The purpose of this article is to provide for you a clear and simple guide to setting up a nice Linux environment for Ruby software development and more.

I’ve been using Linux as a development environment on and off for a decade. In recent years I’ve leaned towards Mac OS, partly because I’ve been very disappointed in the Linux desktops’ progress (or lack of it). Nevertheless, I use Linux on all my old PC laptops, and in VM’s on my Macs. Enter Linux Mint, version 13…

I really like the new Linux Mint 13 Mate distro and decided to install it on several systems. The desktop is simple, intuitive, and clean, and underneath it’s Ubuntu. Unlike the Ubuntu distro, however, Mint includes codecs that are needed for multimedia play. More information about multimedia software and the Mint installation itself is at Besides functioning as a software development environment, another use for my Mint systems is to drive my HDTV with content from TV web sites, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vimeo, etc. Unfortunately, Netflix streaming video does not work on Linux.

At some point I’d like to take the time to learn Chef and automate the process, but until then, I figured I’d at least document everything I did to reduce the time and effort with each new installation.

This article describes the development environment I settled on for now, and how to replicate it. It’s intended to enable you to get a high quality system up to speed as quickly as possible. A lot of my choices are subjective (e.g. zsh rather than bash), so feel free to skip or modify anything. I assume you have a minimal understanding of Linux, and I omit some detail that might be needed by Linux beginners. Where version numbers are embedded in file names, those versions may differ at the time of your installation, so modify the names accordingly.

Following is a step by step guide. Although I installed Linux Mint, most or all of these steps should work on standard Ubuntu distributions too.

Download the ISO

The first step is to download the ISO from, and burn a DVD or save it somewhere.

Install the OS

Install the OS from the DVD or disk image.

Update the Installed Software

Update by clicking the shield icon on the lower right of the desktop. Select All and Install the Updates to update the updater, then do it again to install the updates themselves.

Install Extra Packages

Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu and therefore uses apt-get/aptitude/synaptic for software package management. I use the command line apt-get for simplicity. I install the following extra software:

  • ant - for building Clojure and other Java based software
  • chromium-browser - for an alternative to Firefox, this is the browser on which Google’s Chrome is based
  • curl - for RVM installation and general use
  • fldiff - graphical diff tool for files and directories
    • g++ - for compiling C++ source code
    • gedit - a simple graphical editor
    • gftp - excellent graphical app for ftp operations, can do sftp too
    • gitk - graphical Git repo visualizer
    • gnome-alsamixer - volume control; this enabled me to increase maximum volume for tv
    • libreadline-dev - for command line history editing
    • libyaml-0-2 - YAML support
    • MySQL, Postgres, SQLite - plus supplementary software and Postgres admin app
    • ncftp - an excellent full screen but text mode ftp client, can use this when logging into the system with ssh in a terminal
    • openssh-server - for SSH access to this machine
    • parcellite - multi-entry clipboard
    • rlwrap - adds readline support, used for Clojure REPL
    • skype
    • stopwatch - a stopwatch/timer with lap field
    • vim-gnome - for a VIM editor with graphical abilities, run as gvim
    • virtualbox - for virtual machines
    • zsh - my preferred shell</ul> Here’s the command to install them:
>sudo apt-get install \
     curl \
     zsh \
     gedit \
     ncftp \
     virtualbox \
     vim-gnome \
     openssh-server \
     mysql-server mysql-client \
     postgresql-9.1 postgresql-contrib postgresql-doc postgresql-server-dev-9.1 pgadmin3 \
     sqlite3 libsqlite3-dev \
     g++ \
     libreadline-dev \
     skype \
     parcellite \
     stopwatch \
     gftp \
     gitk \
     gnome-alsamixer \
     chromium-browser \
     ant \
     libyaml-0-2 \

Desktop and Panel Shortcuts

For each app you want (e.g. Firefox, Chromium and Terminal), find it in the main menu and right click on it to get the menu to make links on desktop and panel.

Change Default Shell to ZShell

Make sure zsh was installed successfully:

>which zsh

This command should return /usr/bin/zsh; if it returns nothing, zsh was not installed.

Run the chsh command to change the shell, specifying /usr/bin/zsh as your desired shell.

Log out, then log in again.

Git Configuration

Configure git, replacing the dummy data in the example commands with your real name and email address:

>git config --global "First M. Last"
>git config --global "[email protected]"
>git config -l | grep user  # to list git variables to check that changes were made as intended

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Go to the Acrobat Reader “Other Downloads” page at Select Linux, your preferred language, and then the .deb file. Download it, then open it to install the software.

Postgres Configuration

I use Postgres because it’s a great open source data base, and so that I’m using the same data base as Heroku. The script below will initialize Postgres with what I need to run a sample Rails app. Provide values for the environment variables at the top of the code fragment below. (Of course, use whatever create database commands you need; you might need more, or none, or no production data base, or want a different naming convention, etc.)

># Fill in the appropriate values to the right of the equal signs below.


PSQL_CMD=$(cat <<EOF
alter role postgres with password '$POSTGRES_USER_PASSWORD';
create role $USERNAME with password '$PASSWORD';
alter role $USERNAME with login;
create database $DEVAPPNAME with owner $USERNAME;
create database $TESTAPPNAME with owner $USERNAME;
create database $PRODAPPNAME with owner $USERNAME;

echo $PSQL_CMD | sudo -u postgres psql

Downcase Directory Names

I have an aversion to capitalized directory names, since I spend a lot of time on the command line and don’t really need or want the minimal readability improvement of capitalized names. I’m always downloading stuff, so I rename the Downloads folder to downloads. I also use the documents directory a lot, so I downcased that as well.

