37 frequently asked questions about Linux Mint and Ubuntu - PART TWO

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This is part two of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Part one is here.


Can I install applications from Kubuntu (KDE), Xubuntu (Xfce) and Lubuntu (LXDE) in Ubuntu?

1. It's possible, but for KDE applications it's better not to. KDE applications may cause a lot of system pollution in Ubuntu.

Applications from Xfce (Xubuntu) and LXDE (Lubuntu) are no problem in Ubuntu, because they're closely related to Ubuntu's desktop environment.

Should I create a separate home partition?

2. No. I advise against a separate home partition: it only makes things more complicated, while offering no extra safety at all.

You always want an external backup of your documents, on an external device. A separate home partition is still part of the very same hard drive that all the other partitions are on. And they all die when the hard drive dies....

Plus you'll want to erase most of the old application settings anyway, before upgrading or re-installing. Because some of them may cause malfunctions in the new Ubuntu or Mint version.

The settings that you do want to keep, can easily be copied to an external device and then transferred back into a new installation.

Furthermore, a separate home partition means a non-optimal allocation of disk space, sometimes causing space shortage on either the root partition or the home partition. This is of course especially problematic on small hard disks.

Another disadvantage of a separate home partition is, that when you install multiple Linux distro's next to each other, your partition structure becomes very complex.

So a separate home partition often causes more trouble than ease of use....

When do I get the latest version of an application or driver by means of the regular updates?

3. Your applications will probably never be updated to the latest versions (Firefox, Chrome, Chromium and Thunderbird excepted).

The whole idea of Ubuntu and Linux Mint is that you're never forced to upgrade any application, driver, package, library, or kernel to a new version if you don't want to. That's why Ubuntu and Mint are so-called "fixed releases".

New versions may repair old bugs, but they usually introduce new bugs. So in many situations (enterprises?) it's better to keep the old version and to simply just patch the bugs.

The major Linux distributions Ubuntu, Linux Mint, Debian, Red Hat, CentOS, Fedora, SUSE, etcetera all follow this approach and are being used by many security-conscious institutions and corporations.

A fine explanation of this process (backporting security fixes) can be found here. Obviously written for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, but it's the same for Linux Mint and Ubuntu.

Only security and stability bugs are being repaired. Your entire Ubuntu LTS or Mint version will be fully supported for up to five years. If a vulnerability is being discovered, Canonical or Mint will release an update with a security patch. This usually happens fairly quickly.

Note: it's safest to use an LTS version for three years maximum and not for five years.

When you always want the latest versions of applications (but why?), the best approach is to install Ubuntu anew every six months, with the release of a new Ubuntu version. That should take you each time about two hours work (30 minutes for the install, and 90 minutes for polishing afterwards), so that's not a major exercise.

Firefox, Thunderbird and Chromium/Chrome are exceptions: those applications are always updated automatically to the latest versions, also in older Ubuntu and Mint versions. Mainly because it would be too much work for the Ubuntu/Mint developers, to backport the many security fixes that those applications tend to get. So you'll always have the latest version of those.

Multiple accounts: how can I prevent other users from accessing the files in my account?

4. Does your computer have multiple user accounts? Then you can easily prevent other users from accessing and seeing the files in your account, without taking radical measures like encryption. In the following way:

Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

Type (copy/paste):

chmod -v 700 $HOME

Press Enter.

Repeat this in each user account that needs the same protection.

Note: this doesn't protect you from someone with root permissions! It won't stop a determined and experienced snooper, but it's an effective measure to "keep the honest people out". If that's not enough for you: encryption of files or even your entire home folder, is much more secure....

Should you ever wish to undo this (but why?), that's easy as well. For undoing you can use this command:
chmod -v 755 $HOME

Can I make Ubuntu and Linux Mint faster?

5. Yes, you can make Ubuntu faster. The corresponding page for Linux Mint is here.

How many times can I install Ubuntu and Linux Mint without cost?

6. You can install Ubuntu and Linux Mint as many times as you want, on as many computers as you want. No restrictions, no costs. It's free software!

Should I enable automatic updates?

7. No. Automatic updates are a bad idea.... Updates should always be done consciously. So that when something goes wrong, you know what caused it and you can act rightaway. Furthermore: there's no sense in running a regression risk, however small, while you're in the middle of some important computing job.

And another thing: you don't want to interrupt an invisible automatic update by shutting down the computer (which could happen easily)..... Such an interruption could cause serious damage to your system.

