10 things to do first in Linux Mint 18.1 Mate

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Congratulations, you have installed a brand new Linux Mint 18.1 Serena, with the Mate desktop! What's best for you to do, first of all?

I've made a list of the things to do, which I've divided into three categories:
- 10 absolutely essential ones (part 1);
- the recommended ones (not essential, part 2);
- the maybe useful (part 3).

It's quite a list, but it'll give you a polished, nearly maintenance-free operating system that you'll be able to enjoy for years to come! Plus it's also a crash course in the use of Linux Mint.

Note: you'll find only relatively safe tips and tweaks here, because I think that the stability and reliability of your operating system should never be endangered. This website is serious about Linux Mint, so my approach is conservative.

I try to mention it whenever some risk is unavoidable, so that you can always make a balanced decision.

Note: this web page is only meant for Linux Mint 18.1 with the Mate desktop environment; the page for the Cinnamon desktop is here and the page for the Xfce desktop is here.

Tip: you can download a checklist here, which you can print on paper. Then you can strike the items that you've done.

Are you unsure what Linux Mint version you have? The version number on the default wallpaper should give you an indication, but you can also check that as follows:

Launch a terminal window:
Menu - Terminal

Type (use copy/paste in order to avoid typing errors):
lsb_release -a

Press Enter.

Part 1


Select an update policy and apply all available updates

1.1. First the updates, then the rest...

Click on Menu - Administration - Update Manager

Select an update policy (I recommend the first one, named "Don't break my computer!"; I'll explain more about that later), let Update Manager check for available updates and apply them all.

Note: during the updates you might be asked whether you want to replace a configuration file. Don't replace it: although replacing is generally safe, it's usually unnecessary.

Afterwards reboot your computer (not always necessary after updates, but in this case, do it just to make sure).

Better settings for installing software and for Update Manager

1.2. Update Manager and the mechanism for installing software are two very important tools. That's why it's important that their settings are optimal. You can achieve that as follows:

Improve the settings for installing software

1.2.1. Mint deviates from the Ubuntu way, where the so-called "recommended" packages are concerned. When you install software yourself, Ubuntu installs the recommended packages by default, but Mint does not.

This has two important disadvantages: in Mint, the features of the applications that you install yourself, can be needlessly crippled. And some how-to's for Ubuntu, don't work in Mint. All this for the sake of saving some disk space...

You can make things right like this:

Menu button - Administration - Synaptic Package Manager

Settings - Preferences - tab General
Section Marking Changes: tick: Consider recommended packages as dependencies

Click Apply

Click OK.

Furthermore, you need to change the setting "false" into "true", in the settings file /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/00recommends. That's easiest to do in the following way:

Menu - Terminal

Copy/paste the following command line into the terminal, for example by a right-click with your mouse (it's one line!):

sudo sed -i 's/false/true/g' /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/00recommends

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.
Press Enter again.

Consider changing the settings of Update Manager

1.2.2. The default settings of Update Manager are very cautious; that's a characteristic of Linux Mint. Stability first and foremost.

In itself that's good, although Ubuntu (on which Mint is built) is less cautious with updates. And Ubuntu is also stable and reliable.

It might be worthwhile to make Mints Update Manager a little less cautious: that gives you the advantage of extra bug fixes and extra security updates.

You can easily do that by switching your update policy. In the panel of Update Manager: Edit - Update policy. I definitely do not recommend the third option, called "Always update everything". But the second option called "Optimize stability and security" is a reasonable choice for people who already have some experience with Linux Mint.

Note: if you're an absolute beginner with Linux, then it's better to select the first option called "Don't break my computer!". With that update policy you still have a secure system. Much more secure than Windows, for example....

It's therefore not strictly necessary to change things. But it is important that you understand these aspects of Update Manager. That's why this is listed among the essential things to do.

If you don't want to change the settings of Update Manager (yet), you can simply skip this.

