mintBackup – This last tool is really more of a front-end than a solution, yet for the new user wanting to backup their software and Home directory, it's a must-have utility.
These three items above are why Linux Mint is different from Ubuntu. Any benefit from "restricted extras" are merely frosting on the cake for newbies.
Now unlike Linux Mint based on Ubuntu, Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) is a brand new concept that is still very much under development. Be that as it may, I was impressed with what LMDE had to offer despite its "newness" to the world.
Networking just works – Using my trusty rtusb73-based wi-fi dongle, I was able to connect to my wi-fi router with the utmost of ease using the LiveCD.
I just pulled down network manager, selected my network, and I was done. It was that simple. It literally took me three seconds to get connected. LMDE easily wins in this area.
System update headaches – Excusing the youthfulness and the disclaimer that explains that LMDE is going to have some bugs, LMDE updates had dpkg errors from the moment it was installed onto my hard drive. The only way around them was to literally hash-tag out any of the Debian repositories enabled by default. This left only the enabled Mint repos.
This was easy for me to overcome, but it’s a complete deal-breaker for the average user. Simply Mepis on its worst day never gave me the number of errors I experienced. I'm currently running LMDE on my netbook and after some work, I managed to get it fixed. Still, it's unfortunate that newer users might become overwhelmed by this.
USB storage devices just work – No applets to find and click. I simply plug-in a Flash drive or external hard drive, and it mounts itself on my desktop without any help from me. This is a big win in my opinion.
NVIDIA/ATI proprietary driver how-to needed – If you plan on using proprietary video drivers, you'll need to dig up a forum post for the best method of installing them. Like with the Simply Mepis wi-fi hassles, it's not a big deal for regular Linux users. But for newbies, it'll make them yearn for Ubuntu's proprietary driver installer.
Can Debian based derivatives compete for new users?
Considering Ubuntu is only in existence thanks to its own Debian base, yes, newbie-friendly Debian distros are still very much worthwhile. Ubuntu may boast about long-term releases while also offering up bleeding edge release cycles, however non-Ubuntu releases are still attracting new users.
At the end of the day, the real question to ask yourself is: what do you want from a Debian based derivative?
If you want to stick with dpkg/apt without the Ubuntu tie-in, Simply Mepis and LMDE are something to consider. If you want to rely on Debian testing, LMDE has a lot to offer as it matures. On the other hand, if you would rather stick with Debian stable, Simply Mepis is tough to beat.