20 Apr 2011

9 Steps To Happiness in Linux Mint XFCE

Linux Mint team works hard on making Linux as much user-friendly as possible. They even managed to improve usability of Ubuntu which holds position because its high degree of userfriendliness.
Linux Mint is not just one system. I would say that Mint is more like approach to interface building which can be applied to a range of systems/desktop environments/windows managers. Sure enough, most known Linux Mint version is based on Ubuntu with GNOME. That was just a beginning. I have already written my thoughts about this Linux Mint version.
But every beginning has its own story. Mint team also released KDE, LXDE and XFCE remixes. All of them were based on Ubuntu. Were... Until recent.
Another twist in the story started with LMDE which stands for Linux Mint Debian Edition. I have also reviewed that release in my past. LMDE, as opposite to all previous Mints, was based on Debian. Mint team applied Mint ideology, menu and everything else to pure Debian. Of course, GNOME was the core of LMDE. That could not continue for long, and Mint team decided to go further. Result was... Linux Mint XFCE. What does it mean to us? Mint's elegance and user friendly interface multiplied by XFCE performance? Or Mint's overload of tricks multiplied by XFCE complexity? That's what I wanted to check when I first heard of Linux Mint XFCE.
Current version has number 201104. Is version number relevant? I do not know because Linux Mint XFCE is based on Debian Testing, which is rolling release. It uses Debian's repositories.
Before testing Linux Mint XFCE, it has to be downloaded. You may be surprised, but wonders starts right at the downloading phase! Linux Mint XFCE weights 958Mb. This is more that SalineOS (926Mb) and far more than XFCE-based Xubuntu (696Mb).
Unetbootin lovely helped me to "burn" the Linux Mint XFCE image to 1Gb USB stick. I activated persistence in Unetbootin "just in case", even though I had barely 30M of free space on the stick, and Unetbootin only promises persistence for Ubuntu-based distros.
Finally, I am ready to set off to another adventure with Debian-based distro. Has it become my idee fixe recent time - to make Debian based Linux to work on my Compaq laptop? I don't know...
Reboot. Choose to boot from USB.
Let's go!

