Linux Mint Configuration Guide

This page explains some sorted-out steps for customizing Linux Mint 17.2 "Rafaela".
Turn your freshly-installed OS into an elegant, usable system that can be enjoyed by anyone.


Daily-Driver Desktop - Linux Mint 17.2 "Rafaela", Cinnamon Edition
A Linux Mint desktop, configured for convenience

The steps in this Configuration Guide will bring a freshly-installed Linux Mint machine to a point where an average non-expert computer user will be happy to use it as their daily-driver desktop. Someone with moderate computer experience will find the system easy to figure out and they won't need much, if any, assistance.

Of course, Power Users also appreciate a stable and efficient user experience. For them, it will be a good starting point for further customization.

Why this particular version of GNU/Linux? For starters, because it works extraordinarily well and it's supported until 2019. I can understand why Mint is the most popular Linux Desktop. I've tried many, many different Linux distributions, both in the past and recently. This "distro" is highly refined and fully capable. It's a pleasure to use.

This procedure does take some time. Be assured, your patience and tenacity will be rewarded.

First Boot - Enable Firewall and Get Updated

At the end of installing Mint Rafaela, Cinnamon Edition from DVD or a Bootable USB drive, you'll be prompted to reboot. That's our starting point.

A freshly-installed system has its firewall disabled and NO security updates, so the first thing we'll do is enable the firewall and get the system updated.

Disconnect from the LAN

As an extra measure of precaution, disconnect your freshly-installed system from the network before (re)booting it. If your computer is on a "friendly" network it's not absolutely necessary to do this (but it wouldn't hurt).

Unplug the network cable or turn off the wireless adapter. Alternatively you can temporarily unplug the router.

Enable the Firewall

Similar to Ubuntu, a firewall is not enabled by default when you install Linux Mint. You should enable the firewall. This goes double if your computer is a laptop that will be connected to untrusted networks.

The default firewall configuration tool for Ubuntu is UFW, which stands for "Uncomplicated Firewall". From UFW's documentation page:

Developed to ease iptables firewall configuration, ufw provides a user friendly way to create an IPv4 or IPv6 host-based firewall. By default UFW is disabled.

Open a terminal (Menu -> Terminal).

Note: We'll use the terminal (CLI - command-line interface) throughout this guide. Once the system is configured the CLI is rarely, if ever, necessary.

Enable your firewall with

sudo ufw enable

You can check if your firewall's status with

sudo ufw status verbose

UFW's help message can be displayed with

ufw --help

Note: The sudo command is used to run other commands that require administrative privileges (root privileges) as the user root. It stands for "(s)ubstitute (u)ser and (do)", and is pronounced "soo´-doo". See also: Sudo in a Nutshell and the Sudo Manual.

Update Installed Packages

Re-connect to the network if you previously disconnected.

Update your package database and and perform a complete upgrade with

sudo apt update
sudo apt dist-upgrade

This will pull together a list of available updates for your system and apply all of them, including dependencies. It'll take a while because a lot of packages will have updates available.

You'll be prompted about changing /etc/issue, /etc/issue.net, and /etc/lsb-release . Don't change them (just press enter when prompted).

Once the upgrade completes, reboot with

sudo reboot

You can customize your desktop while the updates are installing.

Customize the Panel

Cinnamon's "Panel" is similar to Windows' taskbar. We'll move it to the top and make the size a little bigger, then we'll and add some useful "panel applets" and program-launcher icons.

Move and Resize the Panel

Soon we're going to add a useful dock (a simple dock that works similar to MacOS's) at the bottom of the desktop. Moving the panel up to the top works better, even without a dock.

dock FixMe

 Right-click the panel
 Modify Panel
 Move Panel
 Move it to the top

By default the panel is small. On most screens it's easier to use if it's slightly bigger.

 Right-click the panel
 Panel Settings
 Use customized panel size...
 Allow Cinnamon to scale panel text and icons...
 Slide the Panel Height slider over halfway

Panel Applets

Cinnamon's Panel Notifications Area
Cinnamon's Panel - notifications area

The default panel applets are useful. We'll customize the date and add a few more helpful applets to the notifications area ("system tray") of the panel.