More about the settings of Update Manager here (*Click*).

Drivers and full multimedia support

1.3. For installing missing drivers and full multimedia support, proceed as follows (you need internet connection for this!):

Install missing drivers

1.3.1. Installing drivers is usually not necessary, because they are already present in the Linux kernel. Exceptions are some printer drivers and proprietary restricted drivers for (among others) Nvidia graphics cards.

a. Install your printer and scanner in this way (*Click*).

b. For optimal performance of your Nvidia video card, or your Broadcom wireless chipset, you'll want to install the closed source restricted driver (the proprietary driver). Like this:

Menu - Administration - Driver Manager

When available for your system, this tool will present you with one or more installable non-free drivers. Select them.

The required drivers are then automatically downloaded from the internet, from the software repositories of Mint, and (also automatically) installed. Afterwards you'll have to do a full reboot of your computer.

Note: sometimes you're being offered several versions of the restricted driver for your Nvidia video card. The order of preference is as follows:

1. nvidia-(from highest number to lowest number)
2. nvidia-(from highest number to lowest number)-updates
3. nvidia-experimental

Only choose from the versions that you're being offered, because only those support your video card! Start with the preferred number one, and only work your way down when it doesn't perform well.

Do you have a brand-new graphics card from Nvidia? Then it might be too new for the version of the proprietary restricted driver in the software repositories of Mint. In that case you won't be offered any proprietary driver by Driver Manager.

If this happens, then you can look for another solution for your Nvidia card on this page.

For an AMD/ATI video card you have to stick to the default open source driver. Because the closed AMD Catalyst (fglrx) drivers are not compatible with Linux Mint 18.x.

These closed fglrx drivers are proprietary and so their code is not available. AMD indicated they no longer wanted to support them and urged their customers to use open-source drivers instead.

If you're using an AMD or ATI GPU in Linux Mint 18.x, the operating system will automatically select either the radeon or the amdgpu driver for you, and both of these open-source drivers are installed by default.

Install full multimedia support

1.3.2. You've probably installed full multimedia support during the installation of Linux Mint, by ticking the checkbox for Install third-party software for graphics and Wi-Fi hardware, Flash, MP3 and other media. But if you didn't, you can do it now:

Menu button - Sound & Video - Install Multimedia Codecs

Note: this menu entry is only present when you haven't installed full multimedia support (mint-meta-codecs) yet. After installing it, this menu entry will disappear.

You can play encrypted video DVD's with VLC Media Player, but you can also enable other media players in your system to play such DVD's. In the following way:

Menu - Terminal

Type (use copy/paste to transport this magical incantation to the terminal):

sudo apt-get install libdvd-pkg

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.

Whenever the terminal asks you to confirm the installation procedure with a preselected "OK", press Enter to give that "OK".

Decrease the swap use (important)

1.4. This is especially noticeable on computers with relatively low RAM memory (2 GB or less): they tend to be far too slow in Linux Mint, and Linux Mint accesses the hard disk too much. Luckily, this can be helped.

Note: does your computer have 4 GB RAM or more? Then you can skip this item, because with so much RAM you probably won't notice any benefits from applying it.

On the hard disk there's a separate partition for virtual memory, called the swap. When Mint uses the swap too much, the computer slows down a lot.

Mint's inclination to use the swap, is determined by a setting. The lower the setting number, the longer it takes before Mint starts using the swap. On a scale of 0-100, the default setting is 60. Which is much too high for normal desktop use, and only fit for servers.

A detailed explanation can be found here (link dead? Then download this pdf file with the same content).

Now the how-to:

a. Check your current swappiness setting:

Menu - Terminal
Type (use copy/paste to avoid errors):
cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Press Enter.

The result will probably be 60.

b. To change the swappiness into a more sensible setting, type in the terminal (use copy/paste):
gksudo xed /etc/sysctl.conf

Press Enter.

