comparative reviews

Linux Mint 8 vs Ubuntu 9.10

UbuntuOn the surface, trying to write a comparative review of Linux Mint 8 (Helena) and Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic koala) would seem like a pointless exercise. After all, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu. So what’s the point? Well, as in cases such as this, where one product is based on another, there begins to emerge – at some point – a product differentiation. In the case of Mint and Ubuntu, that differentiation has been apparent almost from the first year of Mint’s existence.

Even though it depends and it’s based on Ubuntu, the Mint team has been steadily and aggressively adding features and developing custom (graphical) administrative tools. Tools and features that you won’t find on any other distro derived from Ubuntu, and on Ubuntu itself.

The folks at the Mint lab claim that their distro is based on Debian and Ubuntu, but I disagree. Truth is, it is based on Ubuntu, which is based on Debian. What I’m saying is that Mint is not derived directly from Debian, only by proxy.

Ok, let’s get down to business already, and lets begin by looking at what they have in common.

What do they have in common?

  1. Both distros come in Live CD iso images. A Live CD-ed distro offer users the opportunity to test the operating system without first installing it on their computer. This is a very common practice in the Linux community, a practice pioneered by Knoppix (?). In addition to providing an option to boot into the Live mode, Ubuntu also gives you the option to install directly to disk without first booting into the Live mode. With Mint, however, you must first boot into the Live mode, unless you are doing an OEM installation.
  2. Installer and installation process – Ubuntu’s installation process, and, therefore, Mint’s, follow the same simple six-step drill (seven, depending on the options you choose). As Linux installers go, it’s nothing to write home about, but it does its job. The installer has no support for setting up LVM, RAID and full disk encryption (it is only capable of encrypting the home directory).
    Ubuntu's installer
    The installer on Ubuntu and Mint are the same

    If you are trying to set up a dual-boot environment between Ubuntu and Mint, the installer will give you the option to import your documents and settings from the first operating system installed on the computer. It is not clear to me if this option is also available if you are trying to dual-boot between Ubuntu/Mint and any other operating system or if it is only available between Mint and Ubuntu.

    import settings
    The option to import user settings from an existing installation of Ubunut or Miint if you are trying to set up a dual-boot environment.
  3. Same package manager – Since Mint is based on Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is based on Debian, they both use the same package manager – Debian’s Advanced Packaging Tool (APT), with Synaptic as the graphical interface. Like other graphical package managers, Synaptic makes it easy for users of all skill levels to install/uninstall software on either operating system.
  4. Applications installed – The software packages installed by default are just about the same, and those in their package repositories are the same too.

Where Helena is better:

  1. Graphical firewall client – Like Ubuntu, Mint ships with ufw, Ubuntu’s uncomplicated firewall, running out of the box. To make it easier to configure ufw, Mint installs Gufw, the graphical interface to ufw, out of the box. While installing and configuring Gufw is a breeze, we give Mint some props for installing it by default.

    Gufw enabled
    Gufw in the enabled status
  2. Next generation menu – Whereas the Ubuntu desktop features the classic GNOME dropdown menu, Mint’s desktop has a variation of the kickoff-style menu – mintMenu. One really neat feature of mintMenu that makes it better than the Ubuntu menu, and, in fact, that of virtually other distros I’ve reviewed, is that it enables you to search for an application from the filter box, and if the application is not installed, offers you four options, one of which is to install the application (see all the options in the screenshot below).
    Mint's mintMenu allows you to search for and install an application right from the menu, that is, if the application is not already installed.

    Another neat feature of mintMenu is that by right-clicking on an application, it gives you the option to add it to the list of startup applications.

