10 Things to Do First in Linux Mint 20 MATE


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Congratulations, you have installed a brand new Linux Mint 20 (code name: Ulyana), 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 20 with the MATE desktop environment; the page for the Cinnamon desktop is here and the page for the Xfce desktop is here.

Contents of this page:

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? You can check that as follows:

Launch a terminal window:
Menu - Terminal

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

inxi -S

(Note that the letter S is capitalized)

Press Enter.



Part 1

TEN ESSENTIAL ACTIONS


Always do these things:

Apply all available updates and set up Timeshift

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

Click on Menu - Administration - Update Manager

Apply all updates.

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.

b. Then launch Timeshift, which is useful to get your system up and running again quickly in case of emergency:
Menu button - Administration - Timeshift

c. Click the button Settings - Schedule. Preferably configure Timeshift to put its snapshots on a separate dedicated hard disk partition (20 GB is a workable and reasonable minimum size for that partition), so it won't eat disk space needed by your system.

Set the schedule to monthly, with a retention of two snapshots. No more, because otherwise, under certain circumstances, Timeshift can start gobbling up disk space like crazy.

Barring the rare exception, nobody will ever need 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 fully up to date in almost no time at all.

Want to know more about dealing with Timeshift snapshots? Then read about it here (*click*).

d. Reboot your computer (usually not necessary after updating your system, but do it this time just to make sure).

Improve Update Manager

1.2. Update Manager is one of the most important tools you have. It's therefore also very important that you familiarize yourself with it.

For that purpose, I've published a how-to for tweaking and optimizing 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 all, but only after creating a snapshot with Timeshift first.

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. The recommended one should work best for most hardware combinations.

Only choose from the versions that you're being offered, because only those support your device! Start with the recommended 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 at all 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.

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, 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 multimedia codecs. 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.

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 8 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 file or 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 called swappiness. 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):
xed admin:///etc/sysctl.conf

Press Enter. Note that you'll be asked to fill out your password twice.

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

# Decrease swap usage to a more reasonable level
vm.swappiness=10

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 5. Also check these tips for optimizing an SSD for your Linux.

Turn on the firewall

1.5. The default security of Linux Mint can and should be improved a bit. The firewall is namely 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

Copy/paste the following line into the terminal:

sudo ufw enable

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 Linux Mint this has changed: you'll see asterisks when you type. Press Enter again.

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
pjotr@netbook:~$


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 tools and an extra media player

1.7. For file management it can sometimes be handy to use a stand-alone simple file manager like Double Commander.

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

p7zip-rar provides support for certain types of archives.

Then there's Catfish, which is an excellent, simple and fast file finder.

Finally, I advise to install the well-known VLC as extra media player.

Install them all in one stroke, like this:

Menu - Terminal

Copy/paste this magical incantation into the terminal (it's one line!):

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

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.

Improve font support

1.8. Install some useful fonts, in order to improve the compatibility with documents from Microsoft Office. Namely a package containing some old Microsoft fonts and two modern Google-made free replacement fonts.

I. First the package with old Microsoft fonts:

a. Launch a terminal window (this is how to launch a terminal window).

b. Use copy/paste to transfer this line into the terminal (it's one single huge line!):

wget http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/pool/contrib/m/msttcorefonts/ttf-mscorefonts-installer_3.8_all.deb -P ~/Downloads

Press Enter. With this command, you download the installer package from Debian, because the version in the Ubuntu/Mint repositories is broken. Furthermore, the Debian package is cleaner because it doesn't pull some software that's useless in Linux Mint.

c. For the actual installation, use copy/paste to transfer this line into the terminal (it's again one single line!):

sudo apt install ~/Downloads/ttf-mscorefonts-installer_3.8_all.deb

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 Linux Mint this has changed: you'll see asterisks when you type your password. Press Enter again.

d. Now you might be confronted by a license agreement from Microsoft (sigh). See the screenshot below (click on it to enlarge it):

Hit the Tab key to activate <Ok> (which then turns red), and press Enter.

e. In the next window you'll be given the chance to say Yes to the agreement: hit the Tab key to activate <Yes> (which then turns red) and press Enter.

f. Finally, copy/paste this command into the terminal:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig

Press Enter.


II. Now install the Google-made free fonts Carlito (replacement for Microsoft's modern proprietary Calibri) and Caladea (replacement for Microsoft's modern proprietary Cambria). Like this:

a. Launch a terminal window (this is how to launch a terminal window).

Use copy/paste to transfer this line into the terminal (it's one line!):

sudo apt-get install fonts-crosextra-carlito fonts-crosextra-caladea

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 Linux Mint this has changed: you'll see asterisks when you type your password. Press Enter again.

b. Now you're going to configure Libre Office to use them as replacement for the Calibri en Cambria fonts from Microsoft:

Launch LibreOffice Writer.

In the panel of LibreOffice Writer: Tools - Options... - section LibreOffice: Fonts

Tick: Apply replacement table

c. Type in for Font (it's not in the dropdown list, you have to type it): Calibri
Replace by: Carlito (it's in the dropdown list)

Press the button with the green tick.

Tick: Always and Screen only

d. Now type in for Font (it's not in the dropdown list, you have to type it): Cambria
Replace by: Caladea (it's in the dropdown list)

Press the button with the green tick.

