Hands-on with Linux Mint Debian Edition 3 Beta

The long-awaited LMDE update is finally (really) on the way!
Written by J.A. Watson, Contributor

I have been out of touch for the past six months, because I accepted a teaching position in Amsterdam. The amount of time that required, and the weekly commute from Switzerland (yes, really, weekly), was vastly more than I expected, and left me no time to do justice to my blog. But now I am back again, and determined to manage my time more effectively and keep up with blogging.

Although I haven't been writing, I certainly have been keeping up with news and developments in the Linux world. What really inspired me to get busy and write again was the announcement of LMDE 3 (Cindy) Beta. Hooray! How long have we been waiting for this? It feels like years. Oh, that's because it has been years.

For those who might not be familiar with Linux Mint Debian Edition, it was originally released in about March of 2014 (if I remember correctly), as a sort of "proof of concept" for producing Linux Mint without using Ubuntu as the base. A year later, in April 2015, we got LMDE 2, and then two years after, in March 2017, there was at least a new set of ISO images for LMDE 2 released.

Last October, there was a mention in the Mint Blog that LMDE 3 should be coming along "real soon now"... and now, not even a year later, the Beta release is here! Hooray!

SEE: How to find files in Linux with grep: 10 examples (free PDF)

The (BETA) ISO-images are available for download from all the usual Mint mirrors; there is a complete list at the end of the release announcement. There are both 32-bit and 64-bit versions available, which should be very good news for those who are still running 32-bit CPUs, since a lot of other distributions have abandoned 32-bit versions.

The release notes say that the 64-bit version will run on either UEFI (with Secure Boot disabled, of course) or BIOS systems, but the 32-bit version is BIOS only. I can confirm the UEFI portion of that, because I have already installed it on two of my systems, but I haven't tried it on a BIOS system yet.

It appears that this release will have only the Cinnamon desktop -- although I'm not going to be surprised if the outcry resulting from dropping the MATE version causes them to reconsider some time after the release.


Linux Mint Debian Edition 3 (Cindy) Live Desktop

Image: J.A. Watson

LMDE 3 uses the Mint Installer by default, which I happen to like quite a bit more than the modified Ubuntu installer (ubiquity) that is used for the "standard" Mint distributions. For the most part, installation is very smooth, but there seems to be a rather irritating bug in the manual disk partitioning/assignment procedure.

Image: J.A. Watson

Getting it to actually accept a partition/mount assignment seems to require some combination of random clicks and muttered swearing that I was never able to accurately pin down. I think the key was when I got to the point that I was ready to give up, it would suddenly just work. Fortunately, this is a beta release, and I am confident that this problem will be solved when the final release comes out.

When installing on UEFI firmware systems, unlike the Mint/Ubuntu installer which gives you no control over where the EFI boot directory gets created, the Mint Installer insists that you specify where this should be -- it doesn't even default to the first EFI partition. The good news on this, though, it that it still installed to a directory called linuxmint, so there is no problem with name conflicts if you also have a standard Mint or Ubuntu distribution installed.

Note, however, that I said "uses the Mint Installer by default" above. There is more good news with this release, in my opinion -- as a sort of an experiment, this release also includes the calamares installer, which has been used for quite some time in a lot of other independent distributions (such as Manjaro, Sparky, SolidXK and many more). I was a big fan of the Mint Installer when it first came out, but it has not been picked up by very many other distributions (as the Mint developers apparently hoped would happen), and honestly it has been eclipsed by calamares in a lot of ways. Considering that the Mint developers obviously have their hands full with "regular" Mint and LMDE, I think it would be a good idea for them to switch to calamares and give up the load of trying to continue development of the Mint Installer.

Image: J.A. Watson

The first time you boot the installed system, you will get a Welcome screen, which offers you assistance in performing some of the most common setup tasks, such as setting up system snapshots, updates, adding multimedia codecs, and general system settings.

It also has links to the standard Linux Mint documentation, the release notes for this version, and the Mint Web Forums and IRC Chat Room.

The first thing you will want to do on the installed system is get the latest updates and security fixes installed, so you should start the Mint Update Manager from the icon at the bottom right of the screen.

Image: J.A. Watson

The first time you run the Update Manager it will want to help you configure the types of updates that you want to install. It also encourages you to set up system snapshots; Mint has always been active in encouraging systems administrators to "do the right thing" in updates and backups.

If you configure scheduled snapshots they will be managed with the Timeshift utility, and they will be made either using rsync or the BTRFS snapshot function. Obviously, if you chose to install LMDE to a BTRFS filesystem, that is the way to go with Timeshift configuration as well. But for any other filesystem, rsync is a very good utility for making remote backups, and Timeshift is an excellent way to manage all of that.

Image: J.A. Watson

Once you have all of that configured, you will finally arrive at the Mint Update Manager, where you can actually select and install updates.

This version of Mint Update shows a Type column, with a symbol indicating security updates, software updates and such. This should be easier to understand than the previous 1 to 5 rating system for most users.

That should be enough to get you started with LMDE 3. Remember, this is a beta release, and it is may still have some significant issues -- things like the problem with partition assignment in the installer, for example. It is really only intended for experienced users who are prepared to deal with those types of problems.

Even if you are such an experienced user, I would suggest that you handle this release conservatively -- for example, don't just overwrite your existing LMDE 2 installation immediately, install this release to another partition so that you can try it out, make sure that it works on your hardware and it has everything you need included. Then when the final release comes out, you will have the possibility to upgrade either your existing LMDE 2 or the Beta LMDE 3 for permanent use.

Oh, one last thing -- a quick list of some of the highlights in this release:

- Linux kernel 4.9 (in line with Debian Stretch)

- Cinnamon 3.8.8

- Firefox 60.1.0esr

- Thunderbird 52.9.1

- GIMP 2.8.18

- LibreOffice

- Pix 1.8.2 (Photo Viewing and Management)

- Xplayer 1.8.3 (don't worry, VLC is in the Software Manager)

- Rhythmbox 3.4.1

Lots and lots more, of course... if your favorite application is not listed, just look in the Software Manager, and it is almost certain to be there.

Here's hoping that the LMDE 3 final release will come along real soon now!


Linux kernel network TCP bug fixed

The denial of service bug had actually been patched in the Linux kernel weeks before news of it was ever announced.

Windows apps made on Linux hit by security fail

That Windows app you made on a Linux system actually isn't as protected from attacks as you thought.

Linux distribution comparison chart (Tech Pro Research)

If you're new to the world of Linux and trying to figure out which distribution is right for your needs, this chart can help.

How to upgrade from Ubuntu Linux 16.04 to 18.04

You can now smoothly move up from Ubuntu Linux 16.04, or later versions, to Ubuntu 18.04. Here's how to do it.

PC shipments just grew for the first time in six years (CNET)

Smartphones are still dominating, but Windows, Mac and Linux are hanging on.

Editorial standards