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Also see: Why Linux Mint Won

And: Must Have Linux Mint Software

And one more: Debian vs. Linux Mint

While Ubuntu has been refocusing their efforts, Linux Mint has managed to supersede other distributions in becoming what some have argued is the most popular Linux Distro of all time. Obviously there is no hard data to support this, however I’ve found that on YouTube and in the forums, Linux Mint is the go-to distro for most Linux newcomers.

What most newcomers might not realize is that Linux Mint wasn’t always that polished. As a matter of fact, Linux Mint used to be nothing more than Ubuntu with codecs and a green theme installed. Flash forward to the current state of the project, Linux Mint supports a number of desktop environments and even offers Mint specific tools as well.

Linux Mint disto: Cinnamon

In the early days of Linux Mint, users found themselves looking into the distribution since it provided restricted codecs by default. Even though Ubuntu users did have access to oddball third party tools like Automatix to install software and codecs found in PPA archives, Linux Mint made the process even easier by doing all the newbie-readiness work for the end user.

Early on, Linux Mint also had useful command line tools like Mintwifi. This wireless utility provided access to ndiswrapper and a large number of proprietary drivers that would enable the casual Linux Mint user to get their wifi up and running quickly.

The timeline history for Linux Mint starts off in 2006, when the distro was first released with a KDE base. It was the release known as Ada with the following release called Barbara changing it’s codebase from Kubuntu to Ubuntu proper. By 2008, Linux Mint opted to stick with the Ubuntu release cycle timeline starting with Linux Mint Elyssa. It was during this time that we began to see Mint focusing on greater Ubuntu compatibility from its codebase in Linux Mint 6 Felicia.

Things in the Linux Mint camp really saw a flurry of activity in 2010 when Linux Mint Debian Edition was released. At the time, this version of Linux Mint was built as a rolling release distribution based on Debian, not Ubuntu. Fast forward to 2024, the rolling release element of Linux Mint Debian Edition was swapped out for a fixed long term release version of a distro by the same name. This Linux Mint Debian Edition version was based on Debian Jessie.

These days, Linux Mint is enjoying unbelievable popularity. Much of this is likely due to their approach of putting usability first, only offering releases based on Ubuntu long term release candidates and providing the simplest default desktop experience possible.

The Linux Mint flagship desktop known as Cinnamon, has done wonders to provide a solid alternative to the Ubuntu Unity desktop. Despite both Ubuntu and Linux Mint providing a suitable Linux newcomer experience, more people than ever seem to be embracing the Linux Mint way of doing things.

Linux Mint is unique in comparison to Ubuntu in that it exclusively focuses on the desktop user. Ubuntu by contrast, focuses on a wide range of areas that just happen to include the desktop user. It’s my personal belief that the exclusive focus provided by Mint on the desktop has helped greatly to attract and retain a loyal userbase.

Another thing I’ve noticed about Linux Mint is often times bugs found in Ubuntu don’t affect Linux Mint. Sometimes this can be desktop environment specific, but in others cases it feels like any bugs from Mint’s Ubuntu base were worked out ahead of time before releasing the distro to their users.

In the past, I’ve found that ex-Windows users tend to gravitate towards Linux Mint. In fairness, I have also had success with Ubuntu MATE edition with the same users, but overwhelmingly the success of Linux Mint with Windows users can’t be overstated enough.

Another component that I think wins people over to Linux Mint is a combination of predictability and Linux Mint Tools. The predictability relies heavily on the fact that today’s Linux Mint is built upon Ubuntu long term releases. Additionally, these releases are only provided to the public as a finished product once the release team feels they’re ready. This issue alone, differs from Ubuntu which works off a stricter time based release schedule.

And the final component that makes Linux Mint shine is the aforementioned Mint Tools. These tools handle everything from domain blocking to home directory backups. Most of the tools provided aren’t really unique to Mint per se, rather, they’re bundled and presented as a tool set that makes sense to newcomers over the random scattered tools with the same functionality provided by other distributions.

So where is the Linux Mint project headed in the future? I think that for the most part, what we see with Linux Mint will continue to be what we can expect in the years to come. The only changes I see will be new kernels and various updates to the provided desktop environments (Cinnamon, MATE, etc).

