Linux Mint Is A Better Distro Than Ubuntu For New User. What Do You Think?

I have been using Ubuntu since 2006 and I always felt that it is one of the easiest to use distro, especially for new Linux users. That was in the past. Nowadays, when people ask me for recommendation, I would certainly recommend Linux Mint over Ubuntu, and here are the reasons.

Note: This is mainly a comparison of Linux Mint and Ubuntu (unity version) and why I think Linux Mint is better. No offense to those who are using other distro and loving it.

Canonical (the team behind Ubuntu) created a new desktop manager, also known as Unity and added their own customizations to it. Similarly, Linux Mint also created their own version of desktop manager, also known as Cinnamon (a fork of Gnome 3) and use it for Linux Mint 13 and 14. The only difference between the two – Cinnamon gives a much better user experience than Unity.

linux-mint-cinnamon-desktop

The most impressive thing about Linux Mint is that during the transition from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3, they managed to keep the user interface consistent. Gnome Shell differs greatly from Gnome 2, both in the UI and the backend coding; and yet when Linux Mint created Cinnamon, they are able to retain the same UI found in their previous version. This means that users upgrading from an older version don’t have to spend money relearning the new interface.

For Unity, it is definitely a good attempt and innovation by the Canonical team, but a poorly implemented one. If you are coming from the old Gnome 2 desktop, transiting to Unity is definitely a difficult and frustrating experience. Window control buttons moved from right to left, without an easy way to switch it back; Global menu doesn’t work for all apps. Pidgin replaced with Empathy and it doesn’t work most of the time. Amazon ads in my desktop? No thanks!

As a long time Ubuntu user, I can’t get myself to like Unity. With Cinnamon, I love it the moment I started using it.

One thing that I noticed for both Linux Mint and Ubuntu is that one of them put their users first, while the other focuses on new features development rather than user experience.

The primary aim of Linux Mint is to “produce a modern, elegant and comfortable operating system which is both powerful and easy to use.“. I think they have definitely achieved the “easy to use” part. One of the key to make things easy to use is to keep it simple and consistent throughout. Apple’s iOS is a great example. What I am impress about Linux Mint is that the UI has been consistent throughout all its releases, even though the technology underlying it is totally different. This means that when I upgrade from one version to another, I won’t have to relearn everything again.

Ubuntu, on the other hand, has no fear of testing new grounds. They are willing to innovate and try new stuff. They are also willing to sacrifice user experience in the process of doing so.

ubuntu-unity-dash

The Dash is great, but it doesn’t make it easier for the users to search for apps. Pidgin was replaced with Empathy when it is still a half-baked product. They switched the default music player from Rhythmbox to Banshee, and only to go back to Rhythmbox again. They make Unity the default desktop manager when it is still buggy. They introduced the appindicator which blocked some notification icons from appearing in the system tray, and the list goes on…

Canonical has definitely done a great job innovating and some of their new features are really cool and useful. I only hope that in the process, they can do a better job integrating the new features without compromising the user experience.

While there are some useful tools like Synapse (application launcher), Cairo dock, Ubuntu Tweak, that allows you to customize Ubuntu and make it easier to use, or switch to other desktop manager instead of Unity, the question is, why do you need such customization in the first place? If you need to make so many customization just to make it usable, then it is no longer usable at all.

Since Linux Mint is a variant of Ubuntu, all the customizations that you did in Ubuntu will work in Linux Mint as well. However, while in Linux Mint, I don’t find myself doing a lot of customization as most of the things just work, or pre-installed. For sure, I won’t need to switch to another desktop manager in Linux Mint.

As mentioned earlier, this is a comparison between Ubuntu (Unity version) and Linux Mint and why I think Linux Mint is better. The good thing about Linux is that there are plenty of distro out there and you can easily find the one you like. However, if you were to ask me for a recommendation, I would surely recommend Linux Mint over Ubuntu.

What do you think?

And let’s have a quick poll: Which do you think is better: Ubuntu or Linux Mint?

