Linux Mint is on track to becoming the most popular desktop distro available. This isn’t to suggest that it’s already happened, rather that it’s on track to happen if Linux Mint continues to find its fans among Windows converts. By contrast, Debian has received almost no credit for this success whatsoever. Worse, neither does Ubuntu, which uses Debian as a base.
So are Linux Mint and Debian really all that different? After all, Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu, which is based on Debian. One might surmise that the these distros are more similar than different. Fact is stranger than fiction. Linux Mint and Debian may share a common heritage, but that’s where the similarities end.
Debian and Linux Mint each support 32- and 64-bit architectures. And while Debian technically has broader architecture support (supporting ten types), the only two relevant in my opinion for the desktop are 32- and 64-bit. Support for ARM and other architectures is great, but I honestly don’t see it lending any value to a desktop user.
Both desktop distros offer users direct download or torrent downloading options. However Mint wins this round as it’s download selection is laid out in a far easier to digest manner. Debian leaves its users to click through multiple pages just to find the download link for the architecture desired.
When comparing Debian to Linux Mint, the differences between the installers provided is significant. Debian’s installer is indeed, more robust. It’s also extremely vexing and overwhelming for Linux newbies. So while I’m right at home using it to install Debian, the Linux Mint installer is absolutely easier for the casual user.
Hold on, isn’t Debian’s installer better as it provides greater control over the installation process? Again, it depends on the end user in question. For newbies, no. It’s just adding extra “stuff” that most folks don’t really care about. Linux Mint may be using a rebranded Ubuntu installer tool, but the end result is that the Linux Mint newcomers and enthusiasts alike prefer it this way.
I’d go so far as to argue this: speed isn’t everything when it comes to an installer. Asking which distro has the fastest installation process isn’t nearly as important as the installation offering the kind of the experience the end user wants. I think for advanced users, Debian wins. But for casual users, Mint’s branded Ubuntu installer is the best choice.
Then we have the matter of desktops. It’s true that you can choose your desktop environment from the Debian installer. I hope the user running the installer also has a firm understanding of the related applications they wish to include in this installation as well. I’d argue most don’t and hence, think that choosing a distro spin with a set desktop environment as an ISO download offers a better experience.
Speaking of desktop environments, I was pleasantly surprised to see both Debian and Linux mint shared similar desktop choices. Both distros provide access to Cinnamon, MATE, KDE and Xfce. Only Debian however, also offers GNOME as a desktop choice.
It’s been said that Debian has the largest selection of packages available to any Linux distro. Despite hearing this more often than I care to admit, I personally think it depends on what packages you’re looking for. For example, Linux Mint can rely on Ubuntu’s PPAs whereas it’s really not a great idea with Debian.
When comparing the two distros default package repos, I would argue that Linux Mint offers packages based on convenience where Debian prefers to categorize them based on software philosophy. Luckily for Debian fans it’s still possible to add non-free software like Chrome. Like PPAs in Debian, you must make sure the added repository is setup as to work with your specific Debian release. Contrasting this handling of non-free software in Linux Mint, Debian does add a bit of a barrier as its philosophy is not as pragmatic.
Linux Mint also has the benefit of seeing greater support from Ubuntu-specific websites such as GetDeb and packages.ubuntu.com.
Debian takes security very seriously. By default, you must have full root credentials in order to install or manage administrator level duties on your workstation. Comparing this to Linux Mint, which embraces a super user environment where as any user with sudo credentials is free to make system wide changes.
I personally think that using sudo credentials is perfectly safe, so long as you fully understand the changes you’re making to your system. Not only that, but if you goof something up at the user level, you’ve only affected that user. Messing up a root user is a lot messier than messing up a single user account with sudo. Obviously, messing up something at the system wide level with either user scheme may likely lead to a new installation of the distro.
Comparing Debian’s stable, unstable and testing releases must not be confused with Linux Mint’s Main, Upstream, Backport, and Romeo repositories. First of all, there is a world of difference between a distro release and a repository. A release is a complete distribution of Linux. In Debian’s case, this means releases of varied levels of stability based on age and testing.
Hold this up as a comparison to Linux Mint’s repositories and it’s easy to see where people become confused. Mint’s repos simply reflect package age and stability. And since Linux Mint is based on Long Term Support Ubuntu releases, it’s usually a safe bet that Mint will be quite stable with the default package repositories selected. There is no real benefit to running Debian stable as a desktop…unless you enjoy really old software.
When looking at Debian vs Linux Mint’s organizational structure, I would point out the following. Debian is a democracy whereas Linux Mint is not. This isn’t to suggest that Mint’s team doesn’t enjoy hearing feedback and suggestions. My point is merely that Debian’s project decisions are voted upon and this leads to added time between major decisions being made. Linux Mint’s direction is handled by one person. And that person has the final say on the direction of the project. So while Mint does include user feedback into their decisions, at the end of the day it’s the founder and head developer that has the final say. Personally, I think that’s something you must consider when choosing an operating system.
When the dust settles and it’s time to decide between Debian or Linux, consider this – what matters most to you? One must choose between software philosophy or convenience. Many of us may find ourselves opting for the comfort of convenience.
While I don’t use either distro full time, I do see the value in convenience. There was a time I’d be inclined to side with a Linux distro that provided a democratic development structure. But these days I simply want the freedom to get my work done and do so without being bothered by proprietary operating systems. This means I prefer distros that lend themselves to the side of convenience over other considerations.
Which do you prefer? If you had to choose between one of these distros, would you choose Debian or instead, select Linux Mint? Hit the comments, I’d be interested in your reasoning on this matter.
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