I see a future where Linux Mint enjoys newcomers joining the ranks for the community, much like we see today. I don’t necessarily see any explosive growth in Mint’s future simply because there’s nothing that will grow the userbase faster than we’re currently seeing.

As new technologies such as new wireless standards or improved handling of 4k displays are developed, Linux Mint is sure to be right there at the forefront of such offerings. Despite this good news, I think the secret to Linux Mint’s success will continue to be slow and steady wins the race.

Considering everything above, is it fair to suggest that Linux Mint will eventually overshadow proprietary desktop operating systems like Windows? The short answer to this would be no. The longer answer would be that Linux Mint isn’t trying to compete with proprietary operating systems. Instead, Linux Mint is destined to provide a solid, easy to use operating system for those who want to use Linux but may not have much inclination to use other desktop distros.

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Debian Vs. Linux Mint: The Winner Is?

Linux Mint is on track to becoming the most popular desktop distro available. This isn’t to suggest that it’s already happened, rather that it’s on track to happen if Linux Mint continues to find its fans among Windows converts. By contrast, Debian has received almost no credit for this success whatsoever. Worse, neither does Ubuntu, which uses Debian as a base.

So are Linux Mint and Debian really all that different? After all, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which is based on Debian. One might surmise that the these distros are more similar than different. Fact is stranger than fiction. Linux Mint and Debian may share a common heritage, but that’s where the similarities end.

Debian and Linux Mint each support 32- and 64-bit architectures. And while Debian technically has broader architecture support (supporting ten types), the only two relevant in my opinion for the desktop are 32- and 64-bit. Support for ARM and other architectures is great, but I honestly don’t see it lending any value to a desktop user.

When comparing Debian to Linux Mint, the differences between the installers provided is significant. Debian’s installer is indeed, more robust. It’s also extremely vexing and overwhelming for Linux newbies. So while I’m right at home using it to install Debian, the Linux Mint installer is absolutely easier for the casual user.

Hold on, isn’t Debian’s installer better as it provides greater control over the installation process? Again, it depends on the end user in question. For newbies, no. It’s just adding extra “stuff” that most folks don’t really care about. Linux Mint may be using a rebranded Ubuntu installer tool, but the end result is that the Linux Mint newcomers and enthusiasts alike prefer it this way.

Then we have the matter of desktops. It’s true that you can choose your desktop environment from the Debian installer. I hope the user running the installer also has a firm understanding of the related applications they wish to include in this installation as well. I’d argue most don’t and hence, think that choosing a distro spin with a set desktop environment as an ISO download offers a better experience.

Speaking of desktop environments, I was pleasantly surprised to see both Debian and Linux mint shared similar desktop choices. Both distros provide access to Cinnamon, MATE, KDE and Xfce. Only Debian however, also offers GNOME as a desktop choice.

It’s been said that Debian has the largest selection of packages available to any Linux distro. Despite hearing this more often than I care to admit, I personally think it depends on what packages you’re looking for. For example, Linux Mint can rely on Ubuntu’s PPAs whereas it’s really not a great idea with Debian.

When comparing the two distros default package repos, I would argue that Linux Mint offers packages based on convenience where Debian prefers to categorize them based on software philosophy. Luckily for Debian fans it’s still possible to add non-free software like Chrome. Like PPAs in Debian, you must make sure the added repository is setup as to work with your specific Debian release. Contrasting this handling of non-free software in Linux Mint, Debian does add a bit of a barrier as its philosophy is not as pragmatic.

Debian takes security very seriously. By default, you must have full root credentials in order to install or manage administrator level duties on your workstation. Comparing this to Linux Mint, which embraces a super user environment where as any user with sudo credentials is free to make system wide changes.

I personally think that using sudo credentials is perfectly safe, so long as you fully understand the changes you’re making to your system. Not only that, but if you goof something up at the user level, you’ve only affected that user. Messing up a root user is a lot messier than messing up a single user account with sudo. Obviously, messing up something at the system wide level with either user scheme may likely lead to a new installation of the distro.

Comparing Debian’s stable, unstable and testing releases must not be confused with Linux Mint’s Main, Upstream, Backport, and Romeo repositories. First of all, there is a world of difference between a distro release and a repository. A release is a complete distribution of Linux. In Debian’s case, this means releases of varied levels of stability based on age and testing.

