Skip to comments.Linux Mint vs. Ubuntu: the Best Option?
Posted on 04/03/2012 7:28:24 AM PDT by ShadowAce
For the last few years, there has been something of a popularity contest between two well-known Linux distros: Linux Mint and Ubuntu. Both of these distributions share the same code base, as Ubuntu is based on Debian and Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu.
In both instances, the distributions took the foundation that Debian built, then added their own flavor to make it more user friendly. The similarities between the two distributions go even further, in that Ubuntu packages work flawlessly on Linux Mint, just as Ubuntu PPAs work well on Linux Mint.
When Linux Mint was first being developed, the degree of separation from Ubuntu was very minimal. The first few releases of Linux Mint were considered to be a "re-branded" version of Ubuntu using a slightly different desktop theme. Today however, Linux Mint has less in common with Ubuntu than most people realize.
For this article, Ill tap into my own experiences with both distributions over the years. I'll compare how Linux Mint and Ubuntu differ, and talk about which of the two options are best for the casual Linux enthusiast.
Easy isn't a dirty word
All too often, I hear the word "easy" being tossed around as if it's a bad word when describing Linux distributions. It's unfortunate that in some circles, an easy-to-use Linux distribution is looked down upon. Thankfully with both Linux Mint and Ubuntu, this isn't the case. The communities for both distributions are both very focused on a new user experience. I happen to see this as a positive thing.
Despite the mutual goal of offering an easy to use Linux desktop, I've noticed that Ubuntu and Linux Mint have different approaches as to how they appeal to their users.
In recent years, I've actually found the two distributions shift further apart than ever before. This change isn't a negative thing, rather a positive highlight that allows both distributions to differentiate themselves better. The shift began with different approaches to tools and software. Later, the differences between the distros evolved to include the desktops as well.
Today, Ubuntu firmly embraces Unity while Linux Mint holds tightly to their own re-imagining of the Gnome Shell. In both examples, the goal is to provide the most seamless experience to new users as possible. Interestingly enough, the approach taken with each distribution couldn't be more different when it comes to the desktop environment.
Unity wasn't that unifying at first
Ubuntu has made tremendous strides with Unity. Despite what amounts to a mess with previous releases of Unity, Ubuntu has managed to turn Unity into a solid desktop option for newcomers and veterans alike.
No matter how you slice it, Unity under Ubuntu looks light-years better than Gnome 2 ever did. Even if you don't like it, you must admit that it presents a nice, polished look.
The idea behind Unity was to bring everything that the Linux desktop to the end user with minimal hunting for applications and settings. This translates into less dancing through menus, and more enjoying the installed software or discovering new titles via the software center. It was a bold idea that clearly is beginning to win new users over. Add in the available installable Unity lenses, and suddenly the idea of using Unity isn't so bad.
In the beginning, my own experiences with Unity were far from pleasant. The Early releases of Unity left me frustrated and seeking an alternative desktop environment almost immediately. I found that the lack of system indicator applets that I once enjoyed was nearly impossible for me to overlook. It amounted to a complete redo on how I used my desktop, and I simply wasn't a good match for earlier revision of the Unity desktop.
Flash forward to now, Unity in Ubuntu 12.04 is well thought out and responsive. I'm also thrilled that they're replacing previously missing system indicators and improving dual-monitor control.
Unity has come a long way, despite the fact that I've had to retrain my brain in how to interact with the desktop. Yes, Unity has finally come into its own. But to be clear, it's very different from what we experienced when using the Gnome 2 desktop in earlier Ubuntu releases.
Cinnamon sweetens the Gnome desktop
In contrast, Linux Mint opted early on to not emulate Ubuntu's desktop choices. Today, Linux Mint comes with a number of desktop environments. Unlike Ubuntu, Linux Mint 12 offers its users the Gnome 3 and MATE desktop experiences out of the box. Gnome 3 is basically just the next evolution of Gnome. And MATE is essentially a fork off of Gnome 2, for those who prefer the legacy interface.
