I wanted to install Linux on the NUC, and I decided to go with Mint Linux 14. Minut Linux is an Ubuntu-based distribution, but I prefer the UI of Mint over that of stock Ubuntu. I wanted to go with an Ubuntu-derived distro because there are many third-party applications that are being developed for Linux that initially target Ubuntu. Examples of this include this PPA for enabling Netflix playback in Ubuntu, as well as the recently released Linux version of Steam.
To install Mint, I created a hybrid image by copying an iso to a USB drive. For example, if your iso is on your desktop, and the USB stick comes up as disk sdb, then the following command should do the trick. Check out the tutorial that I followed here for more details.
sudo dd if=~/Desktop/linuxmint.iso of=/dev/sdb oflag=direct bs=1048576
When you boot the system with that USB stick inserted you should be prompted with an install menu. Follow the instructions to install as normal.
There are a few programs that are at the core of my attempt to make this a media center device.
The first, and probably most obvious for those who’ve attempted such a setup, is XBMC. Formerly an acronym for XBox Media Center and designed to be installed on a first-generation XBox, XBMC no longer runs on XBoxes, but runs wonderfully on PCs and laptops, and has been ported to run on most devices you can think of. OS distributions have even been created that are essentially just XBMC where the system boots up to XBMC, thereby giving a very media-center feel. I prefer to have a fully functioning Linux distro in the background since I’m still in the testing and development stages.
XBMC is probably available in your distros repo. In Mint, a simple ‘sudo apt-get install xbmc‘ should get you going.
The second is the Netflix PPA that I mentioned above. For those new to Ubuntu, PPA stands for Personal Package Archive. As told by makeuseof.com, a PPA is “a way to install programs is a collection of software not included in Ubuntu by default. Typically these repositories focus on a single program, but they can include more depending on the person maintaining them.” The Netflix PPA includes the configuration of Microsoft Silverlight via Wine to allow Netflix to play in Linux, which would be a huge hassle to set up on your own. Luckily, someone else has already gone through this process and shares the results via the PPA.
The third piece, and something that I’ve only recently begun to dabble in, is Steam. I’m not a hardcore gamer by any means, but I do enjoy an occasional platform game, and became rather intrigued by the indie gaming scene after watching the documentary Indie Game: The Movie. So I’ve set up Steam and have begun dabbling with the more simple game.
I also just recently purchased the Humble Bundle 5. This allows the games to be played on native Linux, Wndows, Mac, Android, and in Steam. Dynamite Jack was right up my alley, and Solar 2 is also very interesting to play on Steam. That’s as far as I’ve gotten in the 9-game bundle. All for the low low price of… whatever you feel like paying!
First as foremost on the list of importance are obviously monitor, keyboard, and mouse. As I’m using this as a media center unit, my monitor is my TV via one of the HDMI outputs on the NUC. For keyboard and mouse, I’m using a Logitech k400r wireless keyboard with integrated touchpad. The integrated touchpad was important for me as it allows me to sit it on my lap without needed a mouse-friendly surface nearby. The keyboard comes with a USB dongle, and services its purpose very well.
The other USB port on the back of the unit is taken up by a wireless gaming receiver for an XBox 360 wireless controller. The tweaking involved a little bit of tweaking to get working correctly, but works great with Steam and many of the emulators that I use. I have only ever used one controller with it, so I can’t vouch for how it works with multiple controllers, but I plan to buy a second one, soon, to allow multi-user gaming.
In order to use a standard IR remote in XBMC, I purchased a Flirc USB IR receiver and installed it in the front-facing USB port. This is another place that having a Debian/Ubuntu-based distro comes in handy because Flirc has a repo available for the supporting software. Once installed, there is a very intuitive menu to get your remote control setup to be utilized by your Linux box.
Now you have a working keyboard/mouse, gaming controller, and remote control providing various ways to control the different media choices provided by your NUC!