Scroll to the bottom of the text file and add your swappiness parameter to override the default. Copy/paste the following two green lines:

# Decrease swap usage to a more reasonable level

c. Save and close the text file. Then reboot your computer.

d. After the reboot, check the new swappiness value:
Menu - Terminal
Type (use copy/paste):
cat /proc/sys/vm/swappiness

Press Enter.

Now it should be 10.

Note: if your hard disk is an SSD, your machine will benefit from an even bigger decrease in swappiness. That's because too many write actions, like frequent swapping, reduce the lifespan of an SSD. For an SSD I advise a swappiness of 1. Also check these tips for optimizing an SSD for your Linux.

Turn on the firewall

1.5. The firewall is disabled by default, but usually it's better to turn it on. Especially on mobile devices like laptops, which sometimes connect to other networks than your own.

The firewall is called Uncomplicated Firewall (ufw), and can be operated from the terminal.

Menu - Terminal

Type (use copy/paste):
sudo ufw enable

Press Enter. Type your password when prompted; this will remain entirely invisible, not even asterisks will show, which is normal.

Uncomplicated Firewall (ufw) has a sensible set of default settings (profile), which are fine for the vast majority of home users. So unless you have special wishes: you're done!

You can check the status of the firewall with this command:
sudo ufw status verbose

Press Enter.

When enabled, the output should be like this:

pjotr@netbook:~$ sudo ufw status verbose
[sudo] password for pjotr:
Status: active
Logging: on (low)
Default: deny (incoming), allow (outgoing), disabled (routed)
New profiles: skip

I've printed the most important message in red: this output basically means that all incoming is denied and all outgoing is allowed.

There are sensible exceptions in the default settings: for example, with the default profile the use of Samba should be no problem. Also downloading torrents (fetch) should be possible; but seeding torrents (serve), might require a temporal disabling of ufw.

It's easy to disable the firewall (should you wish to do so) with this command:
sudo ufw disable

Press Enter.

If you're interested in the full set of rules, see the output of:
sudo ufw show raw

You can also read the rules files in /etc/ufw (the files whose names end with .rules).

A further explanation about the firewall and security in general, can be found here.

Optimize your Solid State Drive (SSD)

1.6. Do you have a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a conventional hard disk? Then optimize it for Linux Mint.

Install some useful system management tools

1.7. For file management with root authority, it's best to use a stand-alone simple file manager that's not embedded in your operating system. Because otherwise you run the risk of messing up the file permissions in your home directory. Such a simple stand-alone file manager is Double Commander.

Some of my how-to's contain the use of the simple stand-alone text editor Leafpad, for editing system-wide configuration files with root authority. So it's handy to install that as well.

Furthermore, a very useful tool for sound management is pavucontrol.

Finally, Catfish is an excellent, simple and fast file finder.

Install them all like this:

Menu - Terminal

Use copy/paste to transport this magical incantation to the terminal (it's one line!):

sudo apt-get install doublecmd-gtk leafpad pavucontrol p7zip-rar catfish

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible when you type it, not even dots will show, this is normal.
Press Enter again.

Font support and Java

1.8. a. Use Software Manager or Synaptic Package Manager for installing some extra fonts:

Menu - Administration - Software Manager

- Query: microsoft

- Double-click Ttf-mscorefonts-installer for installation and press the Install button.

Funny detail: during the installation of the Microsoft fonts, which you'll definitely want to have, you might be asked to check a box stating that you accept a license agreement of.... Microsoft.

Note: it may look like the installation has stalled. This is only seemingly so: simply wait. After a while (usually several minutes!) the installation will finish neatly.

b. You may want to install Oracle (Sun) Java (if you need it, which is rare nowadays).

Avoid 10 fatal mistakes!

1.9. There are 10 mistakes that you definitely want to avoid, for the sake of the health of your system. Written for Ubuntu, but applicable in Mint as well.

