Linux Mint is going old school with a new release based directly on Debian rather than Ubuntu. Want all the fun of Debian testing, with much less hassle? Mint may be what you're looking for.
Yes, the rumors are true. Linux Mint has been working on a Debian-based distro (as opposed to Ubuntu-based) and it’s out for your testing pleasure. If Linux Mint’s standard approach has you yearning for more adventure, the Debian edition might be what you’re looking for.
Linux Mint has been very popular as a modified Ubuntu distribution. If you look at the DistroWatch numbers as any indication, Mint consistently places third in the race of distros. It offers the wide range of packages you find in Ubuntu, it’s easy to use, but isn’t brown. That’s a cheap shot, but Mint does offer a distinct flavor of its own. Users don’t have to hunt for Flash and MP3 codecs, for instance. Its take on GNOME is closer to openSUSE than Ubuntu, and many people prefer the “slab” type menu and Mint’s configuration tools.
Mint started with just a GNOME release, but now offers GNOME, KDE, LXDE, and others. Next stop? Debian.
You might wonder why the project would take a step “backwards” to base a release off of Debian, considering Ubuntu is Debian-based in its own right. The idea is to provide a Mint distribution of Debian that users can install and keep up with the testing release. As fast as the Mint release cycle is — with releases every six months — it’s still not a rolling release like Debian testing.
So the Linux Mint Debian (LMD) release is going to be a bit less friendly than the Ubuntu-based releases, less polished, and might break occasionally.
Running Mint Debian
The LMD edition comes on a DVD image rather than CD ISO, due to locales and some of the base packages requiring more space. The good news is, that also means more software. The default install includes F-Spot and some other software that’s not included with the default install for Mint GNOME.
Installation is easy, but not too easy. You have to use GParted to partition the disk, which is less friendly than the standard installer. It’s not hard, per se, but it’s might be a put-off for some folks. The steps are non-obvious if you haven’t partitioned a disk before, and without guidance it’s going to be a challenge for any newer users to figure out creating the right partitions and mount points. Folks who’ve been using Ubuntu for many years may find that they don’t know quite as much about Linux as they thought when faced with manual partitioning.
Aside from that, the steps are largely the same. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish on a newer machine with a reasonable amount of RAM.
After the install, Linux Mint Debian looks remarkably similar to the standard edition. The theme is the same, the tools, etc. The Control Center options are a bit different. The Debian edition is obviously missing the Ubuntu related tools, and includes a few different ones like GParted.
The primary difference is that you’re using Debian packages rather than Ubuntu’s. Users who want to track Debian testing may find Mint more to their taste, and easier to install, than stock Debian.
Green is Good
There’s not a huge amount of difference between the standard GNOME edition of Linux Mint and the new Debian edition. If you have a strong interest in using Debian packages vs. Ubuntu’s packages, then I’d recommend taking Mint for a spin. It does get you one step closer to the source for the distribution, and if you want to keep up with Debian testing it’s well worth a look.
It’s absolutely worth a look for Debian users who want a slightly more polished desktop, so long as licensing purity isn’t an issue. Since the LMD release packs Flash and other non-free software, it might not appeal to hard-core free software folks.
Right now the only edition for LMD is a 32-bit GNOME release. KDE and other desktops, and 64-bit editions, are on hold pending the success (or not) of the first release. With any luck, this will be a long-term effort from the Linux Mint project, and we’ll see 64-bit and more soon. It offers a more polished experience while still leaving a direct link to the Debian project. The Mint folks are still sorting out bug reporting, etc., but it’d be fantastic if Mint encouraged more people to become directly involved in Debian (and Mint) through this edition.
This leaves me with just one question — with so many Debian-based distributions running around, does anyone actually run regular Debian anymore?
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier
is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications. You can reach Zonker at
firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter