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Despite my preference for other distros, Linux Mint remains a leading distro in terms of newbie popularity. And now with Ubuntu shifting most of its focus onto cloud computing, now is the time for Linux Mint to shine.
This article will examine what draws people to Linux Mint over other distro, how it differs from Ubuntu and how Ubuntu's shifting focus may affect Linux Mint.
Linux Mint makes Linux easy
From its earliest release, Linux Mint was designed to make the transition to Linux as easy as possible. For Windows users, it was a match made in heaven. One could argue that Ubuntu did the same, however some simply preferred the approach Linux Mint provided in terms of layout and updates.
When Linux Mint first came out, the main attraction was its inclusion of restricted media codecs provided by default. Today Linux Mint offers its own software center, updater tool, domain restriction app, plus other related tools. Another popular feature is Mint's welcome screen that comes up after a fresh installation of Linux Mint. From the menu, clicking any of the icons provided will provide you with instant access to community based support anytime you need it.
Linux Mint is familiar
For those coming from Windows or other non-Unity/Gnome 3 environments, Linux Mint's flag ship desktop environment known as Cinnamon has proven to be a huge hit. Being able to locate installed applications and directories from the Menu launcher has been a smashing success as well.
One thing I could never really understood is the claim that everything works on Mint but oddly fails on Ubuntu. This is a common claim I've heard. My belief is that some individuals are comparing a brand new release of Ubuntu to an existing release of Mint. The issue here is that Mint is based on tried and true LTS releases of Ubuntu. And even when a new Ubuntu LTS is released, Mint takes the time to allow Ubuntu to work out some kinks before releasing a new version of Mint. Regardless of what I think about it, this approach is working in terms of winning over new users.
Perhaps best of all, Mint users don't ever feel "rushed" into trying a brand new release of the distro. Ubuntu on the other hand, mostly due to the media, seems to really encourage users to try the latest releases. I personally think anyone who uses Ubuntu needs to stick with LTS releases, preferably at the .1 release level. This ensures that the release of the distro is at its very best and most bugs have been addressed (if possible). Mint, benefits from the LTS release of Ubuntu and thus provides a stable experience overall.
Linux Mint is for the desktop – period
Perhaps the biggest difference between Mint and distros like Ubuntu is that it's designed for casual desktop users only. No cloud, server, etc – just desktop usage. Because of this, commonsense software inclusions are provided by default. For example, Linux Mint comes with Gufw (firewall) right out of the box. It's mind-blowing to me that Ubuntu doesn't do this. Using ufw from the terminal is easy enough for a newbie distro, and providing GUI apps over those in a terminal is a must.
Also, Linux Mint's sound settings are far superior to many other distros. Don't get me wrong, it still lacks the functionality found with the official PulseAudio volume control application. However the overall layout of the sound controls is clean to look at and well presented. And finally, applet management reminds me of KDE's approach. Being able to install new applets from the repos via the panel manager is pretty nice.
Bundle all of this with the fact that this is a dedicated desktop experience only, it's easy to see why many people feel at ease about using Linux Mint full time.
Linux Mint is a Community Project
One common discussion point I've run into over the years is the foundation structure of Linux Mint. For example, Ubuntu is essentially run by Canonical (with some guidance from the Ubuntu Community Council/Ubuntu Technical Board). When Ubuntu's redirection was announced recently, it was Canonical's founder making the announcement, not a project lead or community council.
With Linux Mint, the project is widely considered to be community focused. There's the project founder and technical lead, Clem Lefebvre. And then the teams that help him maintain the project. There is no corporation of sorts running the project. The only corporations you'll see associated with the Linux Mint project are those who provide server space or sponsor it with monetary donations.
Why does any of the above matter? Because some people care about where their Linux distro comes from and who is involved in its support. This means that some people may not care for Canonical's approach with Ubuntu and prefer the more community oriented approach Linux Mint is providing.
The real reason Linux Mint is successful
Now that we've covered the basics as to Mint's success, let's have an honest conversation. The reason why Linux Mint is successful is because they have always stuck to the KISS principle. KISS stands for Keep It Simple Stupid and when applied wisely, allows for a great deal of predictability.
When Ubuntu is about to provide a new release, there is always the off-chance that something fairly drastic may change. For example: Inclusion or removal of key features, Ubuntu One storage, Amazon results in the Unity Scope, and talk of new init systems or display servers like Mir. Even if some of these changes never take place, the fact is Ubuntu as a project takes the media hit for each decision.
Linux Mint learned early on to let Ubuntu take the punches. If something is successfully embraced on Ubuntu, a Mint version of it might be included with the latest version of Linux Mint – MintBackup for example. When Ubuntu switched away from Gnome 2 over to Unity, Mint waited until the time was right and released their own flag ship desktop environment called Cinnamon. In short, Linux Mint plays things safe and keeps drastic changes to the user experience to a minimum. By taking this approach, Mint is able to keep their user base happy and avoid unpleasantness in the media or in the user forums.
Let me be clear, this article is NOT stating that Linux Mint is better than any other distro. As a matter of fact, I don't think Mint is and it has had some rough issues with security in the past. That said, the fact is Mint's popularity is undeniable.
With Ubuntu refocusing on the cloud/server/IoT space with desktop taking a backseat, I think we'll see Mint continuing to grab new users and potentially surpass Ubuntu in the coming years. And while I caution people not to take sites like Distro Watch too seriously, as the download numbers aren't a good way to process popularity, it does provide a lose indicator that Mint isn't going away anytime soon.
What say you? Do you think that Linux Mint has won the distro wars for newbies? Obviously Arch, Fedora and other distro users aren't the target market...however do you believe it could convert existing Ubuntu users? Hit the Comments, share your thoughts.