Customize the Calendar applet's time display.

 Right-click the time
 Configure
 Use custom date and time format
 paste this in: %a, %b %e, %l:%M %p
Cinnamon's Panel - applets
Cinnamon's Panel Applets

Add some applets.

 Right-click the panel
 Add panel applets

Add these:

Trash
Manage and recover your recently-deleted files.
Workplace switcher
Switch among your virtual desktops.
Recent documents
Quickly return to recently-used documents.

Install two other applets using the Available applets (online) tab. Once they're installed, add them to the the same way as the others.

 power-off by power-off@martin
 Screen Locker by ScreenLocker@spacy01

You can rearrange the applets.

 Right-click the panel
 Turn on Panel edit mode
 Arrange the applets
 Right-click the panel
 Turn off Panel edit mode

You can add icons to the quick-launch area of the panel, near the menu. I like to add Text Editor and Calculator. Once installed, they can be rearranged without turning on Panel edit mode.

 Menu -> <application>
 Right-click
 Add to panel

Miscellaneous Tweaks

Here are some other improvements you can make while your updates are being applied.

Tweak Workspaces

You can switch among workspaces with the Workplace-switcher or a keyboard combination: Ctrl-Alt-<arrow key> (left/right). I don't like the sound. Turn it off with

 Settings -> Sound -> Sound effects
 Uncheck: Switching workspace

Hot Corners

Linux Mint Cinnamon - Hot Corners
Setting Hot Corners

Activating Cinnamon's Hot Corners feature allows you to perform actions by moving your mouse into the corner. You can undo the action by moving the mouse in a second time. Try these settings in Settings -> Preferences -> Hot Corners.

 Upper left: Disabled
 Upper right: Show all workspaces
 Lower left: Show the desktop
 Lower right: Show all windows

Desktop Theme Tweaks

Here are some theme tweaks to change in Settings -> Themes .

 Window borders -> Metabox
 Icons -> Mint-X Sand
 Buttons -> Adwaita
 Mouse Pointer -> DMZ Black

Mouse Pointer Tweak

Make the mouse pointer bigger so it's easier to find using settings -> Mouse

Slide the Size slider over to about two-thirds of the way across.

Terminal Tweaks

Editing the Terminal profile in Linux Mint, Cinnamon Edition
Editing the Terminal profile

The default terminal colors make some things hard to read and the Menubar is hidden.

Show the menu in the terminal.

 Right-click the terminal background
 Show Menubar

Use the Menubar to get to Profile Preferences.

 Edit -> Profile Preferences
 Colors tab
 Uncheck "Use colors from system theme"
 Foreground, Background, and Text -> Built-in scheme: Gray on black
 Palette -> Built-in scheme: Linux console

I slide the transparency over a little bit to keep distractions from showing through.

 Background tab
 Shade transparent or image background

File Manager Tweaks

Cinnamon's deceptively powerful file manager is called Nemo. Its default settings can be improved a bit.

Open the file manager (e.g. Menu -> Files.

 Edit -> Preferences
 View tab -> List View Defaults
   Default zoom level: 50%
 Display tab > 
   Format: Middle one (YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS)

(optional) Set the default view to List View, sorted by date.

 View tab -> Default View
   Arrange items: By Modification Date

Lock Screen Tweaks

Set a screen-lock delay and show the day, date, and time on the lock screen.

 Settings -> Screensaver
 Settings tab
   Lock the computer when the screen turns off: After 1 minute
 Date tab
   Time format: %I:%M %p
   Date format: %a, %b %e

Custom Wallpaper

Screenshot of a desktop with a custom background image
Using a photo as custom wallpaper

I never leave default desktop wallpaper as-is for very long.

Right-click on the desktop and select "Choose Desktop Background". Select one you like.

ProTip: For years my favorite place to find wallpaper images has been Vladstudio. If your wallpaper in monitor's size isn't available free, choosing a bigger size sometimes works nicely.
Note: Be sure you've rebooted and set up Firefox before you do much web surfing. If you haven't done that yet, wait and download wallpapers later.

