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I try to keep an open mind about things. Try new things. Give them a chance to sink in. Show me their value. Absorb their new thinking and ideas. Figure out why they went and did the things they did. One of the reasons I love to travel and meet new people. One of the reasons why, as an adult I started to learn some history (after being a science/music nerd all through school): History in part also is about other ways of thinking.


Some new ideas have staying power: My Android phone or my Xoom tablet are both new ways of doing some old things, and I would hate to go back to the way I did some of that before. Other new ideas take a very long time to come to fruition: X86/AMD64 were years and years behind virtualization, and so far all the innovation I have seen in that space I saw already once before, back in the 1980's. It just took a while to catch on (but, on the other hand it was resilient enough to survive many attacks on it too)


With that in mind, it was a very nice thing to install Mint 11 on my Dell M4500. I had tried Ubuntu, Fedora, and OpenSUSE on various computers (primarily my IBM T43 and Dell D610). Putting Mint 11 on was like coming home from a very long trip.


There were many interesting things along the way: Interesting ideas, both good and bad (see the discussion at the end of my post about Ubuntu 11.04 for example), but in the end, at least for now, Mint 11 is the distro getting it right for me. Having a quick look over at Distrowatch as I write this, it is the number two distro, just after Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is barely ahead 2294 to 2147 Hits Per Day. Fedora is number 3 at 1547. Go to the longer term stats, and Mint is actually number one for the last month, and has maintained number two position for the last year.




Installing Mint 11 is easy, as usual. I booted the LiveCD, checked that a few things worked, and then clicked the install icon. Ubuntu 10.10 had been on the M4500 before, but I went with a completely clean install this time, wiping out even my old home directory.


One of the things I really like about the way that this gets installed is that all the disk layout questions are asked first, and then the installer goes off and starts formatting and installing things in the background while you are answering the usual questions about your name, time zone, and other administrivia. Once those are done, you move into an install status screen, already in progress.


Once installed, grub is configured and installed to the MBR. In the case of the M4500 I have the triple boot Mint11 / RedHat 5 (ADDM scanner) / Windows 7 correctly set up in the Grub menus.


At first boot, I had the proprietary drivers installed. Sorry: I am not a purist here. I know Fedora does a better job at provisioning all unencumbered device drivers, but I do want my screen and wireless to work, so I let the nVidia and Broadcom drivers be installed. I am not really sure why the Broadcom stuff is here, since they released their drivers some time ago. I guess they have not flowed in from upstream yet.



The first thing I do, no matter what the OS, is get current. I would rather deal with a problem created by patching every day than prying Day 1 black hat stuff out of the OS's innards. Nor am I silly enough to think that Linux (or OS.X for that matter) is immune from evil, just because MS Windows is a more popular target.


Mint uses its own update process to achieve this. The main difference between this and Ubuntu is that Mint takes an extra test cycle to verify that all software being installed works. I can not imagine how many people must be doing that, given how many packages a week typically get updated in an Ubuntu based installation. Maybe they don't do it for every package, trusting that certain non-critical system packages from Ubuntu are fine as tested and delivered.


Either way, once everything is up-to-date, I made my changes.



No distro (unless of course you are the creator of the distro) can be delivered tweaked out exactly the way you want it. Mint excels at getting the big things right, but they can't know I want to read Mac formated disks, create blogs using Komposer, want Hubble space telescope pictures for my desktop background, that I like my taskbar at the top, or that I prefer the old Gnome menus to their menu bar. They make it possible via either their work, or Ubuntu's before them, or Debian's before them, for me to get everything installed as I want it, and laid out.


The good news is that there is no Unity interface here. No Gnome 3 netbook looking desktop. This is the Gnome desktop from the 2.32 series, not the 3.0 series.


Over on the IBM T43, I switched to KDE 4 rather than deal with Gnome 3. I hate to sound like a luddite, but I (so far) just do not like Gnome 3. I hope it will get better, the way KDE 4 got better, but right now, the interface is, to use a technical term, yuchy. It does not make me faster using a laptop. Its idea that any screen real estate used for anything other than what you are working on at that second is not the way I use a laptop. Its how I use my phone, and even my tablet, but my laptop is for doing bunches of things at the same time, and doing them all quickly. Right now I have four things going at once, and that is probably about as low as it ever gets.


