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Reviewing 6 months with Linux Mint 17.3 as desktop OS
Monday - Jul 11th 2016 - by - (0 comments)

Back in January 2016 I decided to ditch openSUSE as my desktop OS of choice. At first this was a hard choice to take, as I used openSUSE in the years before and it is also worth to mention that SuSE Linux Professional 7 was my first Linux installation I ever used. 

But instability and issues have eased the letting-go process. First there was the upgrade issue from openSUSE 12.3 to Tumbleweed in November 2015. However this was merely a test to see if an upgrade would work. I then used Tumbleweed (new installation from scratch) - until January 2016. As every now and then I installed system patches with "zypper dup", this time the upgrade was stuck when upgrading systemd. The OS never recovered and I wasn't able to boot into it anymore.

Because I just used Tumbleweed for two months (and didn't have any relevant or important data on this machine) I decided to ditch SUSE and go with the most popular distro (information from DistroWatch.com as of January 2016 and also of this writing in July 2016): Linux Mint.

I was skeptical at first but I was positively surprised. Here are the pros and cons after having used Linux Mint 17.3 on a daily basis.

Pros

  • My Linux of choice in server environments is Debian and Ubuntu. Because Linux Mint 17.3 is based on Ubuntu Trusty, the commands and packages in the background are the same. My "apt-get" commands work the same way on Linux Mint as on the servers I manage and the package names are also the same (Ubuntu 14.04 trusty packages). So the OS is familiar to what I work with.
  • Even though there are a lot of packages already in the Ubuntu base repositories, additional repositories can be added from PPA (openSUSE had such a feature too, to be fair).
  • Based on the points above: Why not take a "normal" Ubuntu desktop installation then? Because, even after several trials, I never came to love nor appreciate the Unity desktop. Something I always loved on SUSE was the KDE or the Gnome desktop which was kind of similar to MS Windows (start-button, task list etc) but yet very modifiable. With Linux Mint 17.3 and the Cinnamon desktop (which is a GNOME fork) I got a very stable desktop which is highly modifiable - yet I still intuitively know where to click.
  • At work I connect the notebook (a Dell Latitude E7440) to a docking station and use two 24" screens. The setup for this was quick and painless through the "Display" settings. The whole graphics and screen setup was without pain and just worked out of the box (something I wasn't used to when coming from openSUSE).
  • The company I work for "officially" runs on Windows clients. I virtualized the Windows OS which was installed previously on the very same machine and use it since then as a VMware virtual machine in VMware Workstation. Works great.
  • Compared to the Windows OS installed before, the increase of speed is enormous. The notebook has a 256GB SSD. With Linux Mint I really feel the disk speed while on Windows the whole OS appeared slow in comparison. I have to add that this isn't probably the fault of Microsoft's Windows alone but rather of the amount of GPO's and network share connections and distributed file system setups by my employer.
  • I work more efficiently. Again, this is compared to the pre-installed Windows as I now run multiple terminal shells (also Terminator) and don't have to use douzens uf PuTTY windows.
  • Bluetooth. I was very surprised that my Bluetooth headset (a Plantronic Voyager) connected so well. On Windows I had once the problem that the heaset was out of reach and since then I wasn't able to successfully connect it anymore - even after deleting and reinstalling the drivers, etc.
  • By only using Linux Mint (without VMware Workstation and its virtual machines) I got a much longer battery life of the notebook than when I was running Windows OS. 
  • Debugging SD cards and other hardware. It's far easier to plug a SD card or an external HDD via USB to a Linux OS and run several diagnostic tools or file system checks on it than doing this with Windows. Was especially helpful when I needed to debug a SD card from a Raspberry Pi.

Cons

  • What works great in Windows is the support of audio devices. Especially if you have multiple sources and outputs of audio devices you can usually select them within the applications. On Linux Mint multiple outputs are still difficult to setup. A particular example is Skype. When I want to listen to music on my plugged headphones but want to communicate with my Bluetooth headset, it's not possible. I have to change the Pulseaudio settings to select the input and output device (generally for the whole machine) in order to use Skype with the devices I intended it for. To my knowledge the multiple audio support is in general a problem in Linux desktops but also Skype is kind of responsible in my case because it ONLY supports Pulseaudio and doesn't accept the select the audio devices directly.
  • Some devices I want to use on Linux Mint but also on the Windows virtual machine at the same time. For example the webcam (Creative VF0790) is used on my desktop OS in Skype and on appear.in but on the Windows VM in Skype for Business. Doesn't work. But that's not the "fault" of Linux Mint but rather in VMware Workstation.
  • LibreOffice. I know that's just a question of "being used to", but if you've worked with Microsoft Office for a couple of years it's just more intuitive. Practical example: Changing the page format from Portrait to Landscape. But that's what I have my Windows VM for.

Linux Mint 17.3 with Dual Screen  

In general my main fear (problems with the hardware, especially the two screens) never became reality. With the audio setup I can live because most calls I receive are on Skype for Business (on Windows) for which I connected a Polycom hard phone and forwarded this one to the VM. Altogether I'm positively surprised and much faster working on Linux Mint now (don't forget, I'm a Linux Systems Engineer, not a Windows Systems Engineer). So the choice Linux Mint as desktop OS was definitely worth it.

Update September 19th 2016:
Meanwhile Skype has released a new version for Linux, currently called "Skype for Linux Alpha". With this version of Skype it is possible to select the devices now.

 

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