Updating normally is the small price you pay for running a very reliable and very secure operating system.

That said: it might be useful to make available updates more prominent, so that you won't simply overlook them. This is especially relevant for Linux Mint, because in Linux Mint the update notification is very inconspicuous.

Below you find a how-to for making updates more prominent in Linux Mint:

For Cinnamon (item 3.8, right column)

For Mate (item 3.9, right column)

For Xfce (item 3.11, right column)

Is it more secure to log in as someone other than the administrator?

8. No. In Windows, it's better for security to log in as another user than the administrator. But not so in Linux Mint and Ubuntu.

In Ubuntu and Linux Mint, this issue has been solved neatly: even the administrator logs in with ordinary user permissions. The administrator can only elevate his permissions to the administrative level with "sudo" or "gksudo".

So there's no need for an extra user account, as in Windows.

Why are there so many Linux distributions and why should I choose Ubuntu or Linux Mint?

9. There's a bewildering multitude of Linux distributions. At the same time, when you look beyond the surface, there's really not so much difference.

This is why:

Upstream, people and companies are creating nice things. Like the Linux kernel, web browsers Firefox and Chrome, office suites like Libre Office, media players like VLC, et cetera.

Downstream, the Linux distributions are being made: someone collects a selection of those nice upstream things. Then he glues them together with a glue of his own making, in order to make them work well together. And lo and behold: there's a new Linux distribution for you.

Now and then, someone downstream simply takes a *complete* Linux distribution off the shelves, adds some stuff and tweaks of his own, and yet another Linux distribution is born.
In that way, Ubuntu takes Debian off the shelves, and Mint in its turn takes Ubuntu off the shelves.

There are no intellectual property obstacles to all of this: share and share alike. It's free (libre) and open-source software. Note: this is an oversimplification of the legal framework of open source software; it's only intended to sketch the big picture.

So, there's actually much less diversity than there seems to be at first glance.

Still, it does matter which Linux distribution you choose. Not all Linux distributions are equal in quality, stability and reliability.

Linux Mint and Ubuntu are currently, in my opinion, the finest that the Linux ecosystem has to offer. They are long term supported with updates (up to five years), they have a good quality control and a huge amount of installable software in their software repositories. Furthermore, they're easy to use.

Is it safe to remove a meta package like mint-meta-cinnamon or ubuntu-desktop?

10. It's quite safe to remove meta packages like mint-meta-cinnamon, mint-meta-xfce or ubuntu-desktop.

Such a meta package is only used at first installation of your operating system. It ensures that all packages needed for your desktop are being installed.

Afterwards, it's just a fossile and about as useful as a tailbone in a whale.... You can compare it to a groceries list, after you've bought all of your groceries: you can simply throw away the groceries list then.


(continued in the column on the right)


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Can I use aptitude instead of apt-get?

11. Aptitude is a more feature-rich (some say bloated) alternative for apt-get. Generally, I don't advise to use aptitude for installing software.

The reason for that is, that aptitude and apt-get use different databases for package management (or use the same database differently). This means that aptitude doesn't know anything (or too little) about what you did with apt-get, and vice versa. This might lead to inconsistencies and therefore to malfunctions.

The graphical tools of Linux Mint, most importantly Update Manager, but also Software Manager and Synaptic, all use apt-get as backend. Because of that, using aptitude might eventually lead to trouble.

There's nothing wrong with aptitude as such, but for Linux Mint I strongly recommend not to use it.

The same applies for Ubuntu, if you use Synaptic and/or apt-get as well. Consistent use of either apt-get or aptitude is important, and consistence is easier to maintain with the much more common apt-get (think of command lines you copy from web pages).

How can I analyze a boot delay?

12. You can try to find the cause of a slow boot as follows:

Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

Copy/paste this line into the terminal:

systemd-analyze blame

Press Enter.

Is gksu the same as gksudo?

13. Yes, gksu is the same as gksudo. The latter is just a shortcut to gksu.

gksudo versus sudo: what's the difference?

14. sudo vs. gksudo: it's a very frequent question....

The short answer is: sudo is purely meant for applications that are terminal-only and therefore have no graphical user interface.

gksudo on the other hand, has been designed for applications that do have a graphical user interface. It contains some important protection.

You can find a clear and complete explanation on this page.

Can I safely use 'sudo -i' or 'sudo -H' instead of gksudo?

