has saved my document-editing-bacon more than once. Makes its unruly behaviors all that much more irritating, because otherwise it would be my HTML editor of choice.
  • Bluefish: Reminds me a lot of Quanta: More project oriented, more raw HTML editor. WYSIWYG features are sort of grafted on, but handy for serious tag slinging.
  • Quanta: All noted above.

Back to Mint..


I ran 'Mintupdate' from 'System /  Administration' and downloaded the current stuff that Mint has defined as safe updates. About 40 packages altogether were in their safe classification of '3'.


When I was in Synaptic adding in packages like HDDtemp GkrellM, etc, I saw that there were updates to several packages available that I was not installing. MintUpdate does not offer then at all, or displays them in state other than three depending on your display preferences. One of the updates in Synaptic that is not in MintUpdate is ... MintUpdate. Looks like MintUpdate is not ready to replace itself...


This update safety system that MintUpdate brings to the table is probably at least part of the reason why this so-called Beta is so solid.

Pass Two


This D620's Gnome desktop has survived quite a number of OS upgrades, so it was time to clean out the whole thing and start over. I erased .gconf* and .gnome* and then logged back in and re-laid out my default desktop. It now looks the same as it did before I started, and only took about 10 minutes, but it does not have any weird behaviors anymore. Evolution has forgotten the old MS Exchange server. What 'find' could not find, 'rm' took care of. Brute force rather than finesse though. More of that in the Evolution section below.


I added a new panel to the top, and repopulated it Gnome style, but left the SLAB-looking panel thing (MintMenu and is at version 3.3) at its default location on the bottom for reference. MintMenu has one feature I really like, which is the ability to triage-filter applications as I type their names. If there is an application I do not use very often such that I do not know which menu they appear on, the triage-filter-feature is pressed into service. Example: Sometimes a thing like the Bluefish HTML editor shows up in one distro Gnome menus in the 'Internet' section and others like Mint place it in 'Programming'. With MintMenu I don't have to know where something is. Kind of like Spotlight on OS.X, but more focused.


While the screen resolution was configured correctly, the default DPI was not quite right. In System/Preferences/Appearance/Fonts it was set to 92 or so, and D620s flat panel is really 121. At 121 the fonts were a little bigger than I needed, so I set the DPI to 108 and that seems to work pretty well. Lovely anti-aliasing, smooth round easy to read shapes. Very very nice now.

Evolution 2.22.1


Since I am looking at this as a desktop for complete replacement of MS windows at the office and in am MS Exchange 2003 shop, naturally Evolution has to be considered. It worked fine under Ubuntu 8.04 though, and nothing really changes for Mint 5.0. It is in fact the Ubuntu packages: Mint does not version them:


dpkg -l | grep -i evolution
ii evolution 2.22.1-0ubuntu3.1 groupware suite with mail client and organizer
ii evolution-common 2.22.1-0ubuntu3.1 architecture independent files for Evolution
ii evolution-data-server 2.22.1-0ubuntu2.1 evolution database backend server
ii evolution-data-server-common 2.22.1-0ubuntu2.1 architecture independent files for Evolution Data Serv
ii evolution-dbg 2.22.1-0ubuntu3.1 debugging symbols for Evolution
ii evolution-exchange 2.22.1-0ubuntu1 Exchange plugin for the Evolution groupware suite
ii evolution-exchange-dbg 2.22.1-0ubuntu1 Exchange plugin for Evolution with debugging symbols
ii evolution-plugins 2.22.1-0ubuntu3.1 standard plugins for Evolution
ii evolution-webcal 2.21.92-0ubuntu1 webcal: URL handler for GNOME and Evolution
ii mail-notification-evolution 4.1.dfsg.1-4.1ubuntu1 evolution support for mail notification
ii nautilus-sendto 0.13.2-0ubuntu1 integrates Evolution and Pidgin into the Nautilus file
ii 1:2.4.0-3ubuntu6 Evolution Addressbook support for


For this list I deleted the libraries and compressed some whitespace for brevity....


There we have that big version jump: the last version of Evolution was 2.12 and these are 2.22, but there are no intervening releases. Evolution is now aligned to the Gnome release numbers.


A few settings I always do in Evolution later (like making Sunday the start of the week, setting my default calendar to be the one on the MS Exchange server, limiting GAL responses to 50, Turning off all the Groupwise plugins, etc) and it is ready to go. Stable so far, but...

Inbox State with Multiple Clients and Evolution


Evolution has one pretty ugly behavior, and it has been there for quite a while. I see it all the time but have not said too much about it here. I assume that my use of both MS Exchange and Evolution is not utterly typical. Others may not see this often. Just in case, here it is:


I do not run email from just one Linux system, but most of the time from at least two. My desktop, currently running Mint 4.0 on a Dell 745, has the mission of filtering my email. Evolutions filtering tools are pretty good, so I have it keeping all my various subscriptions to various email lists organized.

Further: MS Exchange is well known for being snarky about a users inbox getting too big. Unnatural things happen when a server side PST gets too large (although this has gotten better in successive releases of MS Exchange). Add to that inbox size limits: most shops, ours included, has server side limits for how much storage you can use for email.


If I am logged in to MS Exchange from both the desktop and the laptop, and am using Evolution to read my mail in both places, and I then archive a large amount of email from the desktop, the laptop utterly loses track of what is *left* in the inbox. It can only see emails that arrive *after* the archive happens. Log out and back in all you like: it never figures out that its view of the Server side Inbox is out of whack.


There is an easy fix though, and I put it into a batch file. I run this script every single time right before I log in to Evolution. It looks like this more or less:


rm ~/.evolution/mail/exchange/

rm ~/.evolution/mail/exchange/
rm -Rf ~./evolution/cache


Yeah: Its ugly. Brute force effective though.


Interestingly, it does not help to be logged out on the laptop instance of Evo. Logout, do a large archive from the desktop, and then log in from the laptop, and it has lost track of the MS Exchange hosted Inbox. There do not appear to be any 'clear cache at startup' or 'rebuild Inbox meta-data at startup' configuration settings, at least in the GUI.


It does not appear to slow down MS Exchange login to do the scorched earth script before starting Evo, so it is cheap insurance.

This is not a Mint thing, or an Ubuntu thing. The exact same thing happens no matter what Distro or release of Evolution I use. Evo just can't keep track of Inbox state all the time. Oddly if I delete a few files from one computer, the other copy of Evo on the other computer figures it out. Seems to be a size or number of items deleted related problem.

Other Office Stuff


This is a beta and it has only been about 24 hours of testing so I can not say that every single thing works as it should. That will require weeks of testing. I did have some emails with .pdf, .doc, and .xls attachments I needed to look at during the day, and everything seemed to work perfectly with the included OpenOffice 2.4. I will probably try out the Beta 3.0 version at some point as well, sinccne it is supposed to, like every release has so far, increase fidelity of MS format import.


I went to the web interface of Remedy to research an Incident, a Change Request and a task, and Firefox 3.0b5 functioned extremely well against the Remedy 7.0 Mid-Tier server. I pointed Firefox at an internal Oracle application and had no issues there. Finally, TSClient against an MS W2k3 virtual machine running in the VMware farm downstairs had no issues.


As Nero Wolfe often tells Archie: "Satisfactory"


PS: A note in the Mint Wiki about 5.0 says that they are watching Firefox 3.0 closely and want to ship that as soon as they can. I have been running the 3.0 Betas for a while on Linux and OS.X and it is looking very good. Solid. Fast. Cool new features. I am glad Mint 5.0 will have it when it GA's.... or at least goes Release Candidate.