The third desktop option for Linux Mint users is known as Cinnamon. While it must be installed manually from your package manager, it's by far the best of the available desktop environments for Linux Mint. Also using the Gnome Shell, Cinnamon offers users a level of control ranging from the desktop applets to overall desktop effects.
Despite the newness of this desktop environment, Cinnamon has proven to be a fan-favorite not only on Linux Mint, but with other distributions as well. Best of all, it's laid out in such a way that anyone coming from Gnome 2 will feel right at home.
One area that frustrates me with Ubuntu is that they don't clearly mark how dangerous some package updates can be. This isn't to say that some updates that could create problems aren't important, rather that Ubuntu needs to provide a better way to customize how software packages are being updated. Because this could potentially eliminate problems new users face.
Linux Mint, on the other hand, uses a level-based numbering system. Level 5 is the most "dangerous" and Level 1 is totally trusted, so you're in complete control as to what's updated and how. Linux Mint also allows its users to choose the update level automatically or manually, so nothing is broken by surprise by an update.
As great as the Linux Mint software update approach is, there's still a problem that may have been overlooked. Because Kernel updates are important, if a kernel update is always labeled at level 5 (dangerous), there's a likelihood it's not going to be installed. On Ubuntu, this is a moot point as updates are all or nothing by default.
So from a security perspective, it's a valid argument that Ubuntu's policy may be more secure. However, I prefer the Linux Mint approach to package management. It keeps me in control, without having to skim through what packages are selected and which ones aren't.
Software backup considerations
Another major difference is how software is handled from a backup perspective. Since neither Linux Mint or Ubuntu offer you a fool-proof, pre-installation method of doing simple dedicated partitions for home directories, data and software backups become quite critical as a result.
Now, Ubuntu offers directory backups using an application called Déjà Dup. While Linux Mint, on the other hand, offers its own variation of this application called mintBackup.
Both applications allow you to back up local directories to Dropbox/UbuntuOne based-folders if you wish. Where Ubuntu completely drops the ball, however, is not providing application specific backups. Linux Mint's mintBackup however, does offer this type of backup option.
One area mintBackup lacks in is with the ability to do incremental backups like Déjà Dup. Since incremental backups take less time to do than a complete backup, some users may find that mintBackup isn't the best way to handle directory backups on a regular basis.
So here's my advice on the matter: use mintBackup (Ubuntu PPA here) to handle your software needs, while relying on Déjà Dup for a good incremental option. Remember, the wonderful thing about these two distributions is that you can use the same software on both installations.
Upgrading to a new release
The final area where Linux Mint and Ubuntu differ is how users are supposed to upgrade. Since neither of these two operating systems are "rolling release"-based distributions (excluding LMDE, most users are tempted to simply install upgrades in place instead of doing a clean installation. Ubuntu goes so far as to offer a distribution upgrade option.
Usually, this works without too many problems, but it's by far the most dangerous way, meaning you could hose your system. Because if the upgrade goes poorly, you're going to have to upgrade with a clean installation of the latest version of Ubuntu.
Linux Mint, by contrast, doesn't offer the fancy option of a distribution upgrade. Instead, they suggest you use mintBackup, then do a clean installation of the new release. As one might expect, most people tend to lean toward the Ubuntu method since it takes less work. Some might even argue that it's easier, too.
I would suggest that distribution upgrades that don't provide a default installed GUI software backup tool are really rotten.
Personally, I think it's a crime that both distributions don't default to dedicated home directories. It's so simple, I honestly fail to grasp why this isn't offered to newer users.
Having a dedicated home directory is fantastic. Should I hose my system somehow, I simply reinstall the Linux distribution and all of my personal data remains on the system.
The best distribution is...
By no means, am I going to claim that either of these distributions is the best option for all users. First of all, some users are happy with Arch Linux, Slackware, or another Linux distribution entirely. For those of you looking to better understand what really makes Linux Mint different from Ubuntu, however, this article hopefully is be food for thought.
Contrary to what casual technology pundits out there will claim, there are stark differences between Linux Mint and Ubuntu. So before anyone makes the claim that they're basically the same, I'd suggest re-reading everything I just shared above.