Hold this up as a comparison to Linux Mint’s repositories and it’s easy to see where people become confused. Mint’s repos simply reflect package age and stability. And since Linux Mint is based on Long Term Support Ubuntu releases, it’s usually a safe bet that Mint will be quite stable with the default package repositories selected. There is no real benefit to running Debian stable as a desktop…unless you enjoy really old software.

When the dust settles and it’s time to decide between Debian or Linux, consider this – what matters most to you? One must choose between software philosophy or convenience. Many of us may find ourselves opting for the comfort of convenience.

While I don’t use either distro full time, I do see the value in convenience. There was a time I’d be inclined to side with a Linux distro that provided a democratic development structure. But these days I simply want the freedom to get my work done and do so without being bothered by proprietary operating systems. This means I prefer distros that lend themselves to the side of convenience over other considerations.

Is Linux Mint A Better Choice Than Ubuntu?

Linux Mint is perfect for new users

I’ve used Linux Mint GNOME edition off and on for a few years now. I have mostly used it in testing, as I’m really not the target audience for this distribution. Yet I continue to be impressed with how simple and user-friendly this desktop is. In addition, there are other factors that I think give Linux Mint a huge edge over Ubuntu for the casual user.

When running the Linux Mint software updating tool, you’ll find things are numbered from 1 to 5. Packages numbered with a 1 are from Linux Mint developers while those packages with a “2” or higher come from Ubuntu or a third-party.

This numbering system all but guarantees that you won’t hose a system with a bad set of updates from a rogue repository you added and forgotten about.

The next big thing with Linux Mint is how concisely the menu layout is presented. Unlike the old Gnome menus or even Unity, everything in Linux Mint is tightly laid out to make the entire experience as logical as possible. This menu setup makes migrating from another operating system much less overwhelming for newer users. For “old hat users” such as myself, I enjoy finding everything within reach. And if it’s not visible, the provided search box takes care of anything that’s missing.

Another huge push in the right direction for newcomers would have to be the introduction screen that appears on the first boot. Documentation, support, and so forth is presented right away. From there, items that I think should have been provided by Ubuntu out of the box are a given with Linux Mint.

Gufw is installed and ready to go. There is a Mintbackup utility that not only offers the same functionality as SimpleBackup on Ubuntu, but it even backs up your application titles. This means you can take this list to another PC, run the program and install the same software list as before. That’s always been possible via the command line, and now it’s nice to see this functionality provided for newer users with a friendly GUI.

Without any doubt, the biggest reason for me to love Linux Mint is that I can install software by name from the control panel — with greater speed than I could have with apt-get.

Plus I can avoid all the package managers and directly type in the application’s name, which presents me with the option to install it. Best of all, it’s done very quickly and without the bloat of the software center. It’s almost like being able to run the terminal without needing to know how. I love it!

It feels like Ubuntu

One of the biggest reasons I still rely on Ubuntu is because of the huge number of software packages available for it. If there’s software for Linux, then there’s an Ubuntu package somewhere for that application title.

Luckily, these same applications also work well for Linux Mint as it offers a release based on Ubuntu. This means that should Ubuntu’s direction force me to drop it completely I can stick with the same applications.

As a matter of fact, I can even install a PPA repository for software like MintBackup on Ubuntu, then backup my software list and take it with me if I switched to Linux Mint. The entire process is done with Linux Mint-based tools, which are designed to switch over to the Linux Mint way of doing things. Talk about convenience!

Linux Version Check: How To Get Distro And Kernel Information

One of the first steps in understanding your Linux distro and kernel is knowing the version that they are currently running. This gives you an idea of what features are available at your disposal as well as their problems which can help you during troubleshooting.

This article will show you how to find the version of your current distribution and kernel in Linux. Further, it will also highlight how you can do this even without the command line.

Checking the Version of Your Linux Distro

The quickest way to check the current version of your Linux distribution is by printing the contents of the “/etc/os-release” file. This is a systemd configuration file that holds distro information in an easy to parse format.

To print the current version of your distribution, you can run the following command:

You can print the current version of your distro in lsb_release by using its --release option:

lsb_release

--release

Tip: Learn more about basic Linux utilities by using sed in your shell scripts.

Checking the Name of Your Linux Distro

Aside from being able to check your system’s version, you could also pull the name of your distro from both the “/etc/os-release” file and the lsb_release shell script. This makes it incredibly handy if you want to write a script that will work on all types of Linux machines.

