I had planned to do several updated guides and news articles following the Linux Mint 11 (Katya) release and, in fact, I did a lot of prep work for articles and guides that I may never publish (at least, not in full). Instead, I ended up changing gears mid-way through, had some other priorities come up, and am now coming back to this.
The “changing gears” reference is the focus of this article as I have decided to migrate back to Ubuntu from Linux Mint. With that said, this is not something I do lightly, nor something I am likely to do again anytime soon (if ever again).
I try to provide stable and reliable suggestions (with related content) and switching desktop operating systems or distributions every several months does not lend itself well to this goal. However, these changes have been made in seeking the absolute best base that is currently available for the rest of the software I recommend as well as the base that provides the greatest degree of ease-of-use for the most end-users no matter what their current experience is.
This transition back to Ubuntu is mainly in response to some positive changes in ease-of-use that the Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) release has brought with it. One of these changes is the ability to allow the automatic installation of Flash, closed-source drivers, and support for MP3 and other non-free media while installing Ubuntu.
Comparatively, Linux Mint automatically includes out-of-the-box support for Flash, MP3′s, and the playback of most other media files. At the time, this more complete out-of-the-box experience was one of the reasons I ended up going back to Linux Mint 10 (from Ubuntu 10.04). So, now that Ubuntu includes this, (and in fact, installs even more software automatically such as NVIDIA’s proprietary drivers), it has, at very least, removed one of the reasons I had for sticking with Linux Mint.
Additionally, after testing Unity, Xfce 4.8, and Linux Mint 11′s interfaces, I’m confident that Unity is the strongest option for the future of Ubuntu and GNU/Linux on the personal computer. As such, I don’t wish to delay migrating to it, learning it, and supporting it.
I favor Unity in part, simply because it is a more modern and polished looking interface. At the same time, with additions such as the application search function, and the Macintosh OS X dock-esque application bar, it should also be easier, quicker, and more consistent to use.
This was another draw Linux Mint had. Compared to the traditional Gnome 2 menu, their mintMenu is much easier to instruct people through when they are learning as they can simply type in (in general terms) what they want to find and more times than not the relevant setting or program will be presented to them. This type of functionality can be a huge boon to novice users switching over for the first time (as I have witnessed first hand). And again, now that Ubuntu has a similar feature this unique benefit that Linux Mint previously had has been removed.
Apart from the greatly improved ease of use in Ubuntu 11.04, I also discovered a feature that I took for granted in Ubuntu is not present in Linux Mint (not for standard users anyway). The ability to upgrade without re-installing from scratch does not exist in Linux Mint (through normal means).
The Linux Mint developers have sound reasons for not supporting this, and provide additional tools to ease the fresh install. However, with an operating system that’s upgraded bi-annually it’s simply unreasonable to expect people to either spend their time and energy to do a fresh install, or to forgo a (possibly much needed) upgrade.
This situation is especially awkward for an operating system that specifically targets novice users, as this adds a greater burden to them (or to those that support them). For example, instead of a novice user simply backing up their essential files and then clicking on the Upgrade to a new release button they’re responsible for maintaining their system on a much more regular basis and in a much more invasive and technical way. With my interest in recommending the most user friendly software and solutions this is not something that I can really get behind.
With that said, I don’t mean to be overly critical of the Linux Mint developers as they do great work, and have created a phenomenal and popular operating system, but when the time came to upgrade from Linux Mint 10 (Julia) to 11 (Katya) this was a major disappointment and was the first push back towards Ubuntu for me.
The other pushes and pulls came from the enhancements listed above as well as the standard Ubuntu fare.
The greater number of developers, the more polished releases and software, the greater number of releases and supported architectures, the more abundant supporting materials, resources, and services, the Ubuntu certification and training offerings, the greater market penetration and even the greater marketing department (Ubuntu stickers, other swag, etc), these all contribute to a more fleshed out, I want to say “community,” but that’s not quite the right word. Community is definitely a major aspect, but it’s the greater system that comes together to provide something more than just the community itself could (due to logistics, funding, resources, etc).
Combined with these benefits is also a personal desire to avoid the further watering down of the GNU/Linux world. Diversity and options are great and add robustness to a system, but at this point the need to solidify a bit more behind our strongest contender seems to make sense to help our community continue to grow in strength and to reduce the confusion new users might have by the abundance of choices they have in the GNU/Linux realm.
I have no doubt our selection of choices will only continue to grow as the greater GNU/Linux community itself brings in additional developers, companies, and users all with unique needs, talents, and desires. However, to appeal to those new mainstream users (not early adopters) and to gain the desirable third-party support, some standardization is likely needed (and is already beginning to show benefits).
Anyway, that’s it for now. Cheers all, and thanks for the continued support!