16 comments

  1. There is no best distro for new users. New users come in all shapes and sizes and there is no one size fits all.

    Mint’s biggest problem for new users is two fold. It is based on a traditional desktop metaphor and many new users have moved past that metaphor. The second problem is that Mint offers no upgrade tool.

    Mint is not even for traditional GNOME 2.x users since neither Mate nor Cinnamon looks anything like GNOME 2.x. It looks like what it has always been, Mint. That is not to fault Mint, but it is to keep it real. If you are expecting a traditional top menu with the three sections, then you are in for a disappointment. Mint uses a bottom panel and a slab menu.

    There are many other possible candidates that are being overlooked. Kubuntu is Ubuntu with a traditional Windows bottom panel and look and feel. It is easy to install and has an upgrade tool. Xubuntu is faster than Cinnamon and better suited to older computers. It too has an upgrade option.

    I am not sure who Mint is for exactly. I don’t even think that Clem knows. He is trying to be all things to all people and that can’t satisfy everyone. He should decide between Mate and Cinnamon and stop sitting on the fence.

    I wish Mint well, but can’t help feeling that they have passed their best and are offering something that has little future. The desktop metaphor is dying. KDE and Unity have touchscreen interfaces and are configurable to different screen sizes. Mint is trying to hold on to something that satisfies some users in the short run but will leave us empty in the end.

    • This is probably not a comprehensive article about the different distro and which one is better. My main objective is to compare Linux Mint and Ubuntu and why I think Linux Mint is better.

      “Mint is trying to hold on to something that satisfies some users” and I think that is a good thing because they really care about their users. Who knows what will happen in the future? They may just bounce back, who knows?

    • “The desktop metaphor is dying. KDE and Unity have touchscreen interfaces and are configurable to different screen sizes.”

      This is a valid criticism of Mint’s UI. If users only have touchscreen devices. However, the vast majority of users still use regular desktop PCs. I and a few friends have all given Unity a fair shake, and all of us switched to Mint (either Cinnamon or MATE) after a month of trying to use Unity. Much like Windows 8, it’s simply not a practical UI paradigm for a multitasking user doing something other than consuming media/light internet browsing.

  2. You need to proof read your text, laziness and multiple errors not only spoil the experience of reading they also make me feel you don’t know your stuff or don’t care.
    I just spent a week with Mint. I hated it. Let alone the huge problem of getting my video card to work it felt dated and poorly designed.
    Unity requires just too much work so I am giving Kubuntu a spin, it does need some polishing but there is no learning curve, it’s fast and since Linux is my second system doesn’t require much, or any tweaking. I felt very at home with it right away.

    • I have some issues with Kubuntu too (tried it on my laptop and it didn’t work well), but I guess the experience will be different for different people and on different hardware.

      Thanks for pointing it out, and I must admit that I have been lazy. I have cleaned up the article.

  3. I think you are correct when it comes to what experience might be better. Mint is pretty much straight forward. Unity is not hard but different and as you point out does stuff like that Amazon thing. Ubuntu is too heavy though. Only KDE is heavier. So if you have good hardware then those could work… but it is at a cost.

    I use Gnome-shell and love it. It’s new but easy as hell. Logical and no problem to extend. Gnome-shell is about as heavy as XFCE. I use Arch as the implementation of Ubuntu was subpar. Arch has a better package management and is not as heavy. Great if you are a little bit more experienced with Linux.

    The one i think will be if not is yet.. is SolusOS. The have their own fork of Gnome-classic. And prioritise much to make it as light as possible. Gnome-classic is onpar with E17.. so really light. SolusOS has great package management too. They build ontop of Debian but uses Pardus Pisi as package management.

  4. Of course Mint is best for new users, it actually comes with the things people need, like Flash. My parents who hate computers could never figure Ubuntu out

  5. To each his own and Linux thankfully is about choices, Linux Mint is nothing but the hard work of Canonical and Debian with its own DE and slight modifications, whether its better is entirely up to user’s choice. Unity is far better and productive than Cinnamon ever will be and once the games start coming, the stakes will be raised big time as most games are being released for Ubuntu with Unity and not for Cinnamon. Also KDE 4.9 is the most mature and fastest DE around so would rather try Kubuntu or hard core KDE like Chakra to get the benefits of a fast running stable DE. For productivity be it desktop or laptop or netbook, its UNITY all the way, closest thing to Android in terms of interface.

