Is Linux Mint a Better Choice than Ubuntu?

Tuesday Jul 12th 2011 by Matt Hartley
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Could the rapidly growing, user-friendly Linux distro attract converts away from the mighty Ubuntu?

For many advanced Linux enthusiasts reading this, I doubt that any recent changes to the Ubuntu desktop swayed you very much. Most of you already have had plenty of time to select alternative distros -- from Fedora to Arch Linux -- should you decide you want to.

Each distribution has its own set of advantages and differences. But for those people who cannot bear to part with some features that are considered to be unique to Ubuntu, Linux Mint might be a viable option to look into.

Linux Mint is perfect for new users

I've used Linux Mint GNOME edition off and on for a few years now. I have mostly used it in testing, as I'm really not the target audience for this distribution. Yet I continue to be impressed with how simple and user-friendly this desktop is. In addition, there are other factors that I think give Linux Mint a huge edge over Ubuntu for the casual user.

When running the Linux Mint software updating tool, you'll find things are numbered from 1 to 5. Packages numbered with a 1 are from Linux Mint developers while those packages with a "2" or higher come from Ubuntu or a third-party.

This numbering system all but guarantees that you won't hose a system with a bad set of updates from a rogue repository you added and forgotten about.

The next big thing with Linux Mint is how concisely the menu layout is presented. Unlike the old Gnome menus or even Unity, everything in Linux Mint is tightly laid out to make the entire experience as logical as possible. This menu setup makes migrating from another operating system much less overwhelming for newer users. For "old hat users" such as myself, I enjoy finding everything within reach. And if it's not visible, the provided search box takes care of anything that's missing.

Another huge push in the right direction for newcomers would have to be the introduction screen that appears on the first boot. Documentation, support, and so forth is presented right away. From there, items that I think should have been provided by Ubuntu out of the box are a given with Linux Mint.

Gufw is installed and ready to go. There is a Mintbackup utility that not only offers the same functionality as SimpleBackup on Ubuntu, but it even backs up your application titles. This means you can take this list to another PC, run the program and install the same software list as before. That’s always been possible via the command line, and now it's nice to see this functionality provided for newer users with a friendly GUI.

Without any doubt, the biggest reason for me to love Linux Mint is that I can install software by name from the control panel -- with greater speed than I could have with apt-get.

Plus I can avoid all the package managers and directly type in the application's name, which presents me with the option to install it. Best of all, it's done very quickly and without the bloat of the software center. It's almost like being able to run the terminal without needing to know how. I love it!

It feels like Ubuntu

One of the biggest reasons I still rely on Ubuntu is because of the huge number of software packages available for it. If there's software for Linux, then there's an Ubuntu package somewhere for that application title.

Luckily, these same applications also work well for Linux Mint as it offers a release based on Ubuntu. This means that should Ubuntu's direction force me to drop it completely I can stick with the same applications.

As a matter of fact, I can even install a PPA repository for software like MintBackup on Ubuntu, then backup my software list and take it with me if I switched to Linux Mint. The entire process is done with Linux Mint-based tools, which are designed to switch over to the Linux Mint way of doing things. Talk about convenience!

Security, stability and a long-term view

Something you might find interesting about Linux Mint is that it's not just about offering an Ubuntu derivative. While you can run with a LTS release of Linux Mint that will likely meet with your company's needs, there’s also a Debian release as well.

Going with the Debian option might make a lot of sense for your company in that it uses Debian repositories and software, and it also offers a rolling release, meaning you install once and update from then on out. The only downside to the Linux Mint Debian release is that it's Gnome only at this point. Which may not be a problem, since Linux Mint does Gnome very well by offering up professional-looking themes.

Smaller community, growing list of users

Something else that would be worth considering is that Linux Mint is one of the fastest growing distributions. Next to Ubuntu, some strongly believe that it's beating out all the other distributions.

I can't claim this as a fact myself, but I would agree that it's growing at breaking speed. Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that that Linux Mint community that is soliciting new ideas for future releases. While Ubuntu sort of offers this as well, sometimes a smaller community is better.

After all, it's because of the smaller community that Linux Mint offers many of the features that it does. From the single click installation of codecs to the enterprise-friendly option of a rolling release based on Debian. There is something here for everyone.

Reasons why Linux Mint might not be enterprise ready

Linux Mint is just a remastered Linux distribution. The same can be said, of course, of distros ranging from Ubuntu to Debian. The fact is, some people might feel a little uncomfortable about going too many steps down the Debian latter. Others still, will forget all of this and just reach for alternatives like Arch Linux, Fedora, and OpenSuSE.

Then there is the fact that Linux Mint seems best for people completing fresh installations over updated ones. In contrast, Ubuntu offers the option of updating their install. If you happen to be someone who prefers running an updated version of their OS, Ubuntu would be a better choice.

The last thing that comes to mind is the lack of paid applications showing up with Linux Mint. Don't misunderstand me, there are proprietary applications available for download with Linux Mint. However, the opportunity for new app developers to make a name in the Ubuntu Software Center is not at this point comparable in Linux Mint. There simply isn't a way to buy applications there.

Frustrated Ubuntu users need to consider Linux Mint

I have used Gnome Classic since the first week I put myself through the nightmare that is called Unity. I'm not alone, either, as countless other enthusiasts have balked at the desktop layout and have instead looked elsewhere.

I know many Ubuntu fans who've simply washed their hands of the distro and moved on to Arch or other more advanced distributions. I've leaned more toward Arch recently due to my wish to get away from Ubuntu's release cycle. And Arch can be both cutting edge and, in some instances, more stable to use than Ubuntu. But I digress, this is about Linux Mint. And I am doubtful that a more advanced distribution is what most in the enterprise are looking for.

Linux Mint offers an attractive, reliable and fun way to take a more serious look at the Linux desktop. And it should also be noted that when I've shown Linux Mint to small businesses, they don't freak out with confusion like I've experienced with other distributions.

The fact is, Linux Mint is among the user-friendliest Linux distribution I've ever seen. I might put PCLinuxOS in as a close second, followed by Ubuntu/Simply Mepis. But for my time, I recommend Linux Mint for the enterprise desktop. It offers a great balance of ease and choice. With great desktop environments, Ubuntu or Debian base, clearly this is a distribution to watch very closely.

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