Mintifying Debian

Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) has finally got a 64-bit version. And it’s pretty good, actually. In fact, that’s the distro I am going to recommend to GNU/Linux newbies from now on. It has all the advantages of Linux Mint Ubuntu Edition (LMUE) such as being simple and GUI-oriented and having most things working out of the box, but less bloated and with Debian’s superior stability (yes, even if it is based on the testing branch) and performance.

The only problem I have found with LMDE is that the installer is far too minimalistic and lacks any advanced options, which maybe good for newbies, but it is not so convenient for me. Happily, another of the virtues of LMDE is that is aims to be fully compatible with its parent and, therefore, one can always do a regular Debian installation with the advanced options he or she needs and then mintifying it by adding the Mint repositories. The result does not look exactly like a fresh LMDE install, but it saves you a lot of time configuring Debian in order to make it usable for multimedia and other usual tasks.

How? This is how:

1) If you don’t have it already installed, install Debian. The default desktop (Gnome) is recommended for a better Mint experience. When possible, I always use the netinstall image, which saves a lot of bandwidth. If you prefer, Debian also has a live CD-edition, called Debian-live. UPDATE: If you need non-free firmware, you may also search for the installation image containing the proprietary firmware.

2) At this stage it is quite convenient adding your regular user to the sudoers group. As usual with GNU/Linux, this can be accomplished in several different ways. Even if in this case they may not be entirely equivalent, they mostly will for practical purposes.

One way is going to the menu System -> Users and Groups and adding yourself to the “sudo” group. Another way is editing the file /etc/sudoers and adding a line like “yourusername    ALL=(ALL) ALL” without quotes right bellow the line “root    ALL=(ALL) ALL”. In order for the changes to make effect you need to log out and then in again.

3) Then you may want to add the contrib and non-free Debian repositories by editing the file /etc/apt/sources.list and adding “contrib non-free” without quotes right at the end of each line ending with “main”.

4) Next you add the Debian Multimedia and the Mint repositories. You can for instance create a file within /etc/apt/sources.list.d called “lmde.list” and add these two lines into it:

deb debian main upstream import
deb testing main non-free

UPDATE: All occurrences of “squeezy” have been replaced with “testing”.

5) We are almost done, but, if you want to avoid messages about missing keys, you should install the keyring packages for both repos:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install linuxmint-keyring debian-multimedia-keyring

UPDATE: This step has been simplified.

6) Finally you update your system and install some stuff:

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get upgrade

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

sudo apt-get install mint-meta-debian

7) When that’s finished you can reboot into your mintified Debian and customise it to your likings.

UPDATE: What follows is out-of-date. Squeeze has already became Stable long ago and now Testing is Wheezy. In order to mintify Debian you need to use the Testing branch.

Caveats: Apart from the already mentioned aesthetic differences between mintified Debian and regular Mint, you should be aware that soon Squeeze, now testing, will become Stable and won’t be testing any more. There, you will have two options:

i) Do nothing and stick to Squeeze (soon-to-be-stable). This is the safe option, but be aware that the Mint repos are going to go with testing and therefore you are going to have a mixed system which may give you some (I guess they should be minor) issues in the future.

ii) Change all “squeeze” occurrences in /etc/apt/sources.list and /etc/apt/sources.list.d/lmde.list to “testing” and perform a system upgrade. Then you will be always using the testing branch which is mostly safe and stable, but tend to be more so towards the late stages of development and less so during the transition periods. In fact, if you are sure that is what you want, you can do it right now.

A third way would be staying with Squeeze for a while and upgrading only when required (if, for instance, you need more recent versions of the software).