For Linux users seeking stability and safety with their desktop, Linux Mint wins the day. If however, you're someone who waits anxiously for the next release of their favorite operating system to be released, then Ubuntu is going to be a better match for you since it's released ahead of Linux Mint.
Speaking for myself, I prefer to dual-boot both distributions. Since I'm able to dual-boot using the same home directory, there's no need to choose one Linux distribution over another.
I’m running Mint 9 Isadora and haven’t even attempted to ‘upgrade’.. and this is why...
“Linux Mint, by contrast, doesn’t offer the fancy option of a distribution upgrade. Instead, they suggest you use mintBackup, then do a clean installation of the new release. As one might expect, most people tend to lean toward the Ubuntu method since it takes less work. Some might even argue that it’s easier, too.”
There is no way I’m going to spend hours backing up my system and then do a ‘clean install’ and try to re-install everything again.
I’ve run Ubuntu and Mint and to me, Mint is an easier to use system.
I’m quite happy with Fedora, myself.
Got my start on Ubuntu. Jumped from there over to FreeBSD when I decided to get my hands a little more “dirty” and then went back to Linux due to some wireless problems. I settled down with Arch after fooling around with Slackware for a while. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even care about window managers anymore. I use XMonad and run everything from the command line.
That being the case, I personally don’t have much use for Ubuntu or Mint. All the same, I don’t knock them as they’re great for bringing in people to whom GNU/Linux would otherwise be inaccessible and there’s nothing wrong even among seasoned techs with wanting to run something polished. Personally, I’m just glad whenever I see people talking about any flavor.
I should have added...
But I don’t like Mints ‘upgrade’ path.
It’s ridiculous to have to jump through all the hoops just to upgrade to Mint 12.
So far, Isadora is working fine. If it becomes a problem later, I’ll just boot into Windows XP..
I looked at both a few weeks ago. Two laptops, one 13 months old, the other 6 months old. Running off Live DVD, Ubuntu wouldn’t recognize my wireless card on the 6 mos old PC, Mint recognized both.
Installing my printer drivers was a real chore for someone like me who isn’t a Linux geek. And the continued reliance on Terminal to do such installations is a flashback to MSDOS I just don’t understand. To me, it’s one major roadblock for Linux distros being accepted by the great unwashed.
I understand hardware manufacturers (such as printers) not making Linux installation packages for their products so Linux distro developers are left with the install options we get, but it’s a big turn-off, at least to me.
I finally said “The heck with it” and gave up. This was my 2nd go-around in the past several years with Linux. There’s still a long way to go for them to become America’s operating system of choice.
Yup. I'm waiting for the Miracle to show up in May. I'll upgrade then.
“Installing my printer drivers was a real chore”
I have a Canon all-in-one printer and I had to choose the ‘closest’ compatible driver to make it work.
But the problem was, I didn’t know which one was the most compatible and spent hours on the internet trying to find someone with the same printer and find out which driver would work.
Unless you have a lot of patience, most people just aren’t going to go through all that trouble.
Every time I have to get on it to trouble shoot something, I have to re-learn it. I hate the way it works.
Fedora, to me, is much more straightforward and easier to learn and manage.
That’s why I went to Mint.
Ubuntu just uses too many ‘command line’ options through the terminal. Even if you are just trying to do updates.
Mint checks for updates automatically and you just click ‘install’ and it’s done.
That's fine with me. I'm not a big believer that the OS I use must be used by everyone else (or even the majority).
Use what works for you. If you are having a difficult time adjusting and adapting to Linux, don't use it.
But I'll never give a dime to lefty pro-abortion liberals like Gates and Microsoft.
Unity is about as effective in that as that sentence was.
I like Ubuntu until the lastest UI transformation. Sucks now cause I can’t find anything.
But the problem was, I didnt know which one was the most compatible and spent hours on the internet trying to find someone with the same printer and find out which driver would work.
I have two printers; An Epson Stylux NX415 wired to the 13 mos old laptop through USB, and a Canon Pixma MP495 wireless. I had problems with both.