15. No. Unfortunately, some how-to's on the web suggest you can use "sudo -i" or "sudo -H" for launching graphical applications with root permissions. That's bad advice.

You can find a clear and complete explanation on this page.

Are there a different kinds of kernels?

16. Yes, there are two kinds of kernels: Long Term Supported kernels (LTS) and Hardware Enablement kernels (HWE).

Ubuntu 16.04 and Ubuntu 16.04.1 were released with an LTS kernel, namely 4.4.x. This particular kernel series will be supported for the full five years of the supported lifespan of the Ubuntu 16.04.x series. So for having a kernel with the latest security updates, you can always stick to 4.4.x.

From Ubuntu 16.04.2 onward, Ubuntu has an HWE kernel. That's a kernel series that's only supported for a short period.

This means that if you want all security updates for the kernel of Ubuntu 16.04.2 and higher, you'll have to upgrade to a newer kernel series from time to time. Such a newer kernel series will be offered to you in the updates, as soon as your current HWE kernel reaches end of life.

The reason for the existence of HWE kernels is simple: hardware support. The hardware drivers are in the kernel; pretty soon, new hardware becomes simply too new for the LTS kernel. So Ubuntu needs HWE kernels in order to stay relevant for such brand new hardware.

Linux Mint has a comparable way of handling this: see the explanation here (item 8.2, right column).

Note: the kernel team of Linus Torvalds also uses the terms LTS kernel and ordinary kernel. But that's completely unrelated to the procedures of Ubuntu and Linux Mint.

How can I download Youtube video's with a Creative Commons license?

17. On Youtube, there are many video's which have a Creative Commons license. Which means that you're entitled to download them and use them for your own purposes. There are several Firefox add-ons available with which to download such Youtube video's. I haven't checked it, but no doubt the same goes for Chrome and Chromium.

However, like all add-ons, those add-ons have this one disadvantage: they weigh down your browser. Some a lot, some a little, but weigh down they do. So it's advisable to keep their number down as much as possible.

Fortunately, there's also a small and nifty command line tool called youtube-dl, which can download those Creative Commons licensed Youtube video's for you. And it's not at all hard to operate.

Before you proceed: in some countries, downloading Youtube video's might be illegal. Make sure that you're not breaking the law of your country before you continue. Downloading videos with a Creative Commons license should be legal in all cases.

Install it like his:

Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

Copy/paste this line into the terminal:

sudo apt-get install youtube-dl

Press Enter. Type your password when requested: this will remain entirely invisible when you type it, not even dots will show, this is normal. Press Enter again.

Now go with your web browser to the Youtube video that you wish to download. Right-click it and select: Copy video URL.

Then type in the terminal:

youtube-dl url-of-your-video --format mp4

For example, for this Celtic violin video (which has a Creative Commons License, so it's OK to download it):

youtube-dl https://youtu.be/O2GwKS3XeL8 --format mp4

Press Enter.

Now the video should be downloaded as a .mp4 file into your home directory (not in the subfolder Downloads, nor in any other subfolder).

How many CPU's or CPU cores does my Linux support?

18. The answer is: a lot, but the number varies for different kernel series. It's easy to determine the exact maximum of CPU's / CPU cores that your Linux kernel supports, in the following way:

Launch a terminal window.
(You can launch a terminal window like this: *Click*)

Copy/paste this line into the terminal:

grep CONFIG_NR_CPUS /boot/config-`uname -r`

Press Enter.

Now the output should show a figure for the CONFIG_NR_CPUS. That figure is the maximum number of supported CPU's / CPU cores.

Is it safe to log into my desktop as root?

19. No, it's not. A root desktop defeats the security model that's been in place for Ubuntu and Mint since their inception. Therefore, even the administrator logs in with mere user permissions.

Applications are meant to be run with non-administrative user permissions (or as mere mortals), so you have to elevate their privileges to modify the underlying system.

For example, you wouldn't want that recent crash of VLC to wipe out your entire /usr directory due to a bug. Or that vulnerability that was just posted in LibreOffice, to allow an attacker to gain a root shell. Or that malicious script on a website, to take over your entire system by means of an (as yet) unpatched Firefox or Adobe Flash Player. Et cetera, et cetera....

It's just good practice on any operating system, in fact the only sane practice, to run your applications on a user level. You should execute only administrative tasks with root permissions, on a per-need basis.

This is part two of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Part one is here.


Want more tips?

Do you want more tips and tweaks for Ubuntu and Linux Mint? There's a lot more of them on this website!


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