Each time Ubuntu is updated, we get also get another version of Linux Mint. I usually end up reviewing most of the Linux Mint derivatives of Ubuntu. This time around though, we’ve gotten a delightful surprise from the Linux Mint developers. A Debian version of Linux Mint! Yes, there is now a rolling release Linux Mint distro!
When I found out about it, I couldn’t resist doing a review. Frankly, I was not aware that the Linux Mint developers had even undertaken this project, but I’m very glad that they did. It’s the icing on an already very sweet Linux Mint cake, to say the least.
Before I get into the review, I’m sure some of you have some questions about this release. The Linux Mint developers have released an FAQ that I’ve reproduced here to help alleviate any concerns of potential Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) users:
1. Is LMDE compatible with Ubuntu-based Linux Mint editions?
No, it is not. LMDE is compatible with Debian, which isn’t compatible with Ubuntu.
2. Is LMDE fully compatible with Debian?
Yes, 100%. LMDE is compatible with repositories designed for Debian Testing or Debian Squeeze.
3. What is a rolling distribution?
LMDE constantly receives updates. Its ISO images are updated now and then but users do not require to re-install it on their systems.
4. How does LMDE compare to the Ubuntu-based editions?
* You don’t need to ever re-install the system. New versions of software and updates are continuously brought to you.
* It’s faster and more responsive than Ubuntu-based editions.
* Although it’s using Romeo for unstable packages, LMDE continuously changes as it receives updates and new software. Compared to a frozen version of Linux Mint which changes very little once it’s publicly released, it’s not as stable. Things are likely to break more often but fixes can also come quicker. For this reason, LMDE requires a deeper knowledge and experience with Linux, dpkg and APT.
* Debian is a less user-friendly/desktop-ready base than Ubuntu. Expect some rough edges.
5. Will it come in 64-bit? With KDE or other desktops?
The decision wasn’t made yet. LMDE is an experiment. Although we’re quite confident it will gain in popularity, we want to get an idea of how many users will switch to a Debian base before going further with it and bringing impacts to other editions. The idea of reaching the same level of functionality without using Ubuntu is quite challenging. It means there are missing pieces in the equation, components which need to be ported or re-written, and whether the pros outweight the cons, this is something we need to assess. A 32-bit Debian-based Gnome edition allows us to work on this with the community. When it’s fully on par with the Main Edition and if there is a demand for it, further editions will come for LMDE.
What’s New In This Release
Here’s a sample of the new features in this release. Some of these features are also in the Ubuntu version, so I’ve reproduced some of my comments about them from the original Linux Mint 9 Isadora review while also noting any differences in the Debian version.
Changes to the Linux Mint Menu
New Desktop Settings Tool
The Linux Mint developers have created a new install routine for the Debian version. I’ll talk more about it in the install section of the review.
New Backup Tool
LMDE has a new backup tool. The new backup tool preserves your data and preferences. It also tracks the software you installed. The backup tool will restore your data as well as the software you had installed on your Linux Mint system.
You can also opt to restore your software selection on a different computer. The backup tool can perform incremental restorations and backups, and it can compress and archive “on the fly.” It also performs an integrity check on each file (but you can turn this off if you want to speed up your backup).
New Desktop Settings Tool
The Debian version of Linux Mint also includes a new desktop settings tool. The new tool has an improved appearance, and changes take effect immediately.
Remember those controversial changes Canonical made to the title bar buttons in Ubuntu? They were placed on the left instead of the right. This infuriated many Ubuntu users who claimed it was too “Mac-like.” Well LMDE fixes that too by giving everybody a choice in the matter. The desktop settings tool lets you pick where you want the buttons, on the right or on the left. This is sure to soothe some of the intensely ruffled feathers of angry Ubuntu users.
The default setting in the Debian version is to have the buttons on the right.
New Software Manager
The new Software Manager has been built again, from the ground up.
It’s essentially a blend of the Ubuntu Software Center, GNOME App, and the old software manager. The Software Manager interface is highly reminiscent of the Ubuntu Software Center. That’s not really a surprise given that Software Manager uses Webkit.
It features more than 30,000 packages, and you can read user reviews of each application. You can also post your own reviews. Applications are sorted by score, so it’s easy to see the highest rated software.
Software installations will run in the background. You can continue browsing through the Software Manager or shut it down.
The new Software Manager is an excellent addition to LMDE (see the software section of the review for more screenshots and commentary).
Linux Mint Community Site
Another item to take note of is the new, community website for Linux Mint users. The new site lets Linux Mint users share their thoughts about software, hardware and other topics. By registering for the site you will also be able to write software reviews that will appear in the Software Manager.
Missing From the Debian Version
I noticed that the Windows Installer found in the Ubuntu version is not included in this release. I don’t run Windows generally, so I don’t particularly care about it. However, I wanted to note it here for those that might be interested in it. Perhaps it will be added in future releases.
Hardware Requirements & Installation
As far as I can tell the requirements to run the Debian version have not changed from the Ubuntu version. Here’s a list of what you’ll need:
x86 processor (for both 32 & 64-bit versions)
x86_64 compatible processor (for the 64-bit version)
512 MB of system memory (RAM)
3 GB of disk space for installation
Graphics card capable of 800×600 resolution
CD-ROM drive or USB port
The LMDE .iso file weighed in at around 917MB. Since this distro is a Live DVD, you can simply pop the DVD in, reboot your computer and try it out without actually having to install it. I opted to do a full install. The screenshots below walk you through the install, from beginning to end.
The install is quick and mostly painless. Newbies to Linux might stumble over the partitioning since it’s not quite as user-friendly as the Ubuntu version.
Bear in mind also that this install routine is new and was created for this version of Linux Mint. It will surely get better as time goes by. I found it to be very easy, but I’ve installed a zillion different distros so I’m used to working around any snafus. Your mileage may vary, depending on your hardware and level of experience.
A big thank you to the Linux Mint developers for releasing a Debian-based distro that is arguably easier to install than the generic version of Debian. It makes Debian accessible to more people, and that’s a good thing.
Booting & Login
One of the known problems with the Debian version is the lack of a bootsplash screen. Here’s the word on that from the Linux Mint developers:
Plymouth wasn’t considered stable enough to be included in LMDE. Alternatives such as usplash or splashy seemed obsolete and rather than using them temporarily, it was decided not to use any default boot splash.
The boot menu and login screens are fine though, and shouldn’t cause anybody any concern. The screenshots below show both of them.
Since the Ubuntu and Debian versions use GNOME, you’ll see the same desktop when you first boot into LMDE. The first thing you’ll see is the excellent Welcome to Linux Mint menu. This menu is now rendered in HTML and looks better than ever. The menu contains the following helpful categories and links:
Documentation (New Features, Known Problems, User Guide)