You can set any image file as your wallpaper using the Nemo file manager.

 Navigate to the folder (e.g. Downloads)
 Right-click on the image file
 Set as wallpaper

Login Window

Switch to an AM/PM clock.

 Menu -> System Settings -> Login Window
 Theme -> Options
   Uncheck "Use 24 Hour Clock"
Cinnamon's Login Window Preferences window
Cinnamon Login Window Preferences

The default Login Window's theme (Mint-X) displays a flashy slideshow and no welcome message. If you prefer a minimalist version, go with Numix instead.

 Menu -> System Settings -> Login Window
 Theme -> Theme
 Set theme to Numix

Alternatively, businesses should have a welcome screen that displays an "unauthorized use is prohibited" message. (I'm not a lawyer.)

 Menu -> System Settings -> Login Window
 Theme -> Theme
 Set theme to GTK
 Background
   Uncheck Image (or select an image)
 Window Message
   Unauthorized use of this system is prohibited.

For a home computer, you could substitute Welcome to % as a message so it displays "Welcome to <computer name>.".

Startup Applications

Cinnamon's Managing Startup Applications window
Linux Mint Cinnamon - Startup Applications

There's no sense starting programs we won't use, so we'll go into settings and turn off some things that needlessly start up when we log in.

 Menu -> Settings
 Startup
 Uncheck some items:
   MintUpload
   MintWelcome
   Support for nVidia Prime (*)

(*) I don't have an nVidia video card. If you do, leave the nVidia Support turned on.

Install Software

Non-free Firmware

Some non-free firmware is used by Linux kernel drivers that can't be distributed with Linux Mint. Installing it will help some things work properly.

sudo apt-get install linux-firmware-nonfree

Vi IMproved

(optional)

VIM is a powerful CLI (command-line interface) Text editor. I've used it for years. Highly recommended if you expect to edit text files in the console (despite the learning curve).

sudo apt-get install vim vim-doc

Byobu

Byobu, muliplexing two sessions like a boss
Byobu, muliplexing two sessions

(optional)

Byobu is an insanely useful upgrade for your console. It's a text-based window manager with built-in Gnu Screen features (terminal multiplexing and session persistence), a useful taskbar, and other well-thought-out features.

This means you can use hot-keys to switch among multiple terminal sessions and your sessions can keep running even when you're logged off. If you find yourself using the terminal very much at all, be sure to read up on Byobu and give it a try.

sudo apt-get install byobu screen run-one tmux update-notifier-common

Plank

Plank dock, running on a Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop
Plank dock on a Linux Mint Cinnamon desktop

Plank is a simple and useful desktop "dock". If you haven't used a dock before you're in for a pleasant discovery. A dock is a modifiable row of icons for managing your programs. It has icons for your frequently-used programs and other programs when they're running. You can use the dock to easily switch among running programs or even close a program without switching to it. Plank is tremendously convenient and easy to figure out because it's simple.

Plank's far smaller and leaner than the alternatives, even Docky (a close relative). Plank provides exactly the features you'd want in a dock without a bunch of extra 'flying baloney'. Kudos to the developer(s) for an impressive achievement. This kind of thing is an example of what makes Linux exciting.

You need to "add a PPA" (personal package archive) in order to install Plank because it isn't available from the default Linux Mint software sources like Docky is.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/docky
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install plank

Once it's installed, you need to configure your computer to run it at startup.

 Menu -> Settings
 Startup
 Add -> Choose application
 Select Plank and click "Add application"

PCManFM

A PCManFM window in Detailed List View
PCManFM - Detailed List View

List View in Cinnamon's Nemo file manager is substandard. I nearly always use List View (& usually sort by date). Unfortunately the column-widths cannot be remembered in Nemo's List View.

I searched around and found a good alternative File Manager: PCManFM, the default file manager for the LXDE desktop environment (now known as LXQt). It's attractive and easy to use.

In short order PCManFM can be installed, configured, added to your panel and pinned into your plank dock. We'll install everything it recommends & suggests to ensure full functionality.

sudo apt-get install pcmanfm libfm-modules libfm-tools nautilus-actions ksh

All of that takes about 7MB of disk space.