Linux Mint XFCE boots itself extremely quick. Just 67 seconds to the full desktop readiness. It is even less then pocket-oriented SLAX! There are 2 factors which help this: XFCE itself is light desktop environment, and also USB boot is always quicker than CD or DVD based.
As I expected, WiFi card (Broadcom 4311) was not activated by default. That was expected, because Linux Mint XFCE is based on Debian Testing, and Debian does not allow any restricted package to go with distribution. Even Mint's karma cannot help here. Let's distract ourselves from network facilities for few minutes and look what else is in the Linux Mint XFCE toolbox.
  • Keyboard layout. I need both Russian and English keyboard layouts for my work. That's why I have to have both of them activated. You can add layouts in XFCE configuration panel, but there is no option to customize key sequence for switch between them. What is the point to have layouts which cannot be switched? Is there any solution!? Sure! It is not so obvious though. Right click on the panel, then Add New Items, then select Keyboard Layouts. This combination calls up configuration window where keyboard layouts can be added, plus switch options selected.
  • Office. Linux Mint XFCE features full Libre Office set version 3.3.1. Hmmm... very fresh one!
  • Graphics. Not big selection here, but usual suspects like Libre Office Draw and GIMP are present. Linux Mint XFCE also includes F-Spot, but it did not work for me when I started it from Screenshot tool. Although, F-Spot started OK standalone.
  • Multimedia. Hey, here is the selection! Several player including Totem, Rythmbox and VLC. Brasero burning tool gives finish touches. And basement for all these beauties is Pulse Audio configuration tools.
  • Network tools. Not a bad selection. Firefox 3.6, Transmission, Gwibbler, Pidgin. What did I forget? List is very impressive. I think each tool is selected to serve its own purpose, as opposite to overlapping functions of Multimedia tools mentioned above.
  • Games. Nothing. No one. Empty. Call it as you like, but there are no games in Linux Mint XFCE menu! Why? I don't know what were developers thinking about when composed a list of software for this home computer oriented operating system. I'd say couple of games would be nice bonus and would not add that much to distro weight.
I mentioned above that boot time of Linux Mint XFCE is impressively short. The same can be told about work in this system. I could only notice significant waiting times (few seconds) when started resource-hungry applications like Firefox or Software Manager. Last one also seemed to try Internet connection, which took some additional time.
Saying that, I still want to remember SalineOS. In my opinion, SalineOS worked faster, even being booted from DVD.
It is time now to come back to my idee fixe.  As you remember, I was very close to realisation of it last time, when I tried Aptosid. The issue was in saving updated Sources file in run mode of Aptosid. Was I successful this time? YES! YES! YES!
Here are 9 magical steps which I had to make in order to activate Broadcom 4311 card in Debian based Linux Mint XFCE:
  1. Connect to LAN cable.
  2. Select Software Manager.
  3. Type b43 in the search box.
  4. Install b43-fwcutter and firmware-b43-installer from the list.
  5. Type in command sudo ifconfig wlan0 up in terminal.
  6. Click on icon and then manually deactivate and re-activate Wireless Networks. Why? Don't know. Next step was not possible without it.
  7. Click on icon on the panel and select network.
  8. Type in access code.
  9. Enjoy!
As you can understand from the list, drivers were downloaded from the Internet. The difference from Aptosid (and from Debian itself) is that I did not have to activate restricted repository in sources.list file. That is magic of Mint.
Sure enough, I'll try to repeat those steps if I try another Debian-based Linux distro in the future.
Once connected, I could fully check Internet and  multimedia facilities of Linux Mint XFCE.
Youtube worked fine out of the box. Although, no audio controls goes on the panel by default. It surprised me, because sound started loudly. I had to act quickly. Volume control widget can be added the way similar to keyboard controls, see above.
Linux Mint XFCE comes without Samba in default version. I had to install it using the same Software Manager tool. Unfortunately, it did not help me in mounting my network drive. First of all, I did not find any graphical tool for network drive mounting in XFCE. That's why manual CLI-based command mount was the only available option for me. But it gave me bad result:  error
CIFS VFS: cifs_mount failed w/return code = -22
This error message is about inability to supply username for mounted system. This is very strange since my mount command always includes options guest,nolinux.
That was a reason why I could not test audio playback from network. But Totem Movie Player was very good in playing music files from local NTFS partition, even with correct display of Russian filenames and tags.
And now that is time to return back to the start of this post. Does Unetbootin support persistence of Linux Mint XFCE? The best way to find this out is to reboot the system and see the result.
So... Reboot. Choose to boot from USB. Select default option of Unetbootin menu... 67 seconds to wait and... Linux Mint XFCE waits for me... young and clear. All the changes have disappeared.
What are my general feelings about Linux Mint XFCE?
This is a nice system. I would say it is best then any other Mint system I've ever seen before. It is not overloaded with Mint specifics like Mint menu. It is quick and responsive. It is easily customizable, although not all the options are obvious.
Does it mean I can recommend this system for beginners? Probably not. From my perspective, this is good system for those who has some knowledge of Linux and want to move further.
What do you think of Linux Mint XFCE? What is the "niche" for it? Would you like to try it yourself or use it as your system #1? Or maybe you are already using it?

Story continues here.


  1. Funny. And what is the added value of Mint? The same is achievable with pure Debian. Mint is useless noise hype.

    1. And it is also achievable in OSx on a virtual machine in Windows, using a custom compiled XFCE suite. Grandmothers/regular consumers like it working out of the box.

  2. There are plenty of people out there who enjoy mint. They like having flash and java installed by default and they like MintMenu and MintBackup.

    This also means these users are able to avail themselves of help on the Mint Forums and IRC channels.

    Mint provides a good Linux experience. I know if I set a new user up on Mint, I will not have to spend hours setting the computer up to do the things that they will want to do, like play mp3s or watch flash videos.

    Mint is now the gateway drug between Ubuntu and Debian.

  3. @Anonymous: Let's see, the Linux Mint developers made the now-ubiquitous Linux Mint Menu, the better-than-Ubuntu Software Center Linux Mint Software Manager, other tools, and Linux Mint is about to overtake Ubuntu in DistroWatch rankings. It inspired plenty of other remixes, such as PinguyOS, AriOS, Fusion Linux, et cetera. And I know it's possible to install some of the things such as the themes, Linux Mint Menu, Linux Mint Software Manager, et cetera on Debian by just adding the repositories, but it's nice to have it all put together in a complete, well-tested package. Please go troll elsewhere.
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  4. DarkDuck - Great work! Thanks!

