Updating Flatpack applications on Linux Mint 19

Since upgrading to Linux Mint 19, I have installed some software from Flatpack. The cause for my curiosity was that you could have the latest versions of applications like GIMP or Libreoffice without having to depend on a third-party PPA. Installation is straightforward given the support built into Linux Mint. You just need to download the relevant package from the Flatpack website and running the file through the GUI installer. Because the packages come with extras to ensure cross-compatibility, more disk space is used but there is no added system overhead beyond that from what I have seen. Updating should be as easy as running the following single command too:

flatpack update

However, I needed to do a little extra work before this was possible. The first step was to update the configuration file at ~/.local/share/flatpak/repo/config to add the following lines:

[remote "flathub"]
gpg-verify=true
gpg-verify-summary=true
url=https://flathub.org/repo/
xa.title=Flathub

Once that was completed, I ran the following commands to import the required GPG key:

wget https://flathub.org/repo/flathub.gpg
flatpak --user remote-modify --gpg-import=flathub.gpg flathub

With this complete, I was able to run the update process and update any applications as necessary. After that first run, it has been integrated in to my normal processes by adding the command to the relevant alias definition.

Sorting out sluggish start-up and shutdown times in Linux Mint 19

The Linux Mint team never pushes anyone into upgrading to the latest version of their distribution but curiosity often is strong enough an impulse to make me do just that. When it brings me across some rough edges, then the wisdom of leaving things alone is evident. Nevertheless, doing so also brings its share of learning and that is what I am sharing in this post. It also also me to collect a number of titbits that may be of use to others.

Again, I went with the in-situ upgrade option though the addition of the Timeshift backup tool means that it is less frowned upon than once would have been the case. It worked well too part from slow start-up and shutdown times so I set about track down the causes on the two machines that I have running Linux Mint. As it happens, the cause was different on each machine.

On one PC, it was networking that holding up things. The cause was my specifying a fixed IP address in /etc/network/interfaces instead of using the Network Settings GUI tool. Resetting the configuration file back to its defaults and using the Cinnamon settings interface took away the delays. It was inspecting /var/log/boot.log that highlighted problem so that is worth checking if I ever encounter slow start times again.

As I mentioned earlier, the second PC had a very different problem though it also involved a configuration file. What had happened was that /etc/initramfs-tools/conf.d/resume contained the wrong UUID for my system’s swap drive so I was seeing messages like the following:

W: initramfs-tools configuration sets RESUME=UUID=<specified UUID for swap partition>
W: but no matching swap device is available.
I: The initramfs will attempt to resume from <specified file system location>
I: (UUID=<specified UUID for swap partition>)
I: Set the RESUME variable to override this.

Correcting the file and executing the following command fixed the issue by updating the affected initramfs image for all installed kernels and speeded up PC start-up times:

sudo update-initramfs -u -k all

Though it was not a cause of system sluggishness, I also sorted another message that I kept seeing during kernel updates and removals on both machines. This has been there for a while and causes warning messages about my system locale not being recognised. The problem has been described elsewhere as follows: /usr/share/initramfs-tools/hooks/root_locale is expecting to see individual locale directories in /usr/lib/locale but locale-gen is configured to generate an archive file by default.  Issuing the following command sorted that:

sudo locale-gen --purge --no-archive

Following these, my new Linux Mint 19 installations have stabilised with more speedy start-up and shutdown times. That allows me to look at what is on Flathub to see what applications and if they get updated to the latest version on an ongoing basis. That may be a topic for another entry on here but the applications that I have tried work well so far.

Installing Firefox Developer Edition in Linux Mint

Having moved beyond the slow response and larger memory footprint of Firefox ESR, I am using Firefox Developer Edition in its place even if it means living without a status bar at the bottom of the window. Hopefully, someone will create an equivalent of the old add-on bar extensions that worked before the release of Firefox Quantum.

Firefox Developer Edition may be pre-release software with some extras for web developers like being able to to drill into an HTML element and see its properties but I am finding it stable enough for everyday use. It is speedy too, which helps, and it has its own profile so it can co-exist on the same machine as regular releases of Firefox like its ESR and Quantum variants.

Installation takes a little added effort though and there are various options available. My chosen method involved Ubuntu Make. Installing this involves setting up a new PPA as the first step and the following commands added the software to my system:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-desktop/ubuntu-make
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-make

With the above completed, it was simple to install Firefox Developer edition using the following command:

umake web firefox-dev

Where things got a bit more complicated was getting entries added to the Cinnamon Menu and Docky. The former was sorted using the cinnamon-menu-editor command but the latter needed some tinkering with my firefox-developer.desktop file found in .local/share/applications/ within my user area to get the right icon shown. Discovering this took me into .gconf/apps/docky-2/Docky/Interface/DockPreferences/%gconf.xml where I found the location of the firefox-developer.desktop that needed changing. Once this was completed, there was nothing else to do from the operating system side.

Within Firefox itself, I opted to turn off warnings about password logins on non-https websites by going to about:config using the address bar, then looking for security.insecure_field_warning.contextual.enabled and changing its value from True to False. Some may decry this but there are some local websites on my machine that need attention at times. Otherwise, Firefox is installed with user access so I can update it as if it were a Windows or MacOS application and that is useful given that there are frequent new releases. All is going as I want it so far.

Making pages of new documents look right in LibreOffice Writer on wide screens

My recent move from Linux Mint 17.3 to Linux Mint 18.1 brought with it version 5.3.0.3 of LibreOffice. What that brought was an oddity where the default blank document in a fresh LibreOffice Writer session had its only page displayed to the right within the application window. To me, this looks like a bug even if I have a 24″ computer screen.

After some searching, I found a solution that gets a single page displayed in the centre of the application window and not offset to the right as it was. The first step is to go to the Zoom entry within the View menu. Within the sub-menu that is spawned, you need to click on the Zoom… entry to get a dialogue box. That has two columns and the setting that needs changing is under the one named View Layout. For whatever reason, the Columns setting was highlighted with 2 being selected as the number of columns. Choosing the Single Page option instead sorted the problem on clicking the OK button to dismiss the dialogue and the one named Automatic also appears to work. Quite why such an odd default was selected in the first is beyond me though.

Carrying out a hard reset of a home KVM switch

During a recent upgrade from Linux Mint 18 to Linux Mint 18.1 on a secondary machine, I ran into bother with my Startech KVM (keyboard, video, mouse and audio sharing) switch. The PC failed to recognise the attachment of my keyboard and mouse so an internet search began.

Nothing promising came from it apart from resetting the KVM switch. In other words, the solution was to turn it off and back on again. That was something that I did try without success. What I had overlooked was that there USB connections to PC’s that fed the device with a certain amount of power and that was enough to keep it on.

Unplugging those USB cables as well as the power cable was needed to completely switch off the device. That provided the reset that I needed and all was well again. Otherwise, I would have been baffled enough to resort to buying a replacement KVM switch so the extra information avoided a purchase that could have cost in the region of £100. In other words, a little research had saved me money.