Should Linux Mint be discontinued?

Also in today’s open source roundup: DistroWatch reviews Fedora 25, and 8 Linux gifts for Christmas

Linux Mint
Luis Fernando Pienda Mahecha (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Should Linux Mint be discontinued?

Linux Mint has been quite popular with many users for a very long time. But changes to Linux Mint in recent years have one redditor wondering exactly what the point of using it is these days. Distributions like Fedora, Ubuntu and others have also stolen some of Linux Mint's thunder with notable improvements and popular spins.

Should Linux Mint be discontinued or is it still worth keeping around?

PointiestStick started the thread with these comments:

It seems to me that the Linux Mint people have a really good thing going with Cinnamon, which is rapidly becoming the GNOME 2.0 replacement. But Linux Mint as a distro is nothing to write home about. I used Mint for several years and found the overall experience to be frustrating.

Being based on LTS Ubuntu releases meant waiting ages for hardware support or updated packages. There was no good way to upgrade from one major version to another. PPAs and repos would randomly break, especially after updates.

I'm using Fedora these days and I have none of these problems. Having media codecs pre-installed was always nice but that's not even true anymore. So what's the point? Most of the things people like about Linux Mint are actually part of a desktop environment or could be (e.g. mintupdate, mintdrivers).

Why don't the Linux Mint guys focus all their energy on Cinnamon and supported apps? As a desktop environment, Cinnamon is awesome. But as a distro, Linux Mint seems like a dead end to me, especially as the Ubuntu and GNOME/GTK folks move in divergent directions and lose interest in supporting downstream derivatives.

More at Reddit

His fellow Linux redditors responded with their thoughts:

Passionate_coder: “The reason why Mint initially grew in popularity is because a lot of Ubuntu users (including me) were tired of Canonical making undesirable changes to Ubuntu. They seemed out of touch with their user base, and this gave way to Linux Mint.

I like Mint because I like the developers. They regularly seek feedback from users, develop new features fairly quickly, answer questions on every blog post, respond to bug reports, and haven't forced any features which the community doesn't want.

I agree that Mint isn't perfect, but I'm happy to stick with the community because I like the developers more than Canonical.”

Ydna_eissua: “Mint also now has some pretty hefty competition from Ubuntu flavours like Ubuntu Mate. Which gives you a polished traditional desktop experience without tying you to the Mint release schedule.”

Cbmuser: “The Canonical and Debian developers actually do all the work. If it wasn't for us, Linux Mint wouldn't exist in the first place.

The real work is done in Debian and Ubuntu, like improving the base infrastructure and the toolchain.”

ShimiC: “I don't think that's entirely fair. By the same logic, your upstream projects (GNU, Linux, X11, systemd, GTK, KDE...) do "all the work", and if wasn't for them, there wouldn't be a Debian or an Ubuntu to exist in the first place.”

Sillyvictorians: “I'd say the reason for Mint's popularity predates Shuttleworth's "different for difference's sake" take on things, which did also happen around when GNOME 2.32 was deprecated in favor of 3.

Mint worked for people who wanted to use Linux but wanted a friendlier and more familiar experience but didn't want to get very deep into free vs non-free issues, like drivers and multimedia. Why couldn't things just be ready to run right out of the box, consarnit?

Licensing was (and still is) a very big issue, and Ubuntu's primary goal was an operating system that would be usable worldwide and wholly free from restrictive or licensed code. How else could you create "ubuntu" if your free OS was not legal for trade in every country?

This meant if you wanted to play non-free media like DVDs (it was the early 2000s), you had to manually enable libdvdcss and agree to use of a "restricted codec". MP3s were the same way and required users to enable extra repositories before they could install gstreamer-bad/ugly to get all of the popular but non-free codecs.

Then Mint rolled up and said, "Hey, we include all of that handy non-free stuff by default and also provide separate No Codec images." And lo, everyone who wanted to use Linux but couldn't get past not being able to use Youtube (Flash isn't free) or other stuff they could do on Windows or Mac easily tried it, and they found that it was good and stayed with it.

It wasn't for a few more years that the Canonical and GNOME Foundation shenanigans happened, and Mint putting out Cinnamon and Mate after that certainly solidified their popularity, but I think that Ubuntu was just a little too free (in more than one way) for many early users to wrap their heads around. Mint won share for its convenience, and Ubuntu's original message and mission were more or less lost to time, and perhaps a little megalomania, for the detriment of FOSS.”

Espero: “Evetything works out of the box

I install it and get on with my life, and most importanly get back to being productive. My OS tweaking days are way past me, it is not something I want to waste time doing.

Also, even my mum can use it. There has been no support requests at all, and it's been 3 years now!”

n30p1r4t3: “I just don't think Linux Mint is meant for you (based on your issues with it). Linux Mint to me is a set and forget distribution, which I have no problem using for machines that just need to work (I.e. my grandparents).”

DrDoctor13: “Mint is working towards becoming self-sufficient. With the x-apps and Cinnamon, they don't have to rely on constantly changing technologies anymore.

People in this thread already said Mint works out of the box and that the developers are very connected with the community, which is true and I couldn't ask for a better dev team running the show at Mint, but I like Mint because it's no-nonsense. Ubuntu already had a working software updater, I don't see why they have to use GNOME Software to handle updates. In every VM and old computer I've tested Ubuntu 16.04 on, Software always crashes when updating. I don't have this problem with Mint. The updater is verbose, detailed, and gives me an idea of how severe the update is. Mint's software installer is fantastic, too. GDebi for handling .debs, and mintinstall for browsing the repos. Both work fantastic and are much snappier than Software.

