11. First-Time House Cleaning with Linux

When you first start up Linux Mint, you are presented with a very helpful welcome screen.

When you first start up Linux Mint, you are presented with a very helpful welcome screen.

The first time Linux Mint starts up, it displays a pop-up screen asking you to perform some important first steps to ensure your Linux Mint experience goes well. While a few of these steps are also recommended on Windows and Mac computers, they are seldom displayed on the same screen and they are typically not integrated into the operating system. Instead, computer resellers will bundle pre-installed software from other companies but not without a cross-marketing agreement is in place.

This is at the crux of the issue with commercial software from Microsoft and Apple: they are in competition for market-share so this situation does not always allow the best solution for you (the user) to be included. With Linux, it’s a different story – most of the software that the Linux community uses is not for-profit, so this drive to upsell isn’t present everywhere, including when you first start using the computer for the first time. Another factor is that Linux is still working hard to convince users that it is better, so confusing people, upselling, and competing with other companies causes more frustrations that will actually scare new users off, so they don’t do this.

The Linux Mint Welcome Screen

Linux wants your experience to be seamless, and so they have included security and safety steps for new users, but the Linux Mint developers went a step further and bundled them together in a friendly graphical interface that appears the first time Linux starts up and it looks like this:

The Linux Mint welcome screen that is displayed each time you log in.

The important steps we are talking about are under the second menu item, First Steps, on the left. Select it and you are then presented with the following tasks that I will describe briefly below and offer some comments.

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System Snapshots

Without getting too technical, snapshots are instantaneous backups of your computer. While snapshots can backup the entire computer, I would recommend using it here for backing up the system itself. This will be quicker than an entire system backup. The application that creates these snapshots is called Timeshift. The real power of this application is that you can instantly revert back to a previous state of the system. So for example, if you installed some software that caused your system to become unstable, you can revert back to the last snapshot with a few clicks. Snapshots are important and it’s a shame that Windows & MacOS do not emphasize this more.

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On the second screen, under ‘Select Snapshot Location,” you will be asked where to save the snapshots. If your computer has a second hard drive, you will want to use that for the snapshots just in case your primary hard drive crashes completely. If you just have one drive, then that is fine for now.

For the other questions just select all the defaults that are suggested - they can always be set differently later. For now, I would also recommend daily snapshots (the default) under “Select Snapshot Levels” (see above).

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When you finish, it will show a screen saying that: Timeshift is active. If you come back to Timeshift later, you will see all the backups it has created. It’s a good idea to use Timeshift to also backup your personal files, once you have created some. You would do this by returning to Timeshift and creating a separate backup for your personal files, with its own schedule and frequency.

Driver Manager

The next step is to install drivers, which is the common name for software that makes the different parts of the computer work together. Because computers are modular, each part has it’s own software that makes the software connection with the operating system. Think of a driver as the lubricating oil between two gears on a bicycle wheel.

The drivers that came with your download of Linux Mint are probably already a few months old. Drivers require frequent updates because technology changes very fast. So the Driver manager goes out to the Internet and sees if there are any updates that need to be applied to the already installed drivers. It is a very quick and easy process and unlike other operating systems does not require having to hunt these down from the individual manufacturers. Because this is Linux, it also will likely not require a reboot of the whole system either.

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Note that when you click on the Driver Manager button, it will prompt you for your password. This another safety feature that is more common in Linux. This way, it prevents other processes or malicious actors who may have compromised your system to install drivers without your consent. It is an extra layer of security.

After entering your password, allow the Driver Manager to check online for new drivers. It may not find anything that needs updating, but usually there are some drivers that could use a refresh. If so, you’ll see a screen such as this one:

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If there is anything that has “(Recommended)” next to it, you can opt to install it. It’s not mandatory, but it will likely allow the system to run more efficiently, so it’s best to allow the system to do the updates. Follow the instructions on the screen and then close the driver manager window.

