Linux Mint is Ubuntu. Get over it!

Earlier today I was browsing the latest edition of Linux User & Developer, a British Linux magazine with a more in-depth analytical focus than Linux Format, which concentrates on reviews, tutorials and interviews with various developers and corporate figures (though LUD has these too). There was a round-up of their ten best Linux distributions of 2012, and the top five (in ascending order) were OpenSUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu, Mageia and Mint. Mint is derived from Ubuntu, and the section on Mint refers to Ubuntu’s “much-publicised fall from grace” which has, it says, “proven the making of Mint”. While I agree that Mint has become a better desktop distribution for most purposes than the standard version of Ubuntu, this is to the credit of Ubuntu, not its loss.

Mint is Ubuntu. It looks different, because it has different desktop shells, but underneath it is the same thing. (Until about a year and a half ago, they really were the same thing, only with different user interface themes and a different package manager.) Mint has done some great work in making a more familiar desktop shell based on GNOME 3, which most people agree is a disaster as far as the desktop is concerned (and they have not proven there to be any market for GNOME 3 on tablets, given the popularity of Android with its profusion of apps) and in keeping the old GNOME (rebranded Mat&eactue;) alive, but underneath that, it’s all Ubuntu. Every Mint release (this was not true of some of the earlier ones, but is true of all the recent ones) is based on the most recent release of Ubuntu, so anyone who uses Mint has full access to not only the entire Ubuntu package repositories, but also to that distribution’s services, such as Launchpad which allows developers to publish packages for Ubuntu, which Mint users have access to as well.

Ubuntu logoUbuntu is also not a dead loss as far as the desktop is concerned; I have it installed alongside OS X on my Mac and its Mac compatibility (for example, handling the Mac UK keyboard layout, which is identical neither to the American nor the standard UK key layout) is better than Mint’s. I actually prefer its desktop theme to Mint’s, and you can install Cinnamon on Ubuntu if you like. I do agree that Canonical’s design decisions over the past three years have been increasingly annoying and have broken things that worked and that apps depended on (the system tray, for example), but they broke only in the mainstream version of Ubuntu. All the old features still work in all of the alternative desktops. (GNOME 3 has equally annoying new “features”.)

If Ubuntu really had fallen from grace, it would not still be being used as the basis for Mint. Ubuntu’s user count should be considered to include Mint’s, because Mint uses most of Ubuntu and exposes its entire ecosystem to its own users. Of course, Ubuntu itself is based on Debian, and uses its utilities and package management system, but Debian has never been a strong or popular desktop distribution, not least because its “stable” versions take years to develop and is often found to be years out of date. However flawed the DistroWatch ratings are, Ubuntu, its in-house derivatives and Mint together excite considerably more interest combined than the four most popular non-Debian distributions do combined. That means Ubuntu is a very strong base and should be considered very much alive and well, however unpopular its (easily reversible) changes to the Linux desktop.

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