  3. Graphical administrative tools – Mint has more in-house-developed graphical administrative tools than Ubuntu. This list include mintInstall (the Software Manager), mintNanny, mintWelcome, and mintMenu. These are applications for which there are no equivalents on Ubuntu (ok, Ubuntu has Software Center, it’s own version of mintInstall, but …). I should point out that Mint’s graphical management tools are not as feature-rich as the ones you’ll find on Mandriva.
  4. Totem is the installed video player on both distros. On Ubuntu, Totem is not able to play encrypted video DVDs (most, if not all, commercial DVDs are encrypted). For that, you will need to install VLC media player. On Mint, Totem wil gladly play your commercial DVD videos.
  5. Software Manager – Aside from being able to install and manage applications by using Synaptic and the Linux command line, Ubuntu and Mint offer a third means of managing applications. On Mint, it is called Software Manager (mintInstall), and (Ubuntu) Software Center on Ubuntu. While they are identical, Ubuntu’s Software Center is a work in progress, lacking some of the features available on mintInstall (all software applications are works in progress, but mintInstall is further along the development path than Software Center).
    Helena's mintInstall or Software Manager

    Ubuntu's software center
    Front page of Ubuntu's Software Center.
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  1. Pingback: Ubuntu-News – Your one stop for news about Ubuntu » Blog Archive » Linux Mint 8 vs Ubuntu 9.10

  2. For the end users who are just starting out, I would highly recommend Mint. It’s really nice to be able to play music and movies right out of the box without ANY fiddling. When I was beginning to use linux, I installed it myself (hardy heron) and had a terrible time trying to get the various codecs to play music and dvds. Oh, and for a person new to linux, I would also recommend KDE 4.3. It would probably be more comfortable to them (as well as being sexy!).

  3. Eddie Wilson

    LinuxMint is a first rate derivative of Ubuntu. One of the only problems I really see with the distro is the conflict between Synaptic and Mintupdate. Synaptic will want to update more than Mint will. That’s not really much of a problem tho. Codecs are a non issue. If a person can’t follow simple instructions on installing codecs then they shouldn’t be installing a distro. Having codecs in your repos is not the same as distribution by the way. There is really not that much difference in the two distros. The Mint menu would be better for a person coming over from MS Windows but I prefer the standard Gnome menu. As far as what is best a for person new to Linux, the best things would be to help that person install and setup the distro when possible. When it comes right down to it LinuxMint and Ubuntu are great choices for a new linux user. And to the MS Window users or anyone who thinks that Windows is complete when it is first installed you are so wrong. Most of the time Windows is preinstalled on systems with everything already added. You will not have as much functionally with a fresh install of MS Windows as you do with LinuxMint.

    • Having codecs in your repos is not the same as distribution by the way.

      That’s one interpretation. Isn’t this the same thing as making copyrighted movies/music that you do not have rights to available for download?

  4. quote: “Mint will never inform you that their are updates that need to be applied to the system. ”

    This is completely WRONG.

    If you would just LOOK at the panel, you would see a lock icon. If that lock is open, there are updates that need to be applied. You do so by clicking on that icon. Duh.

    Perhaps in the future writer could actually try getting acquainted with the system before he writes a critique of it. When I read that bit of ignorance, I quit reading the rest of the article, as the writer is obviously clueless.

  5. Actually, for several versions now, Ubuntu includes a script that will automagically download and install libdvdcss for you. There is no need to add extra repositories. Simply:

    sudo /usr/share/doc/libdvdread4/
    sudo apt-get install ubuntu-restricted-extras

    Should be all you need. And yes, this is sad that this can’t be done out of the box, but that’s the only way to prevent people of being accused of distributing illegal software in several imporant areas of the world, including USA, by handing out Ubuntu install cds.

    • Good point, but if it is in your repo, isn’t that as good (or bad) as distributing? If any entity (govt or commercial) wants to make trouble, they could come after you for making it easy for users to install it.

  6. I agree that Mint is a minty refinement of Ubuntu. But this illustrates my frustration with Linux in general. GNU/Linux is faster than Windows in all benchmarks and superior in many ways, but it is buggy and in my experience not as stable. Graphics and sound drivers are flaky, wireless networking is hit-and-miss and I’m sure developers within each distro community are working to solve those issues.

    If the Mint group and Ubuntu and the other distro communities could set aside their disagreements and work together, Linux could become a spectacular product. Instead of that they continue to develop their own product, each with teams dedicated to making the same product a different way for a different platform.

    It’s nice to have the flexibility, but pick a direction and consolidate so we can pick up speed.

    • @Pauly:
      While I agree that in a case like Mint/Ubuntu it entails a lot of redundancy in maintaining multiple distributions, this has the advantage of people being able to choose which distribution they like.

