Exploring Linux Part 26
by Alan German
(Lucid Lynx), a long term support (LTS) version, reached
end-of-life status on May 9, 2013 which essentially meant
that there would be no further security updates for this
version of the operating system. However, the good news
was that Version 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin) was to have
support through April, 2017.
My plan, therefore, was to switch my production machine
to the new Precise release. In preparation, I had been
running this version of Ubuntu on my development machine
for the previous year, ever since its initial release on
April 12, 2012. While the new OS had run in this manner
without incident, installing Precise on my production
machine resulted in a litany of problems, all seemingly
related to incompatibilities with the AMD/ATI HD 6450
video card installed in the desktop computer.
The really interesting feature was that booting the
desktop from a live-CD (actually a live-USB) produced a
stable system that performed perfectly normally. The
troubles only began once I installed the new operating
system to the machine's hard drive.
The first odd behaviour was after rebooting immediately
following the installation procedure. The machine booted
into a blank, light-purple screen not a good sign!
Using a combination of reboot and recovery options, I was
eventually able to bring the screen into a split
condition with the left third being displayed on
the right of the screen, and the right two-thirds showing
on the left. Not only was the effect disconcerting, the
entire display was constantly flickering, so that reading
and responding to prompts in this mode was somewhat
To cut a long story short, the main fix for the
non-booting/odd-display problem proved to be to install
the proprietary AMD Catalyst Driver for Radeon. However,
one further issue was that subsequent updates to the
xserver files broke the Catalyst driver which then had to
be reinstalled, but this process did produce a
more-or-less stable system.
The final straw came when, following a cold boot, a
series of short black lines was left dancing across the
top portion of the screen. Another user had noted this
problem and his workaround was to log off the system and
then immediately log back on again! Amazingly, this
worked for me also; however, I didn't consider this to be
a viable solution. Furthermore, the dashed lines were
occasionally displayed on login but only
occasionally. So much for computers being consistent,
The bottom line turned out to be that no solution to this
specific issue was forthcoming from Google searches;
error reporting to both AMD and Ubuntu was both
frustrating and fruitless; and dancing lines before my
eyes, even only on occasion, were completely
unacceptable. So, the ultimate solution was move
to a new distro!
Enter Linux Mint 13 (Maya) with the Mate user interface.
Mint 13 is a derivative of Ubuntu 12.04 (Precise
Pangolin) and hence is an LTS version with support
through 2017. Furthermore, because it is based on
Precise, it is a reasonably familiar operating system to
both use and troubleshoot. In addition, Mate is
interesting because it can be configured to look very
much like Gnome. This is perhaps not surprising since
Mate is a fork of Gnome2.
Despite nominally being based on Precise, Mint 13
installed and ran flawlessly on my desktop machine. Ah!
hints of the good old days when successful
use of a live-CD preceded an uncomplicated installation
to the hard drive.
The as-installed display is somewhat different than the
Gnome Classic under Ubuntu. In particular, the control
panel runs along the bottom of the screen rather than
across the top. The wallpaper is clearly different and,
by default, on-screen icons indicate any disks that are
automatically mounted at boot-up.
The good news
is that the layout of the panel is customizable. It can
easily be moved (Right-click Properties
General Orientation) to the top of the screen, or
a new top panel added if so desired. In addition, a
custom menu bar can be added to the panel
that restores the familiar Applications Places -
System menu options.
The icons for the mounted disks can be eliminated by
changing the desktop settings (Main Menu System
Control Center Desktop Settings
Mounted Volumes), Even Mint's main menu can be removed
from the panel to really give the screen a truly
All of my favourite Linux applications, including
inosync, Back In Time, BleachBit, DOSbox, Kalarm, and
KeePassX work flawlessly under Mint. The default file
manager, Caja, looks and feels very much like Nautilus;
however, I did replace Pluma, the default text editor,
with the more familiar gedit. This wasn't because Pluma
functioned in any significantly different manner, it was
purely that I couldn't get used to typing pluma
instead of gedit in Terminal commands!
Ubuntu, with its insistence on the Unity interface, and I
have been moving apart in recent years. Mint, with its
Mate interface, currently seems to offer me the best of
all worlds. So, for now at least, I have a new favourite
Originally published: January, 2014
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The opinions expressed in these reviews
do not necessarily represent the views of the
Ottawa PC Users' Group or its members.