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Six Clicks: Linux Mint tips and tricks

Want to get the most out of Linux Mint, one of the most popular of the Linux desktops? Then read on!
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1 of 7 Steven Vaughan-Nichols/ZDNet

Say hello to Linux Mint

Linux desktop distributions can vary wildly in their look and feel. Unlike Windows 8 before the recent Windows 8.1 update, where a one-size-fits-all interface was the order of the day, Linux gives you an almost endless number of primary desktops such as GNOME, KDE, and Enlightenment. Then you your choice of variations based on them. In GNOME's case, for example, there's Ubuntu's Unity and MATE, and the interface I'll be talking about today: Cinnamon.

To be precise, I'm going to show you some handy tips you can use to get the most from Linux Mint 16 with Cinnamon 2.0.

Previously on Six clicks:

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You don't need to know how to use a Linux shell, but it can be darn handy.

People will tell you even today you must know Linux shell commands to do anything with desktop Linux. That's complete nonsense. Most users will never need to learn how to use Linux shell commands.

That said, if you do want to learn how to use shell commands, you'll gain far more power over your operating system than any GUI can ever give you.

In this example, I'm pretending I'm having trouble with my e-mail program, Evolution, and since it won't shut down by ordinary means, I've decided to kill it.

To do that, I first open a terminal, which will give me access to the shell. From here I enter the commands

ps -ef | grep evolution

The first command ps and its flags -ef tell the shell to display all currently running programs. Now, since that would give me a list as long as my arm, I "pipe" the results with | to another program grep. Grep is the Swiss army knife of Linux/Unix text searching tools, and I'm telling it to look at everything ps -ef sends for the string evolution, my locked-up program's name.

This now gives me another list of programs and I know that the last one, evolution is the master misbehaving program. So I enter my next command:

kill -9 20287

Kill does just what you think it does. It kills off programs. The -9 means "kill the process with extreme prejudice!" Don't let that program run for one more microsecond! For the program I want to kill in this example, I give the kill command the process identifier (PID) number. In this case it's 20287. I hit Enter, and, bang, Evolution is as dead as a doornail.

Now, if this hasn't frightened you off — better still if you like the idea of having this kind of fine control over what's going on in your computer — you can start learning a lot more about the shell and its associated programs at the Linux Command site.

 

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Putting programs and files where you want them on the Mint desktop

Let's go to Mint/Cinnamon proper. Say there's a program you use all the time that you'd like to have available right from the desktop or menu bar. To do this, take the following steps:

1) Find your favorite program using the Mint Menu button. Yes, that's right, for amusement value I'm going to make shortcuts for Microsoft Excel 2010. I'm running Excel on Mint with the help of CrossOver Linux.

2) Right-click on the program. This will you give a choice of three places when you can put the program for easier access: Add to panel, add to desktop, or add to favorites.

If you choose panel, your app will appear on the menu bar; desktop, it will pop up the desktop and then place it where you like; favorites, it will show in the Mint Menu program bar on the right. Don't like it in its new spot? Then just reappear the command sequence and you can remove it from its current home.

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Changing the Mint menubar location

Experienced Linux Mint users will notice that I have the menu bar, or panel, at the top of my display instead of its customary location at the bottom of the screen. If you want to move your panel, here's how you do it.

1) Right-click on an empty space on the panel. This will bring up its associated menu. From here, click on the Panel Edit mode button until it's showing a straight vertical line instead of a circle. This means that you can edit the panel.

2) Next, click on the settings button, go down the menu you see now to the panel entry, and click on it.

3) This will bring up the Panel menu. Just decide if you'd rather have a menu at the top, bottom, or both, and you're close to being done.

4) To actually move the panel you'll need to restart Cinnamon. To do that, right-click again on the panel and this time choose Troubleshoot. One of your choices will be to restart Cinnamon; choose that, and in a second or so you'll have your panel/menu bar exactly where you want it.

5) Finally, you'll need to bring up the Panel Edit mode button again and switch it back to the circle. Until you do you won't be able to use any programs pinned to the panel.

 

 

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Linux Mint Firewall

For some reason, Linux Mint comes with a firewall that's turned off by default. True, Linux is far more hardy than Windows when it comes to attacks, but come on! Any time you take your laptop out of the house do you want to worry about probes from would-be hackers on public Wi-Fi networks? I didn't think so!

While the Mint firewall, ufw (Uncomplicated Firewall), is easy to set up and use, it also doesn't come with a GUI by default. That's annoying but you can fix that and turn it on by taking the following steps:

1) First, use Software Manager to download and install gufw, the Uncomplicated Firewall's GUI.

2) That done, run gufw, it will show up as Firewall Configuration on your Mint Menu. To run it you'll need to enter your administrator/root password.

3) At gufw's interface, just turn the firewall on at the status button, turn incoming to deny, and outgoing to allow. Unless you're a Linux administrator or doing peer-to-peer file sharing with BitTorrent or the like, you won't need to worry about the firewall complexities hiding under the hood. If you are one of those, gufw also makes it easy to change your settings.

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Setting Linux Mint update timer

Like any operating system, you'll want to keep Linux Mint with the freshest possible updates, but checking updates every 15 minutes!? I don't think so!

To keep the hyperactive Update Manager in check:

1) Open Update Manager; you'll need your administrator password again.

2) Once the program's open, install any updates that are ready to go.

3) Next, hit Edit/Preferences

4) Go to Auto Refresh and change the settings from 15 minutes to, say, one day. Then hit Apply radio button and you're done.

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Get the Chrome Web browser

Mint comes with Firefox as its default Web browser, but I prefer Chrome. You can install Chromium, Chrome's open source brother, from Software Manager, but I prefer the real thing.

To install Chrome:

1) Go to the Chrome Web browser site; click the download button.

2) For Linux, you'll see four different options. What you want to choose for Linux Mint on an older, 32-bit system is the 32-bit .deb for Debian/Ubuntu. If you have a newer 64-bit system, pick the 64-bit .deb for Debian/Ubuntu.

3) Hit Accept and Install. This will bring up another menu asking what you'd like Firefox to do with the download. Mint and Firefox's default choice is to open it with gdebi-gtk. Do so, then hit the OK button.

4) This will bring up the package installer and it will ask you if you want to Install, Download, or Remove the packet. You want to choose Install of course. Once done, you'll be ready to start running Chrome.

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