In order to customize the looks of Linux Mint, you have to change a few things; fortunately the customization menu is easily within reach: you either right-click on the bottom taskbar, or you go to Preferences -> Cinnamon Settings. Wait; did you think it would be that easy? Well, if you resort to the built-in themes, you’re peachy. But if you want to install one of your own, you have to do some manual tinkering. No, you cannot just “install” something. You have to download the theme and:
- If it’s an icon pack, you have to extract the files to your .icons/ directory, which resides in your home folder (so in my case, it’s /home/kombatant/.icons). The dot means that it’s hidden too; so you have to manually find it.
- If it’s a theme for Metacity (the window decorator) a GTK3 theme (the rest of the window) or a Cinnamon theme (the bottom taskbar and menu), it has to be copied inside /home//.themes/
- If you just want to install an applet or an extension for Cinnamon, you have to copy the relevant files inside /home//.local/share/cinnamon
There are countless theme options from which to choose; you can go to either Gnome Look, Deviant Art or Mint’s own Cinnamon Spices website to download to your heart’s content. But it would be nice if there was an easier way to install themes that was more user friendly. Gnome 2 had that capability, we are sure the Cinnamon developers will implement it in the end.
To continue with our customization attempts, we head on to wallpaper changing. Not sure why, but since Windows Vista and the Aero theme, I completely stopped wanting to customize my Windows desktop much; whereas whenever I am on Linux (whether it is Ubuntu, Gentoo, Fedora, now Mint) I am having a field day doing it. I have a quite large connection of wallpapers, and most of them come from interfacelift.com – if you don’t know the site, check it out, it has a large collection of beautiful landscapes, with more resolutions that you could ever want. So, naturally, I want them to cycle every X minutes on my desktop. Now here’s the catch: Gnome actually supports this. But the functionality is not exposed to the end user. Meaning that, although you can do it, you cannot simply go to the wallpaper settings and choose a bunch of photos, and set those as your cycling wallpaper.
So there are two options: the “install an add-on” way, and the manual way. Let me just state here that, most of the stuff we do here will work for any Gnome/Debian-based distribution, so if any of you have Ubuntu for instance, you can apply them easily. I recently found out about a very cool program that lets you cycle wallpapers with ease, and adds a whole bunch of stuff you never knew you needed, but when you used them you wonder how you were able to live without. It is called Variety; and in order to install it, you need to do the following in the command line:
- sudo add-apt-repository ppa:peterlevi/ppa
- sudo apt-get update
- sudo apt-get install variety
The program is very versatile, and adds some more cool features like Quotes delivered on your desktop, customizable appindicator support for you guys running Ubuntu and ability to either display your local wallpapers, or download automagically from the Internet from places like Flickr.
As I mentioned before, there is a manual way, but guess what; it requires to get your hands dirty :p In order to cycle wallpapers natively, you need an xml file especially built for this purpose; that will contain all the wallpapers you want, the timeout for each and the effect to change between them. There are some shell scripts available that can automate the process, but it’s not as versatile or handy as Variety, so I don’t recommend you use it.
After writing a couple of paragraphs for something as trivial as wallpaper changing, it’s time to focus on the start menu. This can also be customized; you right click on the bottom left and you choose either Menu settings (where you can customize the text, the icon etc) or Edit Menu, where you can individually see all menu settings and change them (or add to them) if you so desire.
Easy installation of applications can make or break a Linux distribution; fortunately Mint comes with a very handy Software Manager, where you can find many applications that suite your needs, and you also have your Update Manager that will take care of updates to your installed applications – that’s what you get when you have a proper Software Management System implemented OS-wide. First of all, I installed Google Chrome (it’s my browser of choice lately), and then proceeded to check out the various music players. Banshee is already installed and usually it’s a sufficient choice, but I have a rather large mp3 collection and it’s very slow to traverse and rebuild my music collection whenever I add something new. So I examined my choices – back in the day I opted for Quod Libet, so I proceeded to install it, but noticed that its development has stalled lately, plus playing music stuttered if my library was scanned at the same time. I also tried to install MPD and Gnome Music Player Client, where MPD is a music playing daemon, which needs some tinkering to configure, but once you do, it’s the fastest of them all and it runs as a daemon (or service, for you Windows-minded folk, same thing), managing your library. You can then access it with many players (like GMPC, Sonata, etc) and thus you have a nice selection of user interfaces – hell, you can even connect a webpage to it and stream your music. In case you are interested, you can go here to view the steps to configure it; it’s not that difficult. Other players I tried were DeadBeef, Guayadeque (which crashed every time it tried to import my mp3 collection) and Exaile. So after all tries, I tend to use either Exaile (which reminds me of Amarok, a very pretty KDE client, which you can also install but I didn’t want to install all the KDE libraries that it needs) or GPMC.
The good thing about Linux distributions (and Mint certainly delivers on that front) is that you usually don’t need many additional applications to the ones already installed – there is a wide variety to suite every taste and need. But sometimes, you need to be able to run the odd Windows application, and guess what; some of them, you can easily run via Wine, the application that allows Windows apps to run on Linux. So I proceeded to install it, since there are some apps on the Windows realm I really like to use and would love to continue using them on Linux as well. I also installed winetricks and playonlinux, which are essentially front ends to Wine, allowing easier application, library and even games installation (yes, you can do that as well, we’ll see more in the following pages). So everything was successful and I tried to run a couple of utilities from my Windows partition (like CUE Splitter and Tag and Rename, which I use for my mp3s), and they both run beautifully. I also run foobar2000 just for the heck of it, and voila! Another option for a music player under Mint. One application in particular that refused to run was Paint.net – and since I have some files in PDN format, that meant bad news for me, since there are no programs to edit them under Linux. I thought about letting the operating system search for an appropriate application for the files, in case I was missing something, but let’s just say that my experience wasn’t as smooth as the developers intended.
So here’s what I did – Linux Mint initially informed me that there is no application available to open my file, namely folder.pdn. As I said this is a file created with Paint.net in Windows, so I didn’t expect to find any installed applications compatible with it. But I was curious to try out the “Find application online” function, so I did just that. When I clicked the button, another window appeared (you can see it on the top left of the screenshot above), informing me that unknown is not supported.
Well, that wasn’t very helpful now, was it… I tried googling it for a few minutes, but it seems that only paint.net can open these types of files, and paint.net needs .net framework 3.5, which is not properly supported under wine yet. So, just in case you need to work with pdn files, you should take that into account and either use a program other than paint.net under windows (as far as I recall, Gimp also runs under Windows so you can try that), or patiently wait until the application is properly supported under Wine.