Tick: Always and Screen only

Click the OK button.

Avoid 10 fatal mistakes!

1.9. There are 10 mistakes that you'll definitely want to avoid, for the sake of the health of your system.

Solve some known bugs

1.10. If you have a problem: look at the solutions for several 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 20 Mate.


Part 2

TWELVE RECOMMENDED ACTIONS (NOT ESSENTIAL)


Do these things if and when you have the time:

Install MATE Tweak for more configuration options

2.1. It's useful to increase your tweaking options by installing MATE Tweak. Install it like this:

Menu - Terminal

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

sudo apt-get install mate-tweak

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.

Now you can launch it like this:

Menu button - Preferences - MATE Tweak

Tip: did you tweak your MATE panel beyond recognition, and do you want the old default panel back? Then this terminal command should do the trick:
dconf reset /org/mate/panel/general/default-layout; mate-panel --reset

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 the default "blank screen":

Menu - Preferences - Screensaver: choose Blank screen.

Remove Orca

2.3. By default, Linux Mint contains screen reader Orca (gnome-orca). 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 get rid of this annoyance as follows:

Menu - Terminal

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

sudo apt-get remove gnome-orca

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.

Optimize Firefox

2.4. 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

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

Fix a potential permissions bug in your home folder

2.6. In certain cases a file or folder permissions problem may exist in your personal folder(s), even without you being aware of it. The ownership of certain (hidden) files or folders might namely have been changed to root. This could create unexpected malfunctions.

You can make sure that all files in your personal folder belong to you, like they should. Proceed like this:

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

b. Copy/paste this line into the terminal:

sudo chown -Rc $USER:$USER $HOME

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. When it's finished, reboot or log off and on again.

This appears to be an effective workaround which you probably only have to apply once. As such, it can serve as a practical "emergency" measure.

Improve Power Manager for a laptop

2.7. 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

2.8. 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.

You can find tips and tweaks for Chrome here.

Speed up your Linux Mint

2.9. You can probably speed up your Linux Mint noticeably, by applying these safe speed tweaks.

I advise to pay special attention to turning off the visual effects, as described in item 5 on the speed tweaks page. Visual effects are nice, but they can slow down your system and can occasionally even cause stability problems.

That's why there are only a few visual effects enabled by default. You can gain some speed and stability when you turn off those as well.

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

2.10. 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 (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 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

Think about removing Java (openJDK)

2.11. Linux Mint contains Java (openJDK) by default. It has some negative security implications. So I advise to consider to remove it (item 9).

Improve a terminal setting

2.12. You're probably going to use the terminal from time to time, because it's the mighty "Swiss Army knife" of Linux. But the default appearance of the terminal window can be made more practical. You can do that as follows.

The terminal window might be semi-transparent (dependent on theme selection). Beautiful, but impractical. Improve it like this:

Menu bar of the terminal: Edit - Profile Preferences (or: right-click with the mouse in the black space of the terminal - Profile Preferences).

Tab Background: select: Solid color.


Part 3

NINE NEUTRAL TWEAKS (MAYBE USEFUL)


Only do these things if you like them:

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.

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

3.3. 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 good DVD burning application

3.4. The best DVD burning application is currently Xfburn, because the other commonly used 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. 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.

Now you can launch Xfburn like this:

Menu button - Sound & Video - Xfburn

Install some simple games

3.5. 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 gnome-mines quadrapassel gnome-sudoku

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.

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

Turn Num Lock on automatically

3.6. 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

Press Enter.

Now do this: Menu - Administration - Login Window.
Tab Settings: enable Activate numlock.

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 available updates more prominent

3.7. 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. Note: you'll probably get to see a warning before downloading it; that's normal for shell scripts. The contents of the script are just a few lines; you can see for yourself that they're safe.

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 - Control Center - Personal - Startup Applications

Click Add

Name: Update check
Command: press the Browse button near that entry field and click your way through to the file 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....

Increase general font size

3.8. If you have a display with a big resolution, sometimes the general font size is annoyingly small. This is how to increase that size:

Menu button - Control Center - section Look and Feel: Appearance - tab Fonts - click the button Details...

Resolution: increase the Dots per inch (DPI).

Create a manual snapshot with Timeshift to backup your modifications and tweaks

3.9. You've modified and tweaked your system quite a lot, by applying this list. That has cost you a lot of time, so it's useful to create a manual snapshot of your neatly tuned system. Including all of the settings changes which reside in your personal folder only (more about that later).

You can do that as follows:

a. Launch Timeshift:
Menu button - Administration - Timeshift

b. Click the button Settings - Users

By default all user folders, including the hidden settings files they contain, aren't part of the snapshot. For a good reason, because you don't want that recently modified important document of yours, to be reverted to its version of three weeks ago.... Or that your Thunderbird email boxes suddenly are being reverted to their past content.

But you're still at the beginning now, and there are no documents or e-mails in your personal folder yet (at least when you've done a clean installation). So temporarily include the hidden items (settings files) of each user account (with the exception of the root user account), for this snapshot only.

c. Create the one-time snapshot.

d. Click the button Settings - Users again, and fully exclude all user accounts again for future snapshots. This is very important!

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

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


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