>mkdir ~/downloads
mv ~/Downloads/* ~/downloads
mv ~/Documents ~/documents

Go to Firefox, select menu Edit, then Preferences, select Save files to, click the Browse button, then select the newly created downloads folder.

Then delete the Downloads directory:

>rmdir ~/Downloads

Modify Terminal For RVM Usage

RVM uses shell magic to do its thing, and in order for it to work, the shell in which it is run needs to be a login shell. To accomplish this, do the following:

Run the Terminal application. Then, from the menu, select Edit, then Profile Preferences, then select the Title and Command tab and enable Run command as a login shell.

Install RVM, Rubies, and Gems

You might want to check the RVM web site for the most current installation information, but at the time of this writing (November 2012) the command below is the recommended way:

>\curl -L | bash -s stable --ruby

This will install RVM and a current stable MRI Ruby. Below we’ll do some other things:

  • install JRuby, Ruby implementation for the Java Virtual Machine
  • install Rails for both MRI Ruby and JRuby
  • create aliases 1.9 and jruby for easier typing
  • make MRI Ruby 1.9 the default Ruby for new shells

Open a new terminal, or source the startup shell command (e.g. ./zshrc). Then:

>rvm alias create 1.9 ruby-1.9.3-p385
rvm --default 1.9
gem install rails

rvm install jruby
rvm alias create jruby jruby-1.7.2
rvm jruby
gem install rails


Mint has an open source Java implementation, but I find the Oracle JDK’s to be more problem-free. If you want to install Oracle’s Java, download the JDK from: Then, install it in /opt and create a symbolic link to it named current.

>sudo mkdir /opt/java
cd /opt/java
tar xzf jdk*tar.gz # replace w/real filespec of downloaded Java

sudo ln -s /opt/java/jdk1.7.0_09 current  

(Note: Due to recent security concerns with running Java in browsers, the following instructions should be avoided unless you really need it.)

For Java support in Firefox, create a symbolic link in the Firefox installation’s plugins directory to the appropriate library. On my system that would look like this:

>sudo ln -s /opt/java/current/jre/lib/amd64/ /usr/lib/mozilla/plugins

# You can also install the symbolic link in your user directory ~/.mozilla/plugins instead:
# mkdir -p ~/.mozilla/plugins
# ln -s /opt/java/current/jre/lib/amd64/ ~/.mozilla/plugins

To see if Java is working in your browser, you can view this page:

Modify .zshrc to Specify the Path and Prompt

I use a ~/bin directory for miscellaneous executables that I want to keep in my user space:

>mkdir ~/bin

We’ll want to modify the PATH to contain this directory and the Java executable directory. Also, we define JAVA_HOME and JDK_HOME to be the Java software root; some software may look for these variables.

In addition, you’ll probably want to redefine the terminal prompt to at least display the current directory. I define a prompt (PS1 variable) below, but this PS1 syntax may not work for bash, and you may want to customize it to your own taste. Mine displays the previous command’s return value (0 for success, nonzero for failure), the time, the host name (convenient to differentiate from other hosts to which you may be logged in with ssh, etc.), and the current directory.

Edit ~/.zshrc to make the above changes:

>export JAVA_HOME=/opt/java/current

export PATH=~/bin:$JAVA_HOME/bin:$PATH

export PS1="
[%?] %T `hostname` %B%d%b

SSH Keys

Create ssh keys, then upload them to anywhere you’ll need them (e.g. Github and Bitbucket). You can provide a passphrase when asked, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

>ssh-keygen -t rsa


Install Heroku Toolbelt from Then:

>heroku login
heroku keys:add ~/.ssh/ # upload ssh key to Heroku account

Vim Configuration

For vim, install the Janus extensions, which include NerdTree:

>curl -Lo- | bash

VMWare Fusion

If you’re installing this as a VMWare virtual machine, download and install the VMWare Tools:

Go to the VMWare “Virtual Machine” menu, select “Install VMWare Tools”. This will download them to your Mac, and make them available to your VM as a logical mounted CD. Do this to install them:

>cd /opt
sudo tar xzf /media/VMware\ Tools/*gz
cd vmware-tools-distrib/
sudo ./


Flash is already installed, but an upgrade is available. Check and, if necessary, follow the link to the download page. Both Chromium and Firefox use (via links) a in /etc/alternatives, which points to /opt/mint-flashplugin-11/, so download the new package and copy the .so file there.


Download from Then…

>cd /opt
sudo unzip # Replace with actual filespec
sudo ln -s /opt/clojure-1.4.0 /opt/clojure
cd /opt
sudo chown -R `whoami`:`whoami` clojure # need to change ownership in order to build w/ant
cd clojure
ant  # build it


Android developer tools can be downloaded from

Erlang OTP

If you’d like to download Erlang, you can do it at You’ll need to know which Ubuntu distribution you’re downloading for; Linux Mint 13 is Ubuntu 12.04, and 14 is 12.10. [Update, 2018-04: download from]


I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions, corrections, suggestions, etc., feel free to comment.