60 Frequently Asked Questions about Linux Mint: PART 2

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

Contents of this page:

Can I install applications from Kubuntu (KDE) or Xfce in Linux Mint Cinnamon?

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

Applications from Xfce are no problem in Linux Mint Cinnamon or MATE, because they're closely related to the Cinnamon and MATE desktop environments of Linux Mint.

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 Mint version.

The user settings that you do want to keep (the "hidden" files and folders in your home folder which have a dot before their names), 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. With a couple of important exceptions, like Firefox, Chrome and Thunderbird. And there's another important excepted category: applications that are installed as Flatpaks or Snaps.

The whole idea of 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 Mint is a so-called "fixed release".

New versions may repair old bugs, but they usually introduce new bugs. Furthermore, when you use your computer(s) for work as well as personal tasks, you should be adverse to having your applications change. You don't want to risk having something break, or change drastically, and get in the way of your earning a living.

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.

Only security and stability bugs are being repaired. Your entire Mint version will be fully supported for up to five years. If a vulnerability is being discovered, 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 Chrome are exceptions: those applications are always updated automatically to the latest versions, also in older 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 (by the way: Chrome comes from Google's own software repo, which is added to your software sources upon installing Chrome). So you'll always have the latest version of those.

And another important excepted category are applications that are installed as Flatpaks or Snaps, because those come (more or less) straight from the application developers.

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 make it more difficult for other users to see or access 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 (1): don't apply this recursively, on all files and folders within your home folder. That's quite unnecessary, and might even have negative side effects.

Note (2): 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 750 $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 Linux Mint without cost?

6. You can install 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 3.6)

For MATE (item 3.7)

For Xfce (item 3.11)

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.

In 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", "pkexec" or "admin://".

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 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 is currently, in my opinion, the finest that the Linux ecosystem has to offer. It's long term supported with updates (up to five years), it has a good quality control and a huge amount of installable software in its software repositories. Furthermore, it's easy to use.

Is it safe to remove the meta packages mint-meta-mate, mint-meta-xfce, mint-meta-cinnamon or ubuntu-desktop?

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

These desktop meta packages are only used at first installation of your operating system. They ensure that all packages needed for your desktop are being installed.

Afterwards, a desktop meta package is just a fossil 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.

There's one notable exception, though: these desktop meta packages can be useful again when you want to upgrade your Ubuntu or Mint to a newer version.

Can I use aptitude instead of apt and apt-get?

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

The reason for that is, that aptitude and apt-get / apt 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 / apt, 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.

Consistent use of either apt-get / apt or aptitude is important, and consistence is easier to maintain with the much more common apt-get / apt (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.

How can I see which drives and partitions I have?

13. Of course you can always boot from the Mint DVD and launch GParted to see your drives and partitions, but this is much quicker:

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

b. Copy/paste this line into the terminal:


Press Enter.

Want to know how full your partitions are? Then execute this command:


Same information about fullness, but with the unimportant temporary file system filtered out:

df -h --exclude-type=tmpfs

In many cases, this should give you enough information. If you need more information, use GParted as described above.

pkexec and admin:// versus sudo: what's the difference?

14. sudo vs. pkexec and admin:// : 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.

pkexec and admin:// on the other hand, have been designed for applications that do have a graphical user interface. They contain 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 pkexec and admin:// ?

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 different kinds of kernels?

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

A. LTS kernels

Linux Mint 21 was released with an LTS kernel, namely 5.15.x. This particular kernel series will be supported for the full five years of the supported lifespan of the Mint 21 series (which runs up to 21.3).

So for having a kernel with the latest security updates, you can always stick to kernel 5.15.x. You will never be forced to switch from an LTS kernel to an HWE kernel.

B. HWE kernels

An HWE kernel is a kernel that's only supported for a short period. 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 Mint needs HWE kernels in order to stay relevant for such brand-new hardware.

This means that if your Mint is running on an HWE kernel, you'll have to upgrade to a newer kernel series from time to time. At least if you want all security updates for the kernel of Mint.

Such a newer kernel series will always automatically be offered to you in the updates, as soon as your current HWE kernel reaches end of life. So no worries about the security.