I found the appropriate drivers for both from a search at their websites. But the terminal installation routine, unpacking layered zipped files, figuring out at what point in the unpackage routine one runs the terminal command, having two packages to download for the Canon printer; one for the printer drivers, another for the scanner drivers. Sheesh!
Then, I got the printers to work. But I still couldn't access the scanners on both. Was able to get through that after several hours of frustration, but needed two different programs installed because one would work with the Epson but not the Canon, and vice versa (the default scan module for the Canon through GIMP, XSane for the Epson...although that might be backwards, it's been too long ago). Unbelievable.
I think having a Live DVD of Mint is a good idea if problems develop with a Windows installation. It allows you to boot from the DVD and see all the drives on your PC, allowing you to save files to an external drive before troubleshooting your problems. But beyond that, it's just too frustrating to deal with.
Sorry, but that's true.
I was using Xubuntu on this thinkpad 390E PII 333, 6.4 gig HD , 256mb ram worked great but slow. I just installed Bodhi linux on this laptop and it runs like a new machine ,Bodhi linux WOW. If you want a linux that looks like windows try Zorin OS 5, makes it easier to switch
Fedora all the way for me.
One thing that’s just a little bit overwrought are all the warnings about upgrades in place ....
So they’re essentially saying it’s better to do a clean install upgrade because if you upgrade in place it might not work and then you’ll be forced to do a clean install.
So what have you really lost by upgrading in place? (Assuming you back everything up like you’re instructed to do). Worst case - a bit of time. But if you’re a linux user you have already gotten over THAT hurdle.
Ubuntu is under Mint, there are a load of linux OS that are ubuntu under the hood and most of them are very good
I used Kubuntu for a while, but switched over to Mint because it detects the hardware on my laptops better.
That may be true, but the upgrade procedure is totally different.
I was never thrilled with Ubuntu.
I even tried the XP add on and wasn’t impressed.
Also for the record, ShadowAce, Clement LeFebvre (sp?) the primary author of Mint, asked those who support Israel NOT to use or donate to Mint. He believes Israel is such a bad actor in the Middle East, and the Palestinian cause so just, that this is dragged into software. Distrowatch did an article on this “ban” a while back, and I do not know if Mr. Mint still holds this view or proscription.
Can’t Linux geeks just get along?
I've used both and much prefer Linux Mint.
Linux Geeks, as you put it, are just like every other person. Their shared enthusiasm for a technical platform does not erase their differences in other arenas of life.
While I did not know that about Mint, or its developer(s), I was never interested in it anyway, as it is a derivative of Ubuntu. This revelation (on my part) only strengthens my resolve to not try it.
Your question implies that any shared enthusiasm brings together clones of the same type of people. Much like a shared enthusiasm for, say, Free Republic brings together only those who like Apple, and who are very religious.
I am still on Mint 10,...waiting for the latest Mint release to see if I can find how to get it the way I want it.
They keep moving so much stuff around I can't find anything.
Meanwhile looking at several other distros....
GhostBSD looks interesting....but it wouldn't burn an iso for me the other day...and can't find anything about that problem on their forums.
And looking at Fubuntu and Pear....
Just created a VM with Ubuntu on it. My first experience with Linux although I have used unix in college. I also used SCO on a PC.
My first impression was quite favorable. It still takes me too long to do most things but I know what can be done and what should be done so I just have to hit google until I know how to do it.
Having said that, reading this thread is a perfect example of why Linux will never challenge Windows or OSX. Fragmentation of the Linux community keeps Linux from generating enough momentum to challenge either of the big 2.
“I do not know if Mr. Mint still holds this view or proscription.”
No, he does not. Clem publicly apologized after realizing that personal politics has no place on an OS website.
“Fragmentation of the Linux community keeps Linux from generating enough momentum to challenge either of the big 2.”
Linux will never seriously challenge MS or Apple, but having tried a number of distros, I think the competition among them has in the long run been a good thing. We are free to adapt whatever “vision” suits us best. I have used both Mint and Ubuntu for the past three years and have not settled on either while the desktop designs are still going through radical changes. Due to the UI turmoil, it is a bad time to try winning over Windows converts.
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