Solve some known bugs

1.10. If you have a problem: look at the solutions for 19 bugs. Don't skip this, when you have some problem! There's a big chance that you'll benefit from at least one of the workarounds presented at that page..... Written for Ubuntu, but applicable in Linux Mint as well.

Also relevant: the release notes of Linux Mint 18.1 Mate.

(continued in the column on the right)

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Part 2


Remove Mono and Orca

2.1.a. By default, Mono is installed. This package is a security risk, because it's an implementation of Microsoft's .NET. That's cross-platform, which means it works in many operating systems (including Windows). That Mono infrastructure could potentially be abused by specially crafted cross-platform malware and viruses.

It's only a limited risk, but a risk nevertheless: with Mono, you're partly in the contaminated and infected Windows ecosystem. Whereas the benefit of Mono is only small, because there are usually excellent alternatives for the Mono based applications.

Furthermore, Linux Mint contains screen reader Orca (gnome-orca) by default. Nifty, when you're visually handicapped. But useless when you're not. And it's rather disconcerting when, after pressing the wrong key combination, your computer suddenly starts addressing you with a heavy bass voice....

You can remove both software items like this:

Menu - Terminal

Use copy/paste to transport this magical incantation into the terminal:

sudo apt-get remove mono-runtime-common gnome-orca

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.
Press Enter again.

This removal will also delete a Mono based application, namely notepad Tomboy. With the following terminal command you can install a fine alternative for it, that doesn't depend on Mono:

sudo apt-get install xpad

Press Enter.

Note: if in the future you install an application that needs Mono, you'll also be reinstalling Mono.... So always read what will be installed along with whatever application you plan to install.

Check whether the screen saver is configured correctly

2.2. The screen saver is enabled by default. But there's some resource hogging stuff among the screensavers, that may freeze your computer.

Therefore make sure that the screensaver is set to "blank screen":

Menu - Preferences - Screensaver: choose Blank screen.

Optimize Firefox

2.3. With a couple of changes in the settings, you can improve the performance of Firefox in Linux Mint. These tweaks will make this fine web browser leaner and cleaner.

Tweak Libre Office

2.4. The default office suite is the fine Libre Office. In order to improve it, you can tweak the settings of Libre Office.

Disable hibernation (suspend-to-disk)

2.5. Unfortunately, "hibernate" (suspend-to-disk) is enabled by default in Linux Mint. Which is rather surprising, because in Ubuntu it's disabled by default...

This aggressive sleep mode often leads to problems, because most manufacturers of BIOS and UEFI don't stick to the standards for implementing power saving. So your computer may experience malfunctions after waking up, or even enter a coma from which it can't awake at all.

It's therefore best to disable hibernation.

Note: the sleep mode "suspend" (suspend-to-ram) is much less aggressive and therefore far less likely to cause problems.

You can disable hibernation (suspend-to-disk) like this:

a. Menu - Terminal

b. Copy the following command line and paste it into the terminal, in order to avoid typing errors (this is one line):

sudo mv -v /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d/com.ubuntu.enable-hibernate.pkla /

Press Enter and submit your password. Please note that the password will remain invisible, not even asterisks will show, which is normal.

With that, you've moved the settings file that enables hibernation, to the main directory / (root). Thus rendering it ineffective. The new location is a safe storage, from which you can retrieve it again, should you ever wish to restore hibernation.

c. Reboot your computer. Hibernation should now no longer be one of the options in the shutdown menu.

(with thanks to riffbiker from the Linux Mint forum)

d. On a laptop, it's advisable to check the power manager settings: you'll have to select alternatives for hibernation now, for actions like closing the lid...

e. The troublesome hibernation shouldn't be enabled by default at all... So please help to improve Linux Mint, by supporting this idea of mine:

How to undo

2.5.1. Do you want hibernation back? The above hack is easily reversible. Undoing it is very simple:

a. Menu - Terminal

b. Copy/paste the following line into the terminal (it's one line):

sudo mv -v /com.ubuntu.enable-hibernate.pkla /etc/polkit-1/localauthority/50-local.d

Press Enter and submit your password. Please note that the password will remain invisible, not even asterisks will show, which is normal.