To find the name of your Linux distro in the “/etc/os-release” file, change the value of the grep command from ^VERSION= to ^NAME=:

lsb_release

-i

Checking the Version of Your Linux Kernel using hostnamectl

The Linux kernel is the link between the programs that you run and the hardware that you own. This means that your distro will not detect your hardware if your kernel old enough to not have an interface for it. Therefore, knowing your kernel version is a vital step when troubleshooting hardware-specific issues in Linux.

One of the quickest ways to check for your kernel version is through hostnamectl. This is a systemd utility that you can find in modern Linux distros today.

To check your current kernel version, run the following command:

Checking the Version of Your Kernel using /proc/version

Aside from hostnamectl, you can also pull the current kernel version by reading the “/proc/version” file as well as through the uname utility.

To read the “/proc/version” file, you can run the following:

cat

/

proc

/

version

The “/proc/version” file will print a more detailed description of your kernel. The first parenthesis shows the machine that compiled your kernel while the latter two shows the version of the tools that it used.

Checking the Version of Your Kernel using uname

Meanwhile, the uname utility is a standard UNIX program that comes in almost all Linux distributions. To print your system’s kernel version using uname run it with the -r flag:

uname

-r

Unlike “/proc/version,” uname only provides the bare version number of your Linux kernel. This can be useful if you want a simple way to print the kernel version without any additional tools.

Good to know: Generic is not the only kernel binary that you can use in Linux. Learn more about the distributions that use Linux-libre to preserve user security.

Checking the Version of Your Distro and Kernel without Command Line

Most desktop packages today, across multiple distros, provide system information utilities that you can access without touching the terminal. You will often find them either under your environment’s settings window or inside your system’s “About” page.

Note: If you are using Ubuntu, you can refer to this article for instructions to check your distro version without using command line.

KDE Plasma XFCE

For XFCE, open the “About Xfce” menu item. You can find the current version of your distro under the “OS Name” variable and your kernel version under the “Kernel Version” variable.

MATE

In the “System” tab, you will see the version of your distro as well as the current version of your kernel under your system hostname.

Conclusion

Knowing how to get the current version of your distribution and kernel is just the first step in diving into the innards of Linux and UNIX-like operating systems. Learn how you can extend your knowledge of this great system by either manually installing Gentoo Linux or exploring some of the best GNOME Shell Extensions available today.

Image credit: Lukas via Unsplash. All alterations and screenshots by Ramces Red.

Ramces Red

Ramces is a technology writer that lived with computers all his life. A prolific reader and a student of Anthropology, he is an eccentric character that writes articles about Linux and anything *nix.

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Linux Mint 17.1 Finally Makes Mate’s Fancy Compiz Graphics Easy To Use

Linux Mint isn’t chasing touch interfaces, rethinking the way we use the desktop, or enacting any other grand experiment. It’s just a polished, modern Linux desktop system—and that’s why people love it. Linux Mint 17.1 (codenamed “Rebecca”) is on the brink of being released, and it continues the Linux Mint mission of refining the interface we use every day.

Got it? Good. Let’s dig in!

Easy Compiz effects in MATE, finally!

MATE is a fork of the GNOME 2 desktop environment once used on Ubuntu and other Linux distributions by default. It’s still popular among many people who don’t see why we need new desktops like Ubuntu’s Unity or GNOME 3.

Selecting Compiz options in Linux Mint 17.1.

Back in the day, Compiz provided fancy graphical effects for GNOME 2 desktops. It can still do so for MATE, although many people had difficulties setting this up on Linux Mint. That’s why Linux Mint 17.1 includes easy Compiz setup.

The Windows pane in the Desktop Settings window provides a box allowing you to choose between the stable-but-potentially-boring “Marco” window manager and the fancy-but-potentially-unstable Compiz window manager. Desktop cubes, wobbly windows, and more—it’s all back.

Compiz cubes!

Cinnamon 2.4 brings polish and memory improvements

The Cinnamon desktop was bumped to version 2.4. Unlike MATE, which is based on GNOME 2, Cinnamon is based on more modern GNOME 3 code, but it takes that modern code and forms it into a more traditional Linux desktop interface.

Linux Mint 17.1’s Cinnamon desktop.