Update Manager

The next step is to install software update. Wait a minute, didn’t we just do that with Driver Manager? Not exactly. The process for updating is similar, yes, but Update Manager is specifically for the pre-installed software applications, not the hardware components of the computer. You will be presented with the following screen that describes what will be updated:

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Click OK. It will search the internet and then present you with a list of the software that needs to be updated (it always finds something) and, of course, the password screen, to make sure you are the person authorizing this:

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It will then present you with an option to change where the software is downloaded from. Those locations are called Mirrors (or Repositories) in Linux, which basically means that the various locations mirror each other but have the same software. Since Linux software is decentralized and typically does not come from a single manufacturer, it can be downloaded from all over the world. This is a critical aspect of Linux that prevents a single company, organization or country from choking access to important software updates – so if a company suddenly goes bankrupt or raises it’s prices, it cannot hold the users in limbo while the issue is sorted out.

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Another benefit is that with software available from places all over the world, the user can select those that are closest, or more importantly, that will deliver it fastest. If you click on the Mirror labeled “Main” you will be presented with a screen that not only lists other options, but it also lists the download speeds.

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This is very convenient if your computer needs a lot of large software updates that otherwise could take a long time to download. Sometimes a particular mirror just happens to be slow or unavailable, so this is where you would select an alternate download location. As you can imagine, for those who lie in countries who’s government heavily restrict internet access, this is quite helpful, too. Select whichever one is fastest, and if it is too slow, you can always select another.

The rest of the steps are pretty self-explanatory. It will prompt you one more time for your password (yes, Linux is very secure), list what will be updated, and then proceed with the installs. When complete, you can close the window.

The process can take a while, so if it does, you don’t need to wait for it to finish to continue with the steps. Just minimize the window, or move it to the background, and proceed to the next step.

System Settings

Now we get to the fun stuff: System Settings. This is where you can configure the look and feel of how things look, everything from themes, to wallpaper backgrounds, to transparencies, to the color of the text on the screen. There are many options here, so I won’t go into them all. Just set the system up so that it is most comfortable to you.

Honestly, the Linux Mint folks did a pretty good job with the default look and if you’re in a hurry, just stick with that. It will also keep things looking similar for when you want to search out a process online – folks that do videos explanations of show you screenshots will typically stick to the default theme. If you want, you can get pretty creative, but I think it’s best to stick to something basic like these two:

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Or if you prefer your menus in a light silver color, looking very much like a MacOS screen:

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As a side-note, I should mention that this is all still within the Cinnamon desktop environment. Linux actually lets you install other desktops that can be uniquely suited to niche interests. You can make your Linux look and function like a Mac desktop, a Nintendo game console, a video kiosk, or just something entirely different like the dramatic Gnome desktop:

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I’m digressing a bit, but I just wanted to point out how infinitely varied Linux can be. This is another major difference from other operating systems. With enough time, Linux can have any interface that best meets your needs. While this can be fun, it also makes it ideal for specific professions and applications. For example, it can be customized to specific professions like desktop publishing, music production or CAD design.

On to the final step….

Software Manager

Once you have your system just the way you like it, you can start looking for additional software to install. This is done with the Software Manager. Like before, it will scour the internet for software and there are literally thousands of options, so Linux Mint has created a very simple interface for this:

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Honestly, Linux Mint comes with excellent selection of software already and what’s pre-installed works without a hitch. Sure, you can install a different web browser or word processor, but try what is already installed, first. You’ll be surprised how good it all works together.

You may now unfasten your seat belts and move around the cabin

In addition to the preliminary steps described above, the Linux Mint welcome screen has many other resources to get you up and running. The Help and Documentation menus are particularly good and provide answers to most questions for folks like you and I who are just starting out. I’ve been reading it quite a bit as I’ve started to move to Linux full-time.

The Linux Welcome screen will continue to appear each time you log on. Before you click the box on the bottom to stop seeing it, I recommend leaving it there for a while. It is useful to see how your Snapshots are doing or for quickly updating drivers without having to search for it in the menus.

By the way, once you click that button, you may want to know how to get back to it. If so, it’s located here on your computer:

/usr/bin/mintwelcome

Of course, you can also do a quick search for the word “welcome” and it will come right up as well. I know it’s a silly detail, but I found the location using the Linux Help option. I really feel like the Linux Mint developers want us to succeed with using Linux, and that’s a comforting thought.

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As I mentioned this is the end of this series on introducing Open Source and Linux Mint. The next set of posts I will be talking about how I now use Linux daily as a replacement for my familiar Windows desktop box.

I hope this was helpful. If you have any comments about this series or you have suggestions for the next series, let me know by filling out our Contact Form and mentioning “Gigster Tech” in the subject line.

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