  6. I’m an IT consultant who’s worked with many home consumers and SMBs, and have transitioned quite a few to Linux. I’m in complete agreement with the author. Linux Mint + Cinnamon or MATE has the best and easiest UI for newbs. Especially if they come from a traditional Windows environment. The good out of box experience plus not needing all the fiddling to get all the “usual” stuff (Flash, email, DVD playing, etc.) makes it a top beginner’s distro IMO.

    I would also note that Mint has done better out of the box with drivers, etc. for touchscreen devices than Unity has (most notably with the MSI WindPad 110W).

  7. Absolutely agree with the article. I was a rabid Ubuntu promoter until the horror that is Unity appeared. Clearly I wasn’t alone, because that was the point at which Ubuntu started dropping down the Distrowatch chart (and the point at which they started saying that the Distrowatch chart wasn’t important!).

  8. Another vote for mint over ubuntu here. I started off with linux using ubuntu when it had the good old gnome 2 setup and I really loved that paradigm. These days unity seems very slow and it makes you push your mouse all over the screen to do the simplest things. Its great that the ubuntu team are trying to design for the future: it may well be that we all dump our PCs/Laptops at some stage and go over to touch interface devices: but we sure are not there yet! The unity/windows 8 approach is alienating a lot of people: and not just ones who “dislike change” : its too early to force adoption of this before people are using touch screens: and even then I would not fancy using one for 8 hours at work.

    I also like the XFCE setup: and with an arch derived distro like Manjaro using the XFCE desktop: things really fly and its easy to use for people who prefer a traditional desktop interface. On my main desktop I’ve moved over to KDE and for laptops I now tend to use XFCE distros. I also second the mention of Solus OS which will be a great new release when it comes out. Finally people may also like to have a look at elementary: it has the most unified “look” of any distro I have seen and is one to watch for the future.

  9. There are so many facets to computers–so much to try and stay abreast of. In the world of OS’s and DE’s, I started with Windows 3.1 and worked forward. I had Win NT before repair shops had enough experience with it to feel comfortable repairing my computer. (Now I do all my own work.) I’ve had Win XP, then Win Vista, now Win 7, and I’ve test driven Win 8. A friend ushered me into the Linux world about 8 years ago, with the recommendation that I try Fedora.

    I’ve been half way around the Linux world since then, trying different distros, trying to find the similarities and differences, and learn what worked and what didn’t. I tried Ubuntu, liked some aspects of it, but found Kubuntu much more to my liking. I think a lot of it had to do with the colour scheme, and KDE felt a lot more comfortable. When PCLinuxOS came to the forefront a few years ago, it became my default OS of choice. Then along came Mint.

    Mint felt so “right”. It was like test driving a car where everything fit me as the user. The seats were the right height, and shaped to fit my shape. The windows were easy to see out of, and everything worked. My adaptation to Mint also gave me my first ongoing usage with the Gnome DE. I loved it! I knew Mint would one day top the DistroWatch popularity charts, long before Ubuntu fell from grace. And for good reason—attention to detail and user experience.

    Let’s deviate here a minute. I’ve read it in text, and had people tell me verbally that the desktop was dead and laptops weren’t far behind. They tell me that tablets and the like, are the the new technology, and that if I didn’t get on board, I was “old fashioned”, and not in tune with progress. So I ask them what happened to net books. They now fill a niche market, and nothing more. What will happen to tablets in the future? How about the new “surface” concept from MS? The ideas and the technology are fascinating. The people in the think-tanks at MS, Apple, Google, and now Canonical, have one thing in common. They need to show profits. So it has come to pass that change and progress is the new constant. The marketing people are on a mission to get your emotional side to over rule your logical side, and get you to spring your hard earned cash for their new device, or software. It’s a game. They make the rules. They tell you what’s hot and what’s not. If you buy in (literally), you make them happy! You get eye-candy, slick gimmicks, and they get your money. What you get is largely in the entertainment field. You now need higher horsepower processors and storage devices, to do what? How long did your first iPhone last before you needed an upgrade?