    Anonymous - Go troll somewhere else... if you've nothing useful to say, don't say anything at all.

  5. To the Author, Linux Mint debian Xfce (LMDX) does have the mint menu. It's just not activated by default. You can enable it as an option. Mint warns that doing so will add an additional 30mb of memory, which is something Xfce users might not want.

    Also, you forgot to mention that LMDX uses Xfce 4.6, not the latest, much more user friendly 4.8.

    Another thing s that while LMDX is lighter than the main edition, it is not a "light weight" Xfce distro. It was designed to emulate the main edition and use as much of the same software as possible (thus continuing existing familiarity). This was done, due to the uncertainty of being able to prepare an adequate fall release for the main edition now that Ubuntu has changed so many things, and uncertainties on what needs to be done to the gnome 3 traditional desktop, now to get it running as mint expects, now since they will not be using Gnome 3 shell.

    Personally I think that once they work out some of the bugs, upgrade firefox and upgrade to Xfce 4.8, LMDX will be one of the nicer distros around, and easily the nicest Xfce distro.

    Now if they could only add a nicely configured docky...

  6. SalineOS, now that is a slick xfce distro: lean and fast and while you have to do your own scutwork getting the multimedia goodies, I like picking my own mix. I also like that it plays nice with smxi which makes up for the lack of MM's. I wound up switching it to "testing" and changing to the latest liquorix kernel. That fixed the "Suspend" issue that all the Squeeze deriv's suffer from, at least on my hardware (really gotta wonder why that issue doesn't go away). The forum has been amazingly friendly, helpful and forgiving of dumb questions while providing complete answers.

  7. @ Anonymous1:
    Everyone is free to decide what is useful and what is useless. If you think Mint is useless, feel free to use something else.

    @Elder Geek:
    Mint Menu is the last thing which I like in Linux Mint. For the most part, that was a reason why I did not like Mint Julia or LMDE. As opposite, LM XFCE uses more classic menu style. You can call me old school guy, but I still prefer one-column menu in Win95/KDE3 style. I get lost with multi-column styles of Win7/Mint.

    Agree. Having Debian Testing, you can easily convert it to Mint by adding packages. But why worry if you can take ready-baked product?

    @ Anonymous:
    thanks for support!

    I mentioned my opinion about Mint Menu just above. I am not so big XFCE fan to tell the difference between 4.6 and 4.8. And yes, I agree that switching between Mint Julia and XFCE would be easier with same set of software.

  8. @slucre:
    have you posted your comment on right page? Can you repost it at http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/02/easy-as-mouse-quick-as-thought.html and I will then delete this one?

  9. @DarkDuck
    To each his own. I like Mint Menu well enough. As in if it is enabled I won't go through the effort to enable it and visa, versa. I run LMDE on all 3 of my computers with Fluxbox as my DE. So I like a classic menu not tied to a start button. I have an addiction to classic dock apps.

  10. I think the Mint team is awesome. On the the other hand, I used to really enjoy XFCE as a -lighter than gnome and yet feature rich- desktop environment (my default and only DE back then), but lately I find it heavier than gnome. I've an Arch system (a somewhat spartan setup) and xfce 4.8 consumes more ram than gnome 2. I'm not very fond of gnome but I have a 7 year old pc, and I'm switching to debian Squeeze just to have 3 more years of a lightweight gnome 2 setup. I would like to see where the Mint team will focus for its main distro, now with Unity and Gnome Shell and such. Will use the shell, a fallback mode, different DE?

  11. @Anonymous:
    I think Mint team will stick to GNOME 2 for now. It was somewhere in Twitter news...

  12. Just found a link about next Linux Mint 11. They'll use GNOME 3:

  13. Fast is a relative term..
    I remember using BeOS on a Celeron333 which booted from GRUB to a fully responsive desktop in 14s.

    XFCE boots in 67 seconds? Unless you have a very slow BIOS which use >50s, this is not so fast (except that BeOS is dead of course)..

