Big Switch 4: Softly Softly

Now we've got the box booting correctly its time to install some useful pieces of software, and fix a couple of things that don't work quite right out of the box. Your mileage may vary with this section, as some of the software choices are personal.

OK first golden rule of any Linux install, update all the existing software. As Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which is based on Debian (uh, that's enough …), then we use:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

… and go away and get a coffee, 'cos on a 47 kbyte connection this takes a while. Actually make that a coffee, a visit to the gym and lunch.

Dammit. Some kind of weirdness with WordPress means it didn't save the last hour's typing and crashed when I tried to post. I have to do it all again. Here we go again …

So, now to get my main work applications sorted out. First of all I hold most of my files on an encrypted Truecrypt partition, which is acually a container file held on my common data drive, hda4. Truecrypt comes in Windows and Linux varieties (Mac as well now I think), so the process of mounting the Truecrypt container in Linux Mint was pretty straightforward. Just grab the Truecrypt installer from the website (the Ubuntu one) and install it with

    dpkg -i truecrypt.deb

When I actually did the move a few weeks ago, Truecrypt was in version 4.3, which meant I had to write a couple of scripts to mount the partition automatically when I booted up. With the release of version 5, Linux Trucrypt has a GUI, so mounting the containers is pretty much exactly how you're used to doing it in Windows — Alt-F2 gets you the run dialog: type truecrypt and then mount the file in one of the available drive slots. If you've done it in Windows, you can do it here without thinking.

Then, to mount all favourite containers at login, go to Application Menu > Preferences > Sessions, and select the Startup Programs Tab. Hit New, and fill in the Title and description how you want. For the Command Line, you need

truecrypt --auto-mount=favorites

Great, so now I have my encrypted drive mounted, I can get to my email. I used Thunderbird on Windows, and I'm going to use it on Linux, so once again that makes the task of migrating my email across a lot easier – no difficulties with file formats. So I booted back into Windows and grabbed a copy of my Thunderbird Profile directory (eg. C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Application Data\Mozilla Thunderbird\Profiles\weorewrew.default) I put that directory onto a USB stick and booted back into Linux.

I ran Thunderbird once, and then quit immediately. In my home directory there was a directory containing a new Thunderbird profile e.g.: /home/username/.mozilla-thunderbird/vlkjcvlcvc.default. I simply deleted the contents of that directory and replaced them with the contents of the profile directory from Windows. When I restarted Thunderbird, pretty much everything worked fine, including the extensions I had. In fact the Lightning Calendar extension looked a bit odd, so I reinstalled that, and everything was good. However my email wasn't showing up at this point. I went into Edit > Account Settings (Why is this in a different place in the Linux version of Thunderbird?) and changed the paths of all the mail directories to the newly mounted Truecrypt drive. When I restarted, there was my mail. (There were some anomalies with directory names' capitalization, but not enough to worry about). For good measure, I also went into Edit > Preferences > Advanced > General > Config Editor and checked all the settings to make sure they made sense in this new context: some of the paths needed to be changed from Windows directories to Linux ones. All in all, pretty painless.

OpenOffice was already installed in Linux Mint, and although they mess with the toolbars a bit, it wasn't too bad. I decided that was good enough for now. I also use GanttProject which comes in Windows and Linux flavours, so installing that was as simple as downloading and unzipping a file.

Now to add a few key applications from the Ubuntu online repositories. First of all it makes a lot of sense to use repositories close to you – you get faster downloads, and its just generally more polite to other Internet users to move the bits over as short a distance as possible. Lots of information about that here:

OK, now we've got that fixed, grab a few applications. As I already know the names of the packages, I find it easier to use the command line apt-get, but you could also do this through Package Manager.

sudo apt-get install sysv-rc-conf openssh-server keepassx filezilla vlc

Sysv-rc-conf is basically a Debian version of chkconfig, and looks after all the services starting up. I install it mainly out of habit, and I'm sure the Services panel in Linux Mint will also allow you to control all these as well. Open SSH server is a must for me — I quite often need to login to my computer remotely — but I was surprised it wasn't installed as a default. Keepassx is the Linux version of Keepass which I used under Windows to store all my passwords, and boy do I have a lot of those. Filezilla is a general purpose FTP / SFTP / SCP client for copying files to and from servers, and is also cross platform. Vlc is a great media player that handles pretty much anything you can throw at it.

There are a couple of configuration tweaks to do now. For SSHD, I edit /etc/ssh/sshd_config to make sure it runs version 2 only, and I also like to set it to a non-standard port. Then make sure the service starts on reboot with sysv-rc-conf.

For VLC, there is a problem playing video files. This is because it uses the wrong display by default. In Settings > Preferences > Video > Output Modules, you have to make sure X11 video output is selected. You may notice this also with the other video players on Linux Mint. To fix this in MPlayer, right click on the video window, select Preferences > Video and make sure you use the X11 driver. To fix this in Totem movie player, you're meant to use gstreamer-properties from a command prompt to change the Video driver to X Windows (No Xv), but I haven't got this to work.

OK, so now I'm pretty much set. But there are still some small utilities which I like, and I can't quite find Linux equivalents for. Surprisingly one of these is a decent text editor. I liked UltraEdit for Windows, but eventually switched to the Open Source Notepad++, which did pretty much the same stuff. (I was also, once upon a time, an avid fan of BBEdit for Mac, but that's a while ago). The other one I really couldn't live without was Treepad. I've been using the Lite version under windows to store all my notes, and although there is a Linux version, frankly it doesn't work so well. Anyway, the solution to both of these problems is Wine – basically a layer which sits between Linux and windows apps and fools the windows apps into thinking they're running on Windows.

sudo apt-get install wine msttcorefonts

After installing it, run winecfg to set it up and then you're ready to install your windows apps. Download the installers from the respective websites, and then install with

wine notepad++_installer.exe
wine treepad_installer.exe

(or whatever the installers are called). Both run fine out of the box but Notepad++ needs a couple of configuration changes to keep it from crashing. Two options must be disabled in Menu Settings->Preferences):
* Tab Switcher function.
* Minimize to system tray function.

For the record KeePass also runs fine under Wine, but as the startup time is a little slower than the Linux version, I decided to stay with the native one.

OK, now we have enough software to allow me to do my day to day work, I can boot into Linux as a first option, and boot back into windows when I need to use my Accounting package. Also, having the windows partition still functioning gives me some peace of mind, in case I forgot to copy something over.

In the next entry, I'll describe how I finally relegated Windows to a virtual drive, and then I'll tackle the ongoing resistance of my phone to play nicely with Linux.

1 thought on “Big Switch 4: Softly Softly”

  1. Maybe its bad form to comment on your own post, but this one really irritated me. When I tried to post this article, I kept getting this error:
    You don't have permission to access /wp-admin/post.php on this server.
    Not only that, but when I went back to the post, all my typing had disappeared — apparently the autosave function was also broken.
    After a maddening search I found the cause was this fella.
    Grrr. More broken things.

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