In addition, elementaryOS further distinguishes itself by offering its own email client and music player. Did I mention it offers one of the best looking user experiences out of the box I've ever seen? From default backgrounds to stunning icons, elementaryOS offers a stellar user experience with an Ubuntu base running at its core.
It’s so good that recently there was an OS X enthusiast who mentioned that it was quite usable from a Mac user's perspective, due to the design and deep thought that went into its overall layout.
Unfortunately, like other Ubuntu customizations, you're still limited to a smaller community size when dealing with challenges. And of course, elementaryOS is also a work in progress. So expecting it to behave like Ubuntu proper isn't the best idea. I recommend using this distribution with the understanding that there will be issues that come up, and you'll do well to accept that asking for help in the Ubuntu forums is going to lead to poor results.
At the end of the day, I find elementaryOS to be the best distribution out of the three in terms of thoughtful design. I love the idea behind Pantheon, and happen to think Geary and Musicare great apps as well.
Is this distribution ready for prime time? At this stage, yes, due to the hyperactive development and strong (be it small) community pushing this option into the world. I see those looking to move away from OS X finding this to be a compelling option. Short of the absence of certain legacy applications, my own wife found this distribution to easily be the best she's ever seen from a visual point of view.
The Ubuntu team has made it clear that they're about convergence. If you disagree with this vision, you may find one of these customizations to be better suited to your needs. Ubuntu's vision seems to go deeper than mere convergence, however, with its desire to use their own display server instead of what is expected to become the industry standard. Still, Ubuntu is and will always be a powerful, easy to use Linux distribution for those discovering Linux for the first time. But this doesn't mean that it's always a natural fit for everyone.
Linux Mint is without question a solid option for Windows XP refugees. And for a casual newcomer, I'd feel safe in recommending it. But I might go so far as to point out that if you're looking for the same kind of no-nonsense feel, with better Ubuntu compatibility (then yes, it's a problem), I'd also suggest trying Xubuntu as a solid fallback. It not only runs on older hardware that Cinnamon might not, it also provides rock-solid Ubuntu compatibility.
Surprisingly, elementaryOS has proven to be much "faster" in terms of performance than Linux Mint. So I'd comfortably compare it to Xubuntu in terms of speed. Unfortunately elementaryOS still lacks Xubuntu's ultimate compatibility in terms of flawless PPA support and various Ubuntu libraries.
I think it's important to remember that elementaryOS and Linux Mint are customizations of Ubuntu, not merely derivatives. There are back-end differences that do in fact create issues when trying to blend "some" Ubuntu packages with these distros. Usually headaches come from select standalone packages and PPAs, as I've confirmed from Ubuntu's own Alan Pope during a recent Mumble room conversation about Ubuntu customizations. This isn't merely my opinion, this is a technical fact.
So, how does one decide whether or not going with a customization is the right idea when it comes to finding something based on Ubuntu? Here's my advice – if you're going to be using a lot of PPAs and standalone packages, consider sticking with derivatives instead of Ubuntu customizations if Unity isn't for you. Otherwise, I see no issue whatsoever in trying out elementaryOS and Linux Mint to see if they meet with your expectations.
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