  14. @Anonymous:
    I have "Racecourse scoreboard" (http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/p/racecource-scoreboard.html) where I put my boot times for different distributives.
    67 seconds is not a record, but still very good time. Minimum I had so far was Porteus with 50 seconds boot time from USB. Antirecords holds Mandriva 2010.2 from CD: 413 seconds.

  15. @Небојша Јаковљевић
    Thanks for appreciating this!

  16. Nice review DarkDuck. It is refreshing to read reviews that come across without obvious biases. I have been a Mint Gnome user for about 9 - 12 months now. I forget when but I converted my Mom's Windows laptop to Mint and the support calls stopped coming. We could enjoy talking again. I mention this because I my opinion the Mint team keep their attention to details and the resulting issues to a minimum. I downloaded Mint XFCE but have yet to try it. But I know plenty are because when my torrent finished others were connecting. I keep it seeded to help the team in my small way. Nice post, keep them coming.

  17. @JRaz: thanks for your comment. I actually started this review with some bias. I generally don't like Mint as you can see from other reviews under Mint tag.
    But Mint XFCE was an exception. :-) Maybe because it lacks Mint menu in default setup.;-)

  18. Tested Linux Mint Xfce (201,104) Waste of time. 1. The installation was good, 2 The update did not work (no access to the server) I re-started the machine = can no longer log onto the desktop. My summary here is: Completely useless, a pure disaster, but the better they can. If one is to lay out a so-called more or less finished product, so convincing Mint Xfce not me.

  19. @linuxgnu:
    Strange, my system works now even after multiple restarts. Obviuosly not very slick, but still bearable.
    Please read here: http://linuxblog.darkduck.com/2011/07/good-bye-kubuntu.html

  20. What I love about LM XFCE is it is very quick to start.

    -Sridhar K

  21. @Sridhar K:
    You're right. LM XFCE starts pretty quick... Leader among USB-booted distros in my Racecourse Scoreboard.

  22. having moved back to windows, I felt lost without at least some linux OS, so I made mint xfce.
    1. yes, it boots very quickly
    2. I prefer gnome menu (much better organised than long lists of software in xfce)

    I liked it so much I installed it on 2nd computer:
    1. software manager crashed at one point due to an update
    2. finally it locked up due to an update! (couldn't close windows, I had to reload reinstall)

    I have less confidence in mint xfce as a OS than ubuntu, and the time I spent trying to repair problems just caused by updates was far more than the time I would have spent in ubuntu getting the codecs etc. Only real benefit is it is very easy to make a persistant usb, and it boots very quickly.

  23. The reason for "instability" of Mint XFCE is because it is based on Debian Testing.
    I also had rollercoaster with it some time after update. But next update brought everything back to normal.
    Anyway, I now have Salix XFCE installed as my XFCE system (but I rarely use it anyway).

  24. Isn't Linux Mint 9 Xfce based on Xubuntu 10.04 and compatible with Ubuntu 10.04?

  25. @DLa:
    Quote from this post: "Linux Mint XFCE is based on Debian Testing".
    Same is quoted on official linked page.
    What else do you need to prove this?

  26. no offense pal, but are you sure it is a good idea to have a floating ad over the text area that launches another popup ad when closed? is this a linux blog or a porn site? just saying.. :)

  27. @Vizslah:
    You're the first person to complain about the ads.
    Same script creates both pop-under and floating ad. They are independent ads, and closing one of them does not create another.
    This is Linux-related blog, but it still requires some monetization. If you can show me better idea than Clicksor ads (not AdSense), I will be happy to switch. So far, I am happy with Clicksor.

  28. Hi DarkDuck,
    I also need both Russian and English keyboard layouts for my work. I'm new to LXDE. I tried to follow your steps to add Russian layout - but I could not find the place to add layouts in XFCE configuration panel. I also don't have Keyboard Layouts option under my panel right click. Please advise. Otherwise I find XFCE a perfect DE for me.

    1. I am confused, are you talking about XFCE or LXDE?

      Tha XFCE solution worked for me, so it should work for you, unless there were major changes in the latest versions of Mint XFCE.

      LXDE is a different story, they don't have any decent layout configuration utility. That's why I dropped my reviews of LXDE systems as a class.