If my laptop gets all tablet-y, then why even use a laptop? My Xoom is pretty snappy, dual core, etc. I can just add a keyboard to it and then that can be my laptop.


Creeping Crud

My point about all this then leads me to a one major interface boo-boo (in my opinion) of Mint 11 so far. It inherited it from Ubuntu, and I noted it in my 11.04 post but it is worth repeating here. I do not begrudge a few pixels of my 1920x1080 screen space for scroll bars. They are not big clunky screen wasters, they are click-able without guessing where they are and they tell me where I am in the document. They are not chrome or cruft or decorations. They are useful. They increase usability, and that is more important than some design ethic, at least to me.


Thus this command is required:


sudo apt-get remove overlay-scrollbar liboverlay-scrollbar-0.1-0


This should be a settable behavior. Christian Giordano and Andrea Cimitan at Ubuntu (thanks again for the link Paul) went to a lot of trouble to implement this feature. There are no doubt people that like it. It makes sense on small form factor devices even. But I want it off on my big screen laptop.


Device Support

I have not yet been able to install a version on Linux on my M4500 from anyone and have it get the touchpad right. Here is the output from the xinput command:


xinput list

⎡ Virtual core pointer                          id=2    [master pointer  (3)]
⎜   ↳ Virtual core XTEST pointer                id=4    [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ Logitech USB-PS/2 Optical Mouse           id=10   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎜   ↳ ImPS/2 ALPS GlidePoint                    id=12   [slave  pointer  (2)]
⎣ Virtual core keyboard                         id=3    [master keyboard (2)]
    ↳ Virtual core XTEST keyboard               id=5    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=6    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Video Bus                                 id=7    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Power Button                              id=8    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Sleep Button                              id=9    [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ AT Translated Set 2 keyboard              id=11   [slave  keyboard (3)]
    ↳ Dell WMI hotkeys                          id=13   [slave  keyboard (3)]


The problem is the ALPS Glidepoint at device ID 12. For whatever reason (guessing closed source, not reversed engineered device), Linux treats it like a mouse. That means, among other things that as you type if you touch it, the cursor jumps. Things are highlighted that should not be. Things are deleted, moved, and mangled, and at first you think that the computer has gremlins.


I ended up after some research in just deciding to disable the trackpad. I use a mouse most of the time with this computer. It is too big to really be a laptop. Its more of a transportable computer. I have a Xoom and a Mac for the more portable use cases. These commands toggle the trackpad on and off respectively:


  • xinput set-prop 12 'Device      Enabled' 1

  • xinput set-prop 12 'Device Enabled' 0


I put the 'off' command version in my login profile.


Everything else works. Sound, backlight controls, wireless, and so forth.


Evolution 2.32.2

I would be remiss if I did not mention that, like Ubuntu 11.04, Evolution is working using MAPI now. It is not great. It is not fast. But like Ubuntu 11.04, I can see my MS Exchange calendar, and I can use a combination of IMAP, LDAP, and MAPI to have a useful Linux based enterprise desktop.


While it is not fast, it is fast than my Ubuntu 11.04 desktop, just by virtue of the Dell M4500 being faster than the Dell 745 desktop. That does make MAPI more livable. 27,665 bogomips versus 7,443 bogomips. Its not a totally valid measure of speed, but it does explain to some degree why the M4500 feels snappier.


Until Mint 12....

In most ways the M4500 is very Linux ready. Its speedy, and with Mint 11 fully configured it feels like coming home. What the Mint team does next will be interesting. I am sure it will get much harder to avoid things like Unity and Gnome 3's massive user interface changes over time. Retrofitting Gnome 2.x to new OS's would no doubt be a pile of work. There is a version of Mint that moves away from Ubuntu to a pure Debian code base, so that might help. And there are a ton of desktops other than Gnome out there.


Or they may embrace change... In which case I will have to decide what to do next. Which is part of why I have Fedora 15 running KDE over on the T43. Whatever happens, I'll want to have at least tried the new stuff, and make an informed decision.