Monday, 15 February 2021

Introducing the Linux Mint Devuan Edition

The Mint project has been a long-time favorite among Linux users who are mainly home users. Its friendly and common sense approach to a distribution appeals to many people who want to run something with the Linux kernel on their desktop. There's ample testimony of this, from the inception and creation of the Cinnamon desktop as common sense, traditional but still sleek and modern alternative to the evolving desaster and dumbing-down assault from other desktops at the time to coming up with great little tools like the Warpinator for file sharing on a LAN, the Hypnotix IPTV app and other little improvements to make things just a little easier, for the average Joe and the Techie who just wants to get things done alike.

For various reasons I am one of the very small percentile who happen to prefer the Debian Edition over the regular Ubuntu derived offering, which is almost identical in features though. For example, shortly after the release of Linux Mint 20.1 we saw all the small improvements and additions trickle down to LMDE4. Within days we received Cinnamon 4.8.6, including the new ability to add files and folders to Favorites in Nemo file manager which would be reflected in the menu and on the panel, Hypnotix, the Warpinator and new themes and backgrounds through the update channel. I think the newly refereshed icon theme was even trialled first in LMDE. It is definitely not a step child.

There's only one thing wrong with LMDE and that is that it's based on Debian rather than on Devuan with its more traditional and predictable init. So I set out on a little experiment to build a LMDE-like system on top of Devuan and what can I say, it works very well. Steps are outlined here on the LM forum.


Of course this being experimental it was done in Virtualbox. As you can see from the forum posts it all went as hoped for and there should be no reason why one could not perform a full install in this way.

Repeating the procedure here again for the sake of a complete guide>

1). I went with an automated default install that gives us Xfce4. The netinstall.iso is also an option if you like it more trimmed but I think it's quite nice to have Xfce as a fallback. It can always be removed later anyway.

2). Added LMDE repositories from my main install and imported the missing key with


CODE: SELECT ALL

apt-key adv --keyserver hkp://pool.sks-keyservers.net:80 --recv-keys A6616109451BBBF2

One difference is that Devuan does not use sudo by default so one has to become root to execute above or set this up yourself straight away. I didn't because I first wanted to know whether it will be worth the effort.

3). Set sources to prefer "debbie". Updated and upgraded the system to latest.

4). Installed mint-info-cinnamon and mint-common which pulls in some basic libraries for an LMDE system, mint-translations, mint-sources and xapps.

5). Proceeded with cinnamon-session instead of mint-meta-cinnamon. The latter would have installed the default set of packages for the Cinnamon edition, all of them, but also yanked out too many existing packages at this stage. We can still install it later.

Cinnamon-session removes packagekit, rtkit, slim, synaptic, system-config-printer and the meta package task-xfce-desktop, leaving Xfce otherwise intact. This is the main step and installs a basic LMDE desktop although not sure why tint2 and xwayland are part of it. If you try and remove tint2 it will install mate-panel and mate-polkit instead. UPDATE: Tint2 can be force removed with

CODE: SELECT ALL

dpkg --purge --force-all tint2

but this will mark cinnamon as a broken package. Similar for xwayland with gnome-session-bin. If one is serious, could these be rebuilt without said dependencies? FURTHER UPDATE: Whatever pulled in gnome-session-bin, it appears this can be removed again without causing problems.

6). Reinstall Synaptic - no penalty here.

7). Next I added a few themes, blackbird, bluebird and numix-gtk themes because at present Cinnamon will still look like stock.

8). Added gdebi. Interestingly, this actually works better in the Devuan setup and shows up in the menu with a minty package icon. In my standard upgraded LMDE 4 it does not show up and starting gdebi-gtk from a terminal gives a crippled interface without dialog.

9). Installed debian-system-adjustments which makes your system more mint-like and adds the mint theme to the boot loader. Installed apturl, mint-mirrors, mint-upgrade-info and mintupdate.

10). Installed lightdm and slick-greeter.

11). Reboot or log out and back in again. I believe I had already logged in to Cinnamon and changed the session in slim before it was removed. In any case, lightdm also provides an option to change the desktop session, although this functionality is hidden behind the mountain icon. Ok, pressing F1 in slim also isn't that intuitive.

In VirtualBox, enable 3d acceleration to get rid of the warning in Cinnamon.

12). And that is that, really. From here on it's just a matter of adding missing applications and art to achieve our goal and possibly remove some carried over from Xfce. I like to keep Mousepad around and the Xfce task manager but could get rid of the Ristretto picture viewer, the media players it comes with and Xfburn.
In Synaptic we have the Mint sources panel with its entries for maintenance and getting missing keys added in the background. The Mint software centre is not there yet.

13). We don't have a terminal yet in Cinnamon. Installed Gnome terminal and Gnome screenshot.

14). Installed some ubuntu fonts from the repository and the packages darkmint-gtk-theme, mint-artwork, some mint backgrounds, mint-themes, mint-x and mint-y icons.
Applying the right theming the desktop looks quite slick already and deceptively Mint.