Not to mention other utilities that make most tasks a breeze. Adding PPAs? There's GUI for that. Tasks that may seem daunting because they're usually done by CLI have GUI interfaces provided by Mint. People look at Mint as the next big thing, and as much as I wish it was, it isn't. It's a stable, robust distro that knows exactly what it wants to be and doesn't shove in features no one wants. I used it in my first time starting out on Linux, I recommend it to Linux newcomers, and I even install it on servers that need to be stable/frozen for long periods of time. It perfectly balances the "noob-friendly" concept while allowing power users to still have their fun.”

PointiestStick: “Wow, this blew up overnight. I appreciate everyone's views!

I agree that the Mint folks' strongest asset is their focus on the community, and I applaud them for it. I remember talking to Clem in comment threads and that was a really rewarding experience.

Clem is a diplomatic fellow but if you read between the lines, a lot of his posts are about working around deficiencies in Ubuntu or GNOME. The point of an upstream package base is to inherit their work so you don't have to do that stuff yourself. When your upstream becomes unreliable for this purpose and you wind up having to re-do the work anyway, what's the point?

The only reason for Linux Mint's stability is because it has really old upstream packages. Part of this is inherited from Ubuntu and Debian's release cycles, and part of it is because they need to evaluate, patch, and replace a whole lot of upstream work.

There is also an extreme anti-upgrade mentality that is at odds with their equally extreme innovation. They push the envelope and then discourage most of their users from taking advantage of it simply because being based on Ubuntu means that upgrades are a risky and dangerous affair. Upgrades in Linux mint are just terrible. Something always irreparably broke every time I upgraded from one major version to another (e.g. 15 -> 16, 16 -> 17). I wound up doing clean installs which got really tiresome and jarring given the focus on user-friendliness. User-friendliness includes having a sane upgrade path! It's why their current approach seems to be to incrementally iterate off a stable base, which allows safe in-place package upgrades. But that stable base gets older and older over time. 18.1 still ships with the 4.4 kernel. If I tried to install that on my laptop, I would be fiddling with drivers for ages. In Fedora, everything worked out of the box.

I keep wondering if one day The Linux Mint folks are going to re-focus everything on the LMDE version. That way they would be Debian-based, not Ubuntu-based, and they could be decoupled from the upstream Canonical and GNOME shenanigans. They could do the work they want without having to patch or replace anything and have a saner upgrade path.”

More at Reddit

DistroWatch reviews Fedora 25

Fedora 25 has been out for a little while now, and reviews have begun to appear on various Linux sites. DistroWatch has a new review of Fedora 25 this week, and was mostly pleased with it.

Joshua Allen Holm reports for DistroWatch:

I will be honest, Fedora 25 is a very boring release. Everything is newer, but there are not a lot of new features. The biggest change is the switch to Wayland as the default display server (which I cover in more detail below), but just about everything else is just a version number bump. GNOME is now version 3.22. Firefox 49 is what came on the ISO, but the update to Firefox 50 is already available. Evolution, also version 3.22, serves as the default e-mail client. LibreOffice 5.2 rounds out the major software included by default.

The most significant change in Fedora 25 is the use of Wayland as the default display server. This change has been long promised, but the implementation has been frequently pushed back. Fedora 25 now defaults to using Wayland and, while perfectly usable, it is not perfect. After using Fedora daily since release, I have yet to find any issues that completely disrupt my work-flow, or make doing something important impossible, but there are a handful of issues that I ran across all the time.

Other things that I have noticed are the fact that Files displays an extra blank line at the bottom of its right-click context menu that does not appear under Xorg and that LibreOffice messes up when returning from full screen mode. Under Xorg, when LibreOffice exits full screen mode, it properly restores to the size it was before, but under Wayland it reduces to a small window and, while this small window can be resized, it will no longer correctly maximize to use the full screen; it leaves a small gap on the right side of the screen.

What is really nice about Fedora 25 is just how many programming languages are well supported by the distribution with up-to-date releases. I was able to easily set up support for C, C++, D, Java, Node.js, Python, Perl, R, Ruby, and Rust, with Rust being a new addition in Fedora 25. While I was certainly excited to see Rust packages included, I was disappointed that GnuCOBOL does not seem to be packaged for Fedora anymore.

Even when dealing with the various Wayland oddities and issues, Fedora 25 is a great distribution. Everything is reasonably polished and the default software provides a functional desktop for those looking for a basic web browsing, e-mail, and word processing environment. The additional packages available can easily turn Fedora into an excellent development workstation customized for a developer's specific needs. If you are programming in most of the current major programming languages, Fedora provides you the tools to easily do so. Overall, I am very pleased using Fedora 25, but I am even more excited for future releases of Fedora as the various minor Wayland issues get cleaned up.

More at DistroWatch

8 Linux gifts for Christmas

Christmas is not far away now, and many people are thinking about gifts for their friends and family. SJVN at ZDNet has a list of eight Linux-related gifts that you might want to consider.

SJVN reports for ZDNet:

Do you want to give your techie friend a very Linux holiday season? Sure you do! Here are some suggestion to brighten your favorite Tux fan's day.

1. Tux

2. Linux hats and t-shirts

3. xkcd books and shirts

4. Linux license plates

5. Linux Foundation membership

6. Linux PC

7. Open-source powered 3D printer

8. Raspberry Pi starter kit

More at ZDNet

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