      It’s not really the case that different distributions argue, but it’s rather that some people have a certain vision and then try to adapt existing systems into exactly that. E.g. Ubuntu really requires their Live CD to be legal everywhere in the world (see the discussion about libdvdcss/vlc/totem), while Mint prefers an approach that is more user-friendly but is in a grey legal area in some countries.

      Look at Linux the way you look at the car market: each brand has it’s own features and sometimes different models. It’s not a bad thing to have the choice, but it can be daunting at first to have to make that choice, especially when you “just want something that works” like most people do.

      Combining all distributions together would certainly mean a serious gain in development speed, but it would also cause a lot of people to feel their original distribution was better. In the car world, you can’t expect everybody to like the same car: some people want fast sport cars, others like their car eco-friendly, in the city one might like just a very small car to park in tight spaces, worksmen might need a pick-up truck, and so on.

      Different people have different needs; different needs mean different solutions; because a generic solution will either disregard some needs or will be too complex and won’t be efficient/optimal for most people. And don’t underestimate what people drive Linux: most of them are all tinkerers who try to optimise their experience with Linux.

    • You clearly do not understand the concept of free software and how we the end user had many choices.

  7. “On Ubuntu, Totem is not able to play encrypted video DVDs (most, if not all, commercial DVDs are encrypted). For that, you will need to install VLC media player. On Mint, Totem wil gladly play your commercial DVD videos.”

    This ain’t right. Totem can play encrypted dvds, but you have to install the decoder libraries separately because of legal issues. Mint disregards the issues and ships it by default. On Ubuntu, just install libdvdcss2 from Medibuntu and you’re good to go.

    • The review is based on a default installation, so the statement about Totem on Ubuntu is correct.

    • >”For that, you will need to install VLC media >player.”

      Acually VLC player still would need libdvdcss2 to play back a commercial (encrypted) DVD. So just installing VLC is not the answer under Ubuntu for DVD playback. There is no way around it you have to install libdvdcss2 and it is not in the repositories. So you have to download it from somewhere or add the source to the package manager.

  8. Linux Mint makes things like playing music and watching movies on Linux easy. The way most Windows users believe Windows to be, easy. Of course they don’t wanta admit that they have suffered innumerable malware infections, blue screens, unexplained crashes, catastrophic reboots and that ultimate ignominy, regular reinstall of the entire operating system and applications. Linux Mint gives the best of both worlds, the reliability of GNU/Linux and supposed out the box experience of Windows. As far as I am concerned it does the job excellently and I recommend and install it for those who are willing.

  9. It’s Linux?
    Who cares?
    The less than 1 percent of the computer users that are using Linux?
    That being said, Linuxmint is Ubuntu with all the bugs fixed. It never ceases to amaze me how poor Ubuntu releases are. It seems like they don’t even test them and 9.10 is especially bad.

  10. Pingback: Links 18/1/2010: Puppy Arcade 5, Preview of KDE 4.4 | Boycott Novell

  11. i like mint a lot, and its always what i install for first timers. I agree that raid and lvm should be an option in the installer. I found an easy way around this buy installing Ubuntu Karmic alternative disk ( with RAID 1 ) then converting to mint with this guide
    Theres not much between them, add a few repo’s, remove xsplash, install mint-meta-x64, remove ubuntu’s top panel, add mint menu to the bottom. Done

  12. “if you do not launch mintUpdate from the Control Center, Mint will never inform you that there are updates that need to be applied to the system.”

    This is not true. I’ve installed Mint 3 times now on 2 different computers, and when you boot to the desktop after installation there is a Software Updater icon in the panel that shows when udpates are available, and a notification popup informs you how many updates are available. It’s not quite as obtrusive as Ubuntu’s, but it’s the first thing you see (after the welcome screen) after a fresh install. I’ve never had to open anything from the Control Center for updates.

  13. Mint presents updates on the panel after installation in the form of an opened padlock. Hover to find out how many and click to update.

  14. Pingback: Linux Mint 8 vs Ubuntu 9.10 —

  15. One’s green, the other is brown.

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