From Mint 21.2 onward, Mint also comes in a special Edge edition, which has an HWE kernel by default (that's the only difference with the main Mint editions).

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.

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:

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

b. Copy/paste this line into the terminal:

sudo apt-get install python3-pip youtube-dl

Press Enter. Type your password when prompted. In Ubuntu this remains entirely invisible, not even dots will show when you type it, that's normal. In Mint this has changed: you'll see asterisks when you type. Press Enter again.

c. Now you're first going to upgrade your youtube-dl to the latest upstream version, with this command (use copy/paste to transfer it to the terminal):

sudo -H pip3 install --upgrade youtube-dl

Press Enter.

Note: Repeat this command from time to time, in order to keep your youtube-dl up to date!

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

e. Then type in the terminal:

youtube-dl paste-the-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 Mint since its 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. 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.

How can I erase the search and replace history in text editor Xed?

20. You can delete the history of search and replace in text editor Xed as follows:

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

b. Copy/paste this line into the terminal to wipe the history for search:

gsettings reset org.x.editor.state.history-entry history-search-for

Press Enter.

c. Then wipe the replace history by executing this command:

gsettings reset org.x.editor.state.history-entry history-replace-with

Does deleting Timeshift snapshots have effect on the remaining snapshots?

21. No. There's no need to worry about which Timeshift snapshots you delete or in what order. Not even the very first snapshot needs to be kept; removing it won't affect the remaining snapshots. Provided that you do the deletions within the Timeshift tool itself.

The technical explanation is: although Timeshift snapshots are incremental in order to save storage space, each individual snapshot is still fully complete and independent from the other snapshots.

That looks like a contradiction, but it's not: Timeshift achieves this by using an advanced feature of the Linux file system (hard links, to be exact). The consequence is that snapshots can always safely be removed in any order. As long as you only remove old snapshots using the Timeshift tool itself; otherwise this protective mechanism doesn't work.

To use an imperfect but helpful analogy, think of it like this: Timeshift's snapshot system behaves as if it consists of two components. Namely (1) a virtual "local software repository" with a copy of all your system files and (2) lists of those system files at particular points in time (namely the times at which the snapshots were made).

Important to know: each file is copied only once. So, your first snapshot will be roughly the same size as the entire system, which means that it's pretty big....

The next snapshot requires space only for its new file list (which is technically a series of hard links) and any additional new files (including updated versions of existing files). Because Timeshift's virtual "local software repository" belongs to all snapshots, you can delete the snapshots in any order. Without ever impairing the integrity of the remaining snapshots.

A file is only removed from Timeshift's virtual "local software repository", when all snapshots with that particular file on their lists are deleted. Which means of course, that only deleting all snapshots will also delete all contents of the virtual "local software repository".

And it also means that no more than one single snapshot, no matter which one it is, no matter how old or how recent it is, is enough for restoring the system.
(based on the fine explanation given by forum members slipstick, pbear, rene and gm10 on forums.linuxmint.com)

Note: The above explanation of the workings of Timeshift is only valid for the normal default EXT4 filesystem. If you have selected BTRFS instead, then that's quite a different cup of tea which falls outside the scope of my website.

When you're running out of disk space: it makes sense to wipe all existing snapshots from time to time, except for two. Why two? Well, it's an advantage to have one extra snapshot that's at least a month old. Namely in case the system damage you wish to repair by restoring a snapshot, was inflicted before the latest snapshot (which would mean that the latest snapshot contains that damage as well!).

In case of automatic snapshots, limit the number of kept snapshots to two. Make them with a monthly interval; more frequent than that is usually nonsensical.

Barring the rare exception, nobody needs more than two snapshots. Even if the snapshot you restore is quite old: simply run Update Manager after the restoration and your system will be up to date in almost no time at all.

Also, make sure that Timeshift stores its snapshots on a dedicated storage partition on your hard drive or even on an external hard drive. That way, your system won't ever run out of disk space because of Timeshift.

Want to read more FAQ? This is part two of the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). Part one is here and Part three is here.

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