Add PCManFM to your panel.

 Menu -> Accessories -> Right-click PCManFM icon
 add to panel

Add it to your dock, too. First start PCManFM, then right-click the icon in the dock (right-most icon) and select "keep in dock".

In PCManFM, set the default to List View.

 Edit -> Preferences
 General -> Default view
   View Mode: Details View
 Close

Fonts

Viewing some fonts in the Font Viewer
Viewing some fonts in the font viewer

Here are some fonts you may wish to install.

Latin Modern
sudo apt-get install lmodern

├ćnigma Fonts (many fonts)
sudo apt-get install ttf-aenigma

Fonts by George Williams
sudo apt-get install ttf-georgewilliams

Bitstream Vera
sudo apt-get install ttf-bitstream-vera

Two handwriting fonts
sudo apt-get install ttf-sjfonts

Cantarell
sudo apt-get install fonts-cantarell

Tuffy
sudo apt-get install fonts-tuffy

Big fonts for on-screen displays
sudo apt-get install tv-fonts

You can also install some TrueType (TTF) fonts from Microsoft. From the package:

These fonts were provided by Microsoft "in the interest of cross-platform compatibility". This is no longer the case, but they are still available from third parties.

sudo apt-get install ttf-mscorefonts-installer

You'll be prompted to accept the EULA. Use <tab> to select "Ok" and press <Enter>, then the left-arrow key to select "Yes".

Tune Update Manager

We'll configure the system to check for updates at login and every six hours.

First, check for updates when the system starts.

gksudo gedit /etc/rc.local

Add two short lines to the end of the file (sleep 70 and apt-get update) so it looks like this:

 [...]
 #
 # By default this script does nothing.
 sleep 70
 apt-get update
 exit 0

Save and quit.

Linux Mint Cinnamon Update Manager, set to check every six hours
4-a-day update-check plan

Check for updates every six hours; always show and select security updates.

 Right-click the Update Manager icon
 Preferences
 Options tab
   Always show security updates
   Always select and trust security updates
 Auto-Refresh tab
   0 minutes
   6 hours
 Apply

The Update Manager applet is the little shield-shaped icon next to the time (Calendar applet) in the panel notifications area.

LibreOffice

LibreOffice is a full-featured alternative to Microsoft Office that has all of the capabilities most people will need in an office-software suite.

We'll configure LibreOffice to save documents in Microsoft-compatible formats by default so it "just works" with no fuss.

Open any LibreOffice application (e.g. LibreOffice Writer) and set preferences.

 Tools -> Options
 Document type Always save as
Text documentWord 97, etc.
SpreadsheetExcel 97, etc.
Presentation PowerPoint 97, etc. 
 LibreOffice -> User Data
   Add a name and initials
 Load/Save -> General
 Default File Format and ODF Settings
 Uncheck "Warn when not saving in ODF [...]"
   Always save as: (see the table --->)

Click OK when you've made all of the changes.

Extra Software

Games

A Klondike Game in Aisleriot
Klondike in Aisleriot

If you want some games, here are a bunch of them. (Aisleriot is a collection of solitaire games.):

sudo apt-get install aisleriot
sudo apt-get install gnome-mahjongg
sudo apt-get install gnome-hearts
sudo apt-get install gnome-games gnuchess-book

Audacity

Editing an audio file with Audacity
Audacity digital audio editor

Audacity is a program for recording and editing sounds. Audicity's capabilities can be extended using plug-ins.

Install Audacity and a whole slew of plug-ins from these plug-in packages:

sudo apt-get install audacity cmt caps fil-plugins swh-plugins

Audacity plus all four plugins packages only requires about 30mb of disk space.

Final Thoughts

Preparing a computer so it "just works" requires some patience and attention to detail. There's more to do where this leaves off. You'll probably need to install a printer driver, for instance.

This page is likely to evolve for a while. I'll give the whole process a run-through or two in the next couple of weeks.

Page last modified on October 15, 2016
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