    But what if you want to write a novel, or a text book? What if you want to create a logo as a vector graphic, a database, a web site, or do graphic design work for an advertising company? What if you need to run your office, make appointments, print receipts etc. These tasks, and many others, are in the serious tools side of computer usage. Think you want to use a tablet for these endeavours? I think the desktop is far from dead. And when you intentionally avoid the crowded highway of consumerism, it’s easy to merge into the world of Linux. Apple has some good products and software, but the prices astounded me. Who needs the Metro and Unity desktops? Do they help me get tasks done? To me they’re eye-candy, and present an obstacle between me and my goal. It’s like a barrier of barbed wire between me and my dinner. Get it out of my way.

    Linux lets me get my work done, in a simple and straight forward way. Mint is my choice for smooth task accomplishment. It looks good, is rock solid, easy to learn, easy to use. I don’t have to detour through the school of upgrade and change before I can get back to everyday usage. My first look at Unity, and I thought, “This will never fly.” One look at Metro, and I thought, “This will never fly.” Put rocks on a football field and no-one will want to play there.

    Clem had a realistic vision of a real computer user’s needs, and defined a goal for Mint. So far, he’s stayed true to the mission. Keep up the great work!

  10. I like ubuntu just cause the team behind it is very good, and you can find support much more easy, but i dont like unity too.

    So when anybody ask me about what distro of linux install i always say “Install Kubuntu”

    Kubuntu is easy just like Ubuntu, all supports and programs and everything that works on Ubuntu works on Kubuntu, but you dont have to use unity.
    And also, i love KDE.

  11. I’ve tried all these Distros.. at first glance Ubuntu looked ok??
    but after trying to set up on my WinXP Pro(3gb) for 5 days and
    4 nights of the most frustrating experience with an OS.. I’ve
    finally decided that MOST of these Distro’s especially UBUNTU
    was a complete disaster, at least for me.. if you need to get any
    stuff DONE.. either use the LinuxMINT.. or stick with Windows and
    Mac OSX! LL

  12. I’ve been using Linux some years now, and most of that time I was on ubuntu (since hardy heron). It did everything I wanted, was stable, didn’t freeze, etc. Of course there were times not everything went smooth – the horrors of unsupported wifi cards come to mind…

    When I upgraded to whatever ubuntu update that brought unity, I hated it at once. Don’t think I tried it for more than fifteen minutes.

    So I went searching for other distro’s. This in fact was a very fun thing to do, to experiment etc, but the thing I missed most from ubuntu was the vast (!) user assistance you could find online.

    So mint to the rescue? Well, I tried it (maya, with cinnamon), it worked as a charm, looked very nice, didn’t need much tweaking – it was love at first sight.

    But. To my astonishment it froze (yes!) after maybe 3 hours. I didn’t install any weird or harmful things, didn’t alter dangerous settings or whatever. In fact I was just surfing and listening music.

    Well, I’m sorry. I never ever had anything like that in ubuntu proper, in fact, if I’d tolerate faults like that I could have stayed with windows…

    So, unwillingly, and after seeing a pod from the linux action show that recommended forcing yourself to use unity for a longer time in order to appreciate it, I gave ubuntu a second try. And, amazingly, it worked. Now I really like unity, though it being a little slow on my netbook.

    And I realize my limited time spent with mint. Maybe if I would have used it for a longer time, that freeze would have been the only fault it ever made. But I have been spoiled with ubuntu and no longer tolerate that kind of behaviour from my operating system. And maybe mint nadia would have been better, but for the moment we’ll never know. Happy ubuntu-unity user here, though it took some time.

    So if I would have to give some directions at last, it would be that the new ubuntu may require some time to get used to. So maybe it wouldn’t hurt to give it that time – maybe you’d turn up happily amazed :-)

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