Reboot your computer. The hibernate option should be back now.

Improve Power Manager for a laptop

2.6. Do you have a laptop? Then improve the settings for Power Manager like this:

Click on the icon of Power Manager in the system tray - Preferences
Tab On AC Power:
When laptop lid is closed: set it to: Shutdown

Tab On Battery Power:
When laptop lid is closed: set it to: Shutdown
When battery power is critically low: set it to: Shutdown

Install an extra web browser

2.7. It's useful to have an extra web browser available. Firefox is a fine application, but now and then (especially when you've installed too many extensions or add-ons in Firefox), it doesn't function entirely well.

An excellent alternative to Firefox, is web browser Google Chrome. Unfortunately it's not in the software sources of Linux Mint, but you can download its 64-bit installer from the download page of Chrome.

That web page should automatically recognize that you're running Linux Mint: it should offer you a preselected installer for Debian/Ubuntu, because that's what you need in Mint.

Double-click the installer, which has the extension .deb, as if it were a .exe installer in Windows. Then it'll install itself automatically.

Furthermore, it'll add the software source for Chrome to your software sources list, so that Update Manager will automatically offer you updates for Google Chrome as soon as they become available.

Note: do you have a 32-bit operating system? Then you can't install Google Chrome. In that case select Chromium, which can be installed by means of Software Manager.

Most plug-ins that you've installed for Firefox (not the add-ons and extensions, but things like Java) work automatically in Chrome as well. No need for further action for that. Not even for Adobe Flash Player, because Chrome already contains it by default.

You can find tips and tweaks for Chrome and Chromium here.

Speed up your Mate

2.8. You can improve graphical performance of your Linux Mint Mate like this:
Menu button - Preferences - Windows
Deselect: Enable software compositing window manager

Furthermore, you can probably speed up your Linux Mint noticeably, by applying these safe speed tweaks.

Multiple accounts: prevent other users from accessing the files in your account

2.9. 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 of 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

Part 3


Add a weather report to the panel

3.1. Always nice: a weather report in the panel.

Add it like this:
Right-click mouse on an empty space on the panel - Add to Panel... - click Weather Report - click Add

Click Close.

Then: right-click mouse on 0°F - Preferences - tab Location: click your country - from the list, pick the town nearest to your own. Alternatively, you might try a search on town name, but that might be less successful.

Click close.

Change the wallpaper of Mint

3.2. Mint looks nice out of the box, but maybe you want to change the wallpaper anyway....

You can change your wallpaper in almost the same way as in Windows, but there's one important difference.

So: select a picture that you want for wallpaper. Double-click the picture file.

Now the picture is being shown in the image viewer Xviewer. Then, in the panel of that application: click Image - Set as Desktop background. You're done.

However, the important difference with Windows is this: Mint only creates a link to the picture that you've set as wallpaper. When you move or delete the picture afterwards, then your wallpaper disappears also, because the link is dead!

So don't throw away the picture, but put it permanently in your home folder. For example in the folder Images. And only then set it as wallpaper.

Access your network disk (NAS) with Gigolo

3.3. You can use Gigolo to access your network disk (NAS).

Migrate your e-mail from Outlook (Express) in Windows, to Linux Mint

3.4. It's easy to migrate your e-mails and e-mail settings from Outlook (Express) in Windows, to Thunderbird in Linux Mint Mate. Simply apply this how-to.

Install a better DVD burning application

3.5. The best DVD burning application is currently Xfburn, because the default burning app Brasero is rather unreliable and regularly spoils your DVD's. Xfburn on the other hand, is reliable, simple and easy.