15). The Network manager icon in the tray is a bit out of place next to Wicd and looks like duplicating functionality. It is crippled and not doing anything but unfortunately it seems it can't be removed. I tried and it showed up again after a reboot. Trying to uninstall network-manager will remove Cinnamon so I guess weĺl have to live with that applet sitting there - a small price to pay.

16). Added mint-meta-codecs for multimedia.

17). Added mint-report, mintinstall, mint-backup and timeshift. Personally I don't care much for the welcome screen at this stage, nor for mintnanny, so have left this out. You will get the welcome screen if you install mint-meta-core or mint-meta-cinnamon.

18). Install apt-file.

19). We may install the mint keyring but have added keys already in the beginning.

Step 19 is strictly not necessary as keys were already added in the beginning but adding the linuxmint-keyring package will make it show up in the package manager and should automatically give us future updates if ever there is a reissue. 

There's only a bit more to do. We'll pick up at step no. 20.

20.) Import external sources used in your previous LMDE/Debian proper install. Once external sources were re-added, what ever was added to apt sources that is not part of the official Mint and Devuan repositories, have mint-sources download missing keys and re-install all applications with markings of all installed applications previously exported from Synaptic.

21.) I noticed that the tray notification would always show updates are available, even if there weren't. I haven't found any workaround for this nor really looked into it. Just remove the update notification and check for updates periodically the old fashioned way - use apt in a terminal whenever it suits best or schedule with cron.

22.) Provider's VPN client worked (for me) with SysVinit no problem so no issue with NM being crippled and not having access to the OpenVPN plugin there. Most likely there is still backwards compatibility for this init through layers. As mentioned in 15 though, it looks like we'll have to live with the NM applet as it cannot be removed without taking Cinnamon with it. Happy to learn of another solution, perhaps the NM package can be replaced by one that does not depend on Cinnamon.


The last two are the only niggles I encountered, and small issues they are. Apart from that this will give you a fully functional and almost identical installation.

You may want to set up sudo if not happy with using the root account for admin jobs.

11 comments:

  1. Linux Mint Devuan Edition Mate Desktop would be great!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Just leave out Cinnamon and install MATE. Thanks for your comment.

      Delete
  2. Great! I am really missing an official Devuan based Linux Mint Edition, which IMHO would be even more coherent than the Debian based one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. +1. That would be nice. If they just removed the dependency chain systemd --> NM --> Cinnamon it would go a long way. I think one or two projects have compiled NM without depending on systemd but have not investigated further whether it might be possible to replace the one in LMDE with this.

      Delete
  3. It could be better using OpenRC, runit or S6 as init system instead of SysVin, and FluxBox, BlackBox or Xfce as main Desktop Environment & Windows manager instead of Cinnamon. (Sory, but SysVin is too old fashioned for me, and Cinnamon is too bloated for and old laptop. I prefer the KISS principles of *nix systems, so I would be more happy for a Devuan based Linux Mint with OpenRC, runit or S6 init system and maximum an Xfce DE (but is more excepted a more lightweight one).
    How could I build a Linux Mint version of that style written above ?
    Can anybody help me with some detailed steps of that ? (I'm a semiexpert Linux user, but not an Linux guru. Of course, I know the basic shall orders, I use the terminal more than the GUI-ed programs for some system handling and administration as I use Linux more than 15 years. Now I use MX Linux on my laptop, but I use Linux Mint Xfce in many PC-s in my family, too. So I like the smooth and simple usability of LM... MX is a little bit more rough and needs more workaround to achieve the expected smooth usability, and that is my main reason to use a Devuan-based LM.)

    So let's go and help me to build a systemd-free but more simple and lightweight Linux Mint ! ;-)

    Thanks any help in anticipation.

    Bye,
    Sam

    P.S.:
    As you could discovered, I'm not a native English speaker, so please, be patient, and write your sentences in a simple way to avoid the unnecessary questions.
    Thank you very much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Devuan 3.1 comes with a number of choices at install time for init, OpenRC is one of them. You could simply use another one you like if you don't want SysV.
      Similarly, as the Devuan install already comes with XFCE by default theer is no need for you to install Cinnamon if you don't want it. Just skip that and install the other Mint tools.

      However it would not be LMDE any more as this obviously comes with Cinnamon. It would be Devuan with LMDE sources and a few of their tools.

      Delete
  4. Would you post, or link to online, your sources.list and apt preferences/configuration files please?

    "3). Set sources to prefer "debbie".

    Step #3 is important and I am not an "apt" expert. Other than this I think I can give this a try, and it may be fun.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for all your comments.

    In response to the above question by Devuan User, you set this in Synaptic. I cannot go back to this step because once you install the Mint sources tool in the next step it replaces the module in Synaptic that handles source preferences. This is the core element of installing LMDE and will replace your entire sources list with LM "debbie" mirrors.

    I'm sure you'll figure it out, it's not that hard! Good luck and have fun!

    ReplyDelete
  6. "I'm sure you'll figure it out, it's not that hard! Good luck and have fun!"

    You were correct. I did figure it out, it was not hard at all, and I did have fun. I now have my own personalized LMDE (Linux Mint Devuan Edition)!

    In synaptic, it was Settings > Preferences > Distribution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to hear. Enjoy your LM Devuan Edition.

      Delete

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