This is going to be a somewhat different installation of Kombuting than the ones you’re used to – it will be about my ventures installing a Linux distribution, and my experiences with it. My home PC is a pretty powerful one – it has a nice Core i7 2600k running at 4.7GHz without breaking a sweat, an Ivy Bridge Z77 chipset motherboard and a GeForce GTX680 graphics card. I am not describing it to you for bragging rights, just to put some background to the situation I am about to describe. I had Windows 8 happily installed on my OCZ Agility 3, but it was a 60GB one and it was almost full, all the time. So I decided to hop on eBay and buy a new Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB model, which should be quite enough for the OS plus some applications I need fast access to. Living in Greece means that the disk would be here in 10-15 days’ time, depending on post traffic, which is acceptable; I’ve bought things from the States quite a few times. I also decided to sell my Agility disk, so when I started writing this article, I was left with just my 3TB Seagate drive.
So being the usual me, I decided to install the latest Linux Mint, version 14.1. I opted for the Cinnamon version; bear in mind that I am a Gnome 3 / Gnome Shell guy (that’s what I use at work almost exclusively, I am one of those weird ones that actually like it) so I thought it’d be a very good opportunity to try something new and see whether I’d like it. For those of you not in the know, Gnome 3 has a shell (imaginatively called… Gnome Shell) which is totally different than its predecessor and is often criticised for lacking features. And as it happens with Open Source software, when people don’t like something, they are free to make something else. Namely, Gnome Shell was forked and Cinnamon was born; which uses Gnome 3 / Gnome Shell technologies to give back the familiar Gnome 2.x interface, with extra features. So I downloaded the ISO, burned it to a DVD+RW disk I have for such occasions and off I went with the installation.
For those of you who have installed Ubuntu before, well, Mint is based on Ubuntu so no surprises there. All I did was some manual partition tinkering, where I resized the already existing 3TB NTFS partition I had and made room for three more; one small 1MB at the beginning for the boot process, one 60GB one for the main Linux installation and a 8GB one for swap. And since I promised you whining, what better place to start than the beginning. Why should I do all these things by hand? The only “automatic” options I had were “Erase everything on the disk” and “Manual partitioning”. Nothing in between. Would it be that hard for the installation procedure to ask me “Hey, would you like to install Linux Mint alongside your current partition and data? So as you know, I’ll create the new partitions I need and resize your existing one. How much space would you like it to take? Don’t worry about creating boot/swap partitions and resizing others, I’ll take care of that for you”. Thankfully the installation went on without any surprises, and the PC rebooted to Linux Mint.
…or so I thought. Because upon reboot, I was greeted with a nice command prompt, asking me for my username and password. No graphics environment, no nothing. I could tell that the graphics environment was trying to load, but it was failing for some reason, and I immediately had flashbacks from the past (it’s not the first time I install Linux, you see) and proceeded to go look at the X.org logs (conveniently placed in /var/log/Xorg.0.log). Yes, my lovely GTX680 was to blame, it wasn’t recognised for some reason so instead of loading a generic vga driver and letting me know, Linux Mint thought it’d be more fun to skip loading the graphics environment altogether and throw me to the command line. Thankfully, as I said, I am no stranger to those kind of Linux magic tricks, so I used aptitude to search for NVidia packages (the command is aptitude search NVidia) and then proceeded to install the latest NVidia experimental driver (version 310 at the time of writing) with apt-get. All that may sound trivial for someone who has had Linux experience in the past, but it is totally unacceptable for someone who wants to try a new Operating System and doesn’t know his way around the command line or how to decipher an xorg log file. Anyway, that procedure worked beautifully, so after a sudo reboot I finally logged in to Cinnamon.
First impressions were solid; I like what they’ve done with the shell. I may like Gnome Shell, as I mentioned before, but it’s a total departure from the familiar paradigm everyone knows and still loves. So Cinnamon is essentially the old shell built on new tech; so people coming from a Windows and older Gnome/KDE background should know their way immediately around it: start menu on the bottom left, notification centre, system tray, the whole deal. So, after the first glance, I took a look at the bundled applications, which cover a wide range of stuff anyone could possibly need, and then some. I then proceeded to do what I always do whenever I load up a Linux distribution: customize it like there’s no tomorrow. Different theme, different wallpaper, all those things that add a personal flavour to the OS.