The Theme settings were completely redesigned, and you can now use a slideshow as your desktop background. The Nemo file manager gains a button to quickly open a terminal window (hidden by default) and support for “emblems” that can be added to folders to make them more visually distinct.

Want to stay up to date on Linux, BSD, Chrome OS, and the rest of the World Beyond Windows? Bookmark the World Beyond Windows column page or follow our RSS feed.

Real improvements for everyone

But perhaps the biggest change is in the Update Manager application. It no longer shows individual package updates, but groups updates by “source package.” This means that—for example—when an update for LibreOffice is available, you won’t simply see a list of 22 packages. Instead, by default, you’ll see a single “LibreOffice” update in the list, although you’re free to drill down if you choose. According to Linux Mint’s developers, installing some individual package updates but not others —for packages like Mesa 3D graphics library, for example—can sometimes break people’s systems, however.

The refined Update Manager in Linux Mint 17.1’s Cinnamon desktop.

For a more in-depth look at the changes, check out the official lists ofnew features in Linux Mint 17.1 MATE or new features in Linux Mint 17.1 Cinnamon.

Overall, this is exactly the kind of release I—and many other Linux users—like to see. While Ubuntu 14.10 just shipped with no visible changes besides version bumps in a number of packages, Linux Mint has made the choice to stick with Ubuntu 14.04 under-the-hood and modify the stuff on top. Linux Mint 17.1 provides a great Linux desktop system, especially if you long for the days of more traditional Linux desktop interfaces.

Xfce Vs Mate: Top Linux Desktop Environments

Few desktop environments have benefited from the recent diversity of interfaces more than Mate and Xfce.

A year ago, Mate hadn’t even reached general release. However, since then, it has been influential in making Linux Mint the distribution of choice among experienced users. Similarly, after years of being the third most popular desktop environment, Xfce has become one of the major alternatives.

However, despite their similarities, which one is likely to appeal to you depends on what you are looking for in an interface.

The newfound popularity of the two desktops is explained largely by the fact that both are based on GNOME 2. Mate is a fork of GNOME 2, openly intended as an alternative for those dissatisfied with GNOME 3 and Ubuntu’s Unity. Having spent several years consciously imitating it, Xfce also resembles GNOME 2, down to the wording of many menu items and dialog boxes.

As a result, both Mate and Xfce can be classified as traditional desktops. They consist of a desktop display, a panel and a launcher, and both are largely free of 3-D effects, the influence of mobile devices or any effort to innovate in any major design elements. Contrariwise, each includes the technically useless screen-saver, presumably in keeping with tradition and users’ expectations.

Each is an obvious example of the type of interface that was introduced in the mid-1990s, and remained dominant until the last four years.

However, the aims of Mate and Xfce differ strongly, to judge from each project’s home page. Mate proclaims itself “the traditional desktop environment,” and so far its developers have sought to do little else than to continue to make a popular desktop environment easily available.

By contrast, Xfce’s home page summarizes the desktop environment as “fast and low on system resources, while still being visually appealing and user friendly.” Like Mate, Xfce generally lives up to its self-description.

In addition, Xfce still shows signs of its more geeky past. The project only added user-friendliness as its goal around 2006. Even a few years after that, Xfce hadn’t completed the simple, user-friendly task of adding a desktop launcher.

Instead, for the first year of its existence, Xfce emphasized speed and a small footprint. Evidence of these priorities lingers even now in the interface’s inconsistencies and the tendency towards buttons and lists in dialogs and configuration settings. One or two dialogs, such as the Setting Editor might still seem formidable to less experienced users. So might the file manager’s option to “Open Parents.”

Nor has Xfce spent as much time as modern alternatives like Unity have in worrying about such details as rounded-corners or the width of scroll and slider bars. Despite the introduction of user-friendliness as an equal goal, to this day Xfce tends to have a blocky, slightly awkward appearance.

By contrast, Mate draws upon a decade of incremental development for GNOME 2. If it is less consistent and less current than modern desktop environments, it is still more consistent and less old-fashioned in appearance than Xfce.

At the same time, if Mate is faster than GNOME 3, it is less responsive than Xfce in every way imaginable, from start time to the speed with which windows open and shut.

But these generalities are only part of the story. There may be individual features scattered through both desktop environments that influence your choice as well.

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