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Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that cutting-edge software availability is the leading indicator of which Linux distribution I'm going to end up with. Perhaps this is why I've found myself flailing into the arms of Ubuntu and Ubuntu-based distributions recently? More often than not, I can find the software I want with a deb package or PPA ready to go.
It's time savers like the one mentioned above that has made non-Ubuntu centric distributions not worth spending much time with. It's not a lack of ability on my end, rather it's a lack of wanting to spend a weekend setting up a new installation just to meet my needs. My time is valuable, so any distribution I select to meet my needs will be reflective of this.
In this article, I will be looking at distributions based on Ubuntu and/or Debian (only), then exploring what makes each spin-off unique.
Easily one of the most popular Ubuntu derivatives out there, Linux Mint has grown into the ideal option for anyone who is looking to run an Ubuntu-base, with a slightly different approach. Many people are under the impression that Linux Mint is merely a re-purposed version of Ubuntu. While this may have been the case when Linux Mint first came about, today it has its own approach to a desktop environment, software and even software backup.
What makes Linux Mint awesome is the fact that it takes what Ubuntu did, then added an additional layer to make it even easier. For some Linux enthusiasts, this might make you roll your eyes. But for the new Linux users who have found Linux Mint, the following features have made the switch to Linux much smoother.
Software backup: Before Ubuntu's software center offered the ability to sync up your software titles with other PCs, Linux Mint offered mintBackup. Unlike other backup tools, which can only backup specific directories, mintBackup also offered the option of backing up the software installed. The biggest benefit of this tool is that it's installed in Linux Mint by default.
New desktop environment: Even though Linux Mint offers KDE and other desktop environments, its primary desktop environment is one based on GNOME. But once Ubuntu went with Unity as a desktop option, Linux Mint went another direction.
Today, Linux Mint offers Gnome users the choice of MATE and Cinnamon for their desktop. Using MATE is helpful for those who can't seem to let go of Gnome 2 while Cinnamon simply provides an interesting alternative to a 'standard' Gnome 3 desktop environment. I've found that using Cinnamon does tend to be quite extensible, when compared to a standard Gnome 3 desktop. In the end, Cinnamon is simply a fork of the Gnome Shell.
Update system: The final thing that I think makes Linux Mint so attractive to newer users is its numbered update system. The update tool, called mintUpdate, allows users to pre-select the level of updates they wish to install.
For example, if the end user wants to avoid updates that could potentially create problems, marked as level 5, they can choose to avoid them automatically. Updates marked 1-4 are considered to be safe, sorted by number according to their stability. By contrast, Ubuntu offers no such option.
Anyone coming from Ubuntu to Linux Mint will feel right at home. Best of all, Linux Mint works great with software packages designed for Ubuntu and even allows for compatibility with Ubuntu's software repositories and PPAs.
Peppermint Linux OS
Based on Lubuntu, with many Linux Mint elements. Unlike merely running Linux Mint with a light-weight desktop environment, Peppermint differentiates itself in that it's very cloud-centric. It emphasizes Google Docs over LibreOffice, Gmail over Thunderbird, and so on. For someone who is already using many of the common cloud-based applications in the Windows world, the switch to Peppermint is going to be a fairly easy affair.
To take this a step further, Peppermint is simply Lubuntu, bundled with cloud-centric software provided out of the box. In addition, it also uses a number of Linux Mint specific tools, such as the software manager and its update tool. Tie this in with Synaptic for adding/removing software, and someone could easily make Peppermint feel even more like Lubuntu-proper, if they so wanted. And for those wondering, the desktop environment used in Peppermint is LXDE. Web applications feel like they're tightly integrated into the distribution with Prism.
I think that Peppermint Linux OS is perfect for anyone comfortable with using cloud software over local software. It's also a nice fit for anyone looking to mix localized applications with cloud applications.
Pear Linux 5
– Picking up where other distributions based on Ubuntu left off, Pear Linux offers Ubuntu users a new way of looking at their desktop. In what feels like a themed version of Ubuntu, this distribution actually does have some behind the scenes tweaks that differentiate it from its Ubuntu-base.
For the newcomer to Pear Linux, the most significant thing that will be noticed is how OS X-like this distribution is. For better or worse, Pear feels like it's emulating the Apple desktop at some level. For someone who is looking for something that feels like OS X, perhaps this is a good thing.
Under the hood of this distribution, there are some Gnome Shell tweaks such as displaying software by clicking the Launchpad icon. Another notable difference is Pear's approach to software installation. Pear Linux also provides a software store which feels a lot like the one found in Linux Mint, but with a slightly better layout.
At the end of the day, Pear Linux is of an Ubuntu Mini Remix origin, which lends itself nicely to computers with lower resolutions, such as most netbook computers.
Roll your own Ubuntu alternative
If you're like me and enjoy the Ubuntu-base, yet are interested in something a bit more customized, keep reading. Rather than jumping to a completely different distribution, consider creating your own Ubuntu related distribution using the Ubuntu Mini Remix.
At its core, Ubuntu Mini Remix is simply a stripped down Ubuntu-base, which can then be easily imported into your preferred Ubuntu distro building tool. Back in May, I offered up a roundup of options in this space that would be worth looking into. Remember, when you're making a list of what you want in your Ubuntu-based ISO, consider the following.
Desktop: Will the desktop environment be aimed at older PCs or is it to be setup for more mainstream, newer PCs?
Software: Remember that outside of the Ubuntu-base, you'll also want to carefully choose your browser and email client options. Everything else is personal preference.
Distro art: If at all possible, consider creating your own custom content or, if need be, commission someone else to do it for you. The one thing to avoid is trying to borrow trademarked stuff from Ubuntu.
And there we have it. Three solid alternatives to Ubuntu, for those who prefer an Ubuntu-base. And also, the possibility of crafting an Ubuntu derivative of your very own. Whichever approach is best for you is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.
As for me, I tend to rely on Ubuntu almost exclusively. And while I also run other distributions in my home office, including Fedora and Linux Mint, for the most part Ubuntu has proven to be perfectly adequate for my needs.