Monday, October 18, 2010

Review: Linux Mint Debian

On the first week of September the Linux Mint developers finally released their Debian based distro. Linux Mint Debian is a rolling release that, in their words, "promises to be faster, more responsive and less reliant on upstream components". Indeed, the biggest change here is moving from the traditional Ubuntu base Mint has historically used, to a Debian one. This is a move many members of the community were waiting for and received with open arms, certainly a welcome addition to the already large Linux Mint catalog.


To begin with, I think it is important to understand what the main changes are and what they mean, as well as the impact they have. That should help readers decide whether this is the right choice for them or not.

Rolling Distribution - For those who don't know, a rolling distribution is one that is continuously getting all kinds of updates, as opposed to the traditional release-freeze approach. In other words, Ubuntu releases every six months, almost completely freezing each release until the next one comes along. Such approach may be frustrating for those who want to get the latest software, because they need to wait six months, but also for those who require top stability, because they are somewhat forced to reinstall/upgrade if they want to enjoy new features.

In the case of Linux Mint Debian, users should install once, and wait for updates to arrive. In my opinion, this is a great future for those wanting stability. Administrators can easily control and test updates before applying them to their supported computers, while they will surely appreciate not having to think of reinstallations/upgrades that often. For those interested in cutting edge software, a rolling approach should theoretically be perfect, but I doubt this is the answer. Taking the conservative approach Debian is famous for, I don't think this is one to compete with Fedora or PCLinuxOS.

Note that downloading and applying fixes as they come is actually less reliable than standard Ubuntu based Linux Mint releases. Updates may not be completely stable, but in turn, fixes should come quicker. Think of this before you install Linux Mint Debian, for you will need to be careful before applying updates, as well as be ready to work around them. That will require some dpkg and apt know how.

Compatibility - This one is a major deviation, for Linux Mint Debian is actually NOT Ubuntu compatible. It is 100% Debian compatible, though.

Once again, this is good and bad, depending on your needs. A home desktop user will probably enjoy Ubuntu compatibility, for lots of application developers out there think of Ubuntu when they package their Linux versions. On the other hand, being totally compatible with Debian will prove beneficial for those interested in such compatibility. In other words, if you are a network administrator using Debian servers, you may benefit from having clients that are 100% compatible yet they sport the same user friendly interface Linux Mint has become famous for.

Rough edges - Debian is less refined than Ubuntu and, consequently, Linux Mint Debian is less refined than standard Linux Mint. Having said so, I have to say the Mint developers have done a great job taming the beast. Once you log in into a new session, it is really hard to spot any difference, it really looks and feels the same as Mint 9. In fact, the application catalog is almost exactly the same, including codecs and tweaks so users can pretty much "plug and play".

Things change ever so slightly when you start scratching the surface, though. Users will notice minor changes in the main menu categories, less GUI customization options and a somewhat different feel here and there. It does feel Linux Mint, but at the same time, it feels like something else.

Quicker and more responsive - I have tested Linux Mint Debian in a virtual box instance, just like I did with Ubuntu 10.10 RC a couple weeks ago. Assigning the same resources to both, I have to say I have not noticed any significant different in performance or responsiveness. Having said so, I tend to find Linux Mint slower than Ubuntu, so perhaps Linux Mint Debian is faster than Linux Mint standard. I am not so sure about it being faster than Ubuntu, though.

It is important to note that Ubuntu 10.10 is on 2.6.35.x Kernel series and on GNOME 2.32. Linux Mint Debian, even after a complete update, is still on 2.6.32.x Kernel series and on GNOME 2.30. That significant difference is, in my opinion, giving Ubuntu (and probably Linux Mint 10) the edge in performance and responsiveness for now.


Linux Mint developers worked out the Linux Mint Debian Live installer from scratch. Having used the awesome Ubuntu 10.10 installer just days ago, it does feel rough in comparison. In fact, this is probably the step part will feel less Linux Mint of all.

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Installation menus are not as "pretty", they are less informative and the overall feel is less user friendly. Having said so, there is nothing terribly complicated here and even users with little experience should be able to get through the installation.

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Linux Mint Debian is well beyond the 700MB size mark, so you will need to burn the ISO image into a DVD.

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Once the installation is complete, the usual reboot is required and the fun starts.


The boot process is another area where it is easy to notice that "roughness" I was referring to before. Most of it is CLI, quite different from the almost completely silent boot process in standard Mint. Once we get to the GDM login screen, things go back to normal and from here on, it is quite difficult to tell the difference.

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As you can see from the screenshot above, the Linux Mint Debian desktop looks very familiar for any Linux Mint user. The Mint Menu looks identical, and so does the Mint update application. The Software Manager also makes it with few, if any, cosmetic changes.

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The software catalog is also familiar, including VLC, SMPlayer, Rhythmbox, Pidgin, Firefox, Thunderbird, GIMP and the full OpenOffice suite among others. The "System Tools" menu category does include some interesting applications that are not in the standard Linux Mint 9 release, such as the power statistics program

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As those screenshots show, once inside a desktop session, things are pretty much as one would expect in a standard Linux Mint session. Of course, some may favor Linux Mint Debian because of its rolling release nature and perhaps because its lack of upstream issues (the infamous Ubuntu video issues in the last few releases should not apply here). On the other hand, those who favor a very polished and user friendly interface, a more aggressive approach in incorporating current software and don't want to miss on applications developed for Ubuntu exclusively, should probably stick with standard Linux Mint.

Personally, I believe this is a nice departure from the original Linux Mint approach, a step that provides a wider catalog for Linux Mint users and yet another move towards making the Mint project less Ubuntu dependent. Would I use it? Well, not really, but that's just because it does not really fit my needs.

If you think Linux Mint Debian features are what you were looking for, give it a go and roll with it.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Debian Squeeze is with Gnome 2.30 Kernel and 2.32 because it is in Freeze, but in December when it will be released, then the Testing repository (in which Mint is based) will be updating more often.

  2. Thank you very much Chema for your great review!!
    I really appreciate it.
    And I can agree with your thoughts, I think it is a very good release, I tested it too, but a kind of unpolished in my opinion, I dont know, I have the feeling that the main edition is more polished in the sense of user experience, as the font rendering I dont like in the Debian release, Mint and Ubuntu are great on it to manipulate the Gnome interface and Debian in general let the user to do that, its not bad, but I dont want to customize too much as I have not time for this. I already do that with Arch but of the other user friendly distros I expect this. I dont want to say that the Debian edition of Mint is bad but I think I would prefer to stay with the main edition as I dont like the freezes in the Debian development neither.
    I have my really rolling edition with Arch.
    So I agree with your last comments about this release.

    Muchas gracias otra vez por tu reseña!
    Tienes un blog fantástico.

    Un saludo


  3. Thanks!

    David gracias por tus comentarios, me alegra que te guste el blog!


  4. Hi, your desktop looks great!

    Any chance of writing an article to setup a desktop like yours or a link if you've already done that :D

  5. Chema, el desktop que tienes con que completos lo lograste?, Saludos!

  6. Hi

    If you are talking about the desktop with the blue background, that's Ubuntu 9.10 with a transparent panel, Magog white icons, Liberation Sans fonts and Cairo dock at the bottom. I simply changed each Cairo dock short cut to make it look as I wanted. Takes some time but the end result is great.

    Good Luck!

  7. mtbuller: I did cover this in a specific article a few months ago:

    Hope that helps


  8. Life is a journey
    What you have gone through can help others
    Please share