It has just one disadvantage: Xfburn can't burn multisession DVD's. So it can't add to a DVD that already has content.

Install Xfburn like this:

Menu - Terminal

Type (use copy/paste to transport this magical incantation to the terminal):
sudo apt-get install xfburn

Press Enter. When prompted, type your password. Your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.
Press Enter again.

Now you can launch Xfburn like this:

Menu button - Sound & Video - Xfburn

Install some simple games

3.6. Always fun: install some simple games.

Menu - Terminal

Copy/paste the following terminal command (this is one line!):

sudo apt-get install aisleriot gnome-cards-data gnomine quadrapassel gnome-sudoku

Press Enter. Type your password when prompted; your password will remain entirely invisible, not even dots will show, this is normal.

After the installation you can find them like this: Menu - Games.

Turn Num Lock on automatically

3.7. Does your keyboard (laptop?) have a separate numeric keypad on the right? Then it's useful for Num Lock to be switched on automatically, when you start Linux Mint.

Note: this instruction is only meant for desktops and laptops that have a separate numeric keypad! It's definitely not desirable to have the Num Lock on by default on a laptop that has no such separate keypad.

You can achieve that as follows:

a. Menu - Terminal
Copy/paste the following command into the terminal:

sudo apt-get install numlockx

Reboot your computer. The numeric keypad should turn on automatically after you log into your user account.

Note: it's possible that during login, Mint will turn Num Lock off again (sigh). If that happens, you can counteract that irritating behaviour as follows:

Menu - Preferences - Startup Applications

Click Add

Give the new addition the name Numlockx and the command:
sh -c "sleep 20 && numlockx on"

Click Add.

This will turn Num Lock on, 20 seconds after login. This delay is necessary, because you have to make sure it happens after Mint has turned Num Lock off.

Note: user preference: repeat this in each user account.

Make the Grub boot menu pretty

3.8. The Grub menu, from which you choose what operating system to boot on a dual boot computer, is practical but ugly.

Luckily, it's easy to make it prettier: *Click*.

Make available updates more prominent

3.9. Some people have difficulty noticing the blue icon in the system tray, that signifies that new updates are available.... In that case you can make available updates more prominent like this:

First download this shell script.

Then move it from the folder Downloads to the folder Documents, for example like this:

Menu - Terminal

Copy/paste the following terminal command:

mv -v ~/Downloads/check_for_updates-2.sh ~/Documents

Press Enter.

Then make it executable with this terminal command:

chmod 755 ~/Documents/check_for_updates-2.sh

Press Enter.

Then: Menu button - Preferences - Startup Applications

Click Add

Name: Update check
Command: press the Browse button near that entry field and click your way through to check_for_updates-2.sh in your Documents folder.

Click Add

From now on you should be presented with a reminder to update, 99 seconds after you log in. Clicking the reminder launches Update Manager. You can't overlook it: it's "in your face".

The disadvantage is, that you also get to see it when there are no updates at all. But that's better than overlooking updates that need to be installed....

Prevent your password becoming visible in the login window

3.10. In the login window, the password entry box looks exactly the same as the user name entry box. That's annoying, because before you know it, you're entering your password in the user name entry box, for all to see....

Thankfully, this can be prevented with a simple measure.

The login window remembers the last logged in user by default and preselects him. So by default we're being trained in entering our passwords rightaway and "unseen". By disabling that preselection, we'll be trained to do it right: first click on the user name, then type the password.

You can achieve this as follows:

Menu - Administration - Login Window
click Options - remove the tick for: Automatically select the last logged in user

Want more tips?

4. Do you want more tips and tweaks for Linux Mint? There's a lot more of them on this website! Like these:

Security in Linux Mint

Four popular myths and 12 tips about wireless security (for wifi)

How to clean Linux Mint

How to create a strong password that's easy to remember (the answer might surprise you!)

Get help

4. You can get quick and friendly help on the official Linux Mint forum.

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