Retro by Lorenzo Herrera, one of my new favorite wallpapers!
I had been away from Linux for a number of years. My computing needs, as simple as they are, were met between a recent-model work Windows machine and an older home MacBook Pro. More recently that laptop’s battery degraded to an unusable state, and I had no desire to stay in the macOS realm for home computing. Thanks to a donated older Dell desktop computer (a Dell Precision T1700), I was able to dip my toes back into Linux, trying out a couple of distros and see where I would want to spend most of, if not all of my time. Like before, the answer ended up being the default Cinnamon desktop environment of Linux Mint.
Usually when creating a USB boot drive for a Linux distro, I like to use Rufus on Windows. While it’s just as handy to make a Windows boot drive, for Linux it’s very easy to choose your drive, your ISO file, and you’re on your way. As I had already tried out a few other distros, from Ubuntu I used the built-in Startup Disk Creator, which was just as easy to use as Rufus.
Boot-up and going through the installer for Linux Mint is easy (there’s not many choices besides formatting the disk and setting the user credentials), and it doesn’t take long to install on an SSD (this computer uses a SATA drive; I imagine an NVME is just insanely faster). Once it’s done, it prompts you to remove the USB drive and reboot.
Initial boot-up and login
Once restarted and logged in for the first time, Linux Mint has a nice Welcome Screen (an app that can be launched later if desired). The First Steps section has good and logical things you’d want to check/set first. For me, it’s mainly setting it to the dark theme, choosing a color (usually teal/sea green or pink), and doing the initial updates. There’s usually an update to the updater first, and then once that’s done it’s pretty quick to check and list all of the needed updates. I go ahead and install all of them and restart again, just to make sure any initial issues may have been fixed and I won’t have to worry about updates for a little bit.
Default Setup and Programs
Firefox: just as on Windows, it’s changing most of the settings as well as setting up sync (mainly just for bookmarks and extensions). I like the Alpenglow theme, though the screenshot is far more colorful than what I get. As mentioned below I don’t use any password syncing/browser integration for passwords, although at least Firefox offers a primary password to help secure stored passwords.
LibreOffice Writer: by default, on Linux Mint LibreOffice only has the Colibre icon style installed, and on my system, set to Dark, most of the buttons are unreadable. I installed several additional ones from Software Manager (namely Breeze and Sifr) as they have dark support. Interestingly, when I re-launched LibreOffice Breeze dark was already selected. Hmmmm. Also, when I go to the setting to indent the first paragraph, “ch” is the unit of measurement rather than “in”, even though it’s set to the latter in the settings. I can put in “.5 in”, but it does covert it to “ch” units. Very annoying.
Redshift: Although not as configurable as the options on iOS, macOS, and Windows (it doesn’t do much during the daytime hours), this is still a required program to take out more the blue-end light on the screen.
Fade In: A popular alternative to the established screenwriting programs, Fade In is easy to use with an equally easy and intuitive interface. It is also the only (non-online) screenwriting program with Linux support.
FocusWriter: Available in the Software Manager, I’ve dabbled with FocusWriter on macOS and Windows, so now I need to give it a fair try on Linux. It’s a light-to-medium writing/word processing program, but could be just what I need. While it has basic ODT support, I’ll stick with plain-old TXT just in case. I did choose the Flatpak option to have the latest version of the program.
GIMP: Available in the Software Manager, the popular open-source GIMP is the de-facto image editor on Linux. I’m quite surprised it’s not included in Linux Mint (I think it used to be?), but I consider it a required program. I did choose the Flatpak option to have the latest version of the program.
KeePassXC: Available in the Software Manager, KeePassXC is my preferred program for password management. It is free and open-source, and has some great options both for the program itself as well as your file/database. I don’t use any of the advanced features nor the browser integration, just the basics, and it’s worked well for me. I did choose the Flatpak option to have the latest version of the program.
Noises: I am currently trying out the demo for Noises, a textural software instrument. It is the first one from AudioThing, as far as I’m aware, that has Linux support. It has a huge variety of sounds to play with, and for my interest in ambient music it could be a perfect fit! According to their support, Linux support will eventually come for more (if not all) of their products. I really hope to see it for miniBit, as I own it and would love to use it on a Linux desktop.
Reaper: An affordable DAW on all 3 OS platforms, Reaper can also be used in an evaluation mode to see if it could be the right fit for you. I’ve always been impressed with its small size, efficient performance, and for me has been the most reliable with loading and handling software plug-ins. On the desktop, with the built-in audio, I did have to change it from JACK to PulseAudio (ALSA didn’t work either) before it would work. I haven’t tested my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with it yet, but for recording my bass and electric guitar I’ll need to do that. Right now I just use headphones. If in the future I do more with this and even possibly get an album/EP released, then maybe I’ll treat myself to a nice pair of monitors…
Surge XT: A free and open-source software synthesizer, Surge XT is a great first instrument to try out and create potentially great music with. It can look complicated, and it does have a lot of features, but like any other instrument you can start with the presets and build from there.
TAL-Noisemaker: One of various free plug-ins from this company, TAL-Noisemaker is a fun and easy-to-use software synthesizer, with a recently-updated interface that I think is one of the best and easiest to use. Due to their frequent updates and Linux support, I don’t think it will be too long before I purchase their popular TAL-U-NO-LX instrument.
I tend to rotate between Google Drive and OneDrive to store my files and photos, mostly sticking to the latter lately. While Linux Mint does have an Online Account app (really GNOME Online Accounts), when I tried the Microsoft/OneDrive portion it didn’t work. I didn’t try Google Drive, but that might likely work better, but I’m not going to move all of my files over just for this computer. I can at least access OneDrive online, and even use Word online if I want to use it rather than one of the installed writing programs on the computer. I also put a copy of my files onto the computer, both as an extra back-up as well as accessing them if I wanted to aside from logging in to the website.
Overall I’m fairly happy with how Linux Mint 21.2 runs on this desktop. I didn’t run into any hitches to boot-up the flash drive, the installer, and doing all of the post-install updates and settings. In the time I’ve used it, I’ve only had Cinnamon crash once; I don’t remember what I was doing, but it was only an annoyance and didn’t lose any data.
I don’t mind too much not having an easy/native OneDrive syncing, but it would sure be nice. I still need to test my audio interface and a small MIDI keyboard, just to see how well it could work. For writing, it’s more than a sufficient setup to do any writing pertaining to micro/short stories, novellas and longer forms (whether a single file or separate files for each chapter), and even screenwriting. I’ve also already used it for editing documents for Basic Fantasy RPG, and for that it’s been fine as well. It’s likely I will stick with Linux Mint for this desktop until it’s so slow I will need to consider a newer used desktop or something similar to keep running Linux Mint.