[buug] Linux Mint, Ultimate Edition

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Wed May 25 20:10:34 PDT 2011

My friend Grant Bowman has said here a few times what members of the
Ubuntu community tend to say a great deal.  (I don't mean to denigrate
Grant, who wears many hats including Fedora Ambassador.)  Let me quote
one iteration of a fairly standard Ubuntu speech:

   I think we [Grant and Larry Cafiero] agree that Ubuntu with its 
   community groups, state by state local community structure, 
   focus on the desktop experience and existing user population 
   (especially in Berkeley from what I can tell) act as "training 
   wheels" into the Linux world for newcomers to begin using
   Linux. No other distribution has been as successful reaching out to
   "simple end users" as the Ubuntu community project.

The project's recent marketing reach has been undeniable, much of it
made possible by the efforts of volunteers like Grant.  However, whether 
it has actually _met_ the needs, real or perceived, of those 'simple end
users' is a more complex question.  (And that's without even talking
about Unity, Mac-styled buttons for no reason other than marketing,

Complex or not, I'm obliged to grapple with it because I maintain some
widely used Web pages that have been up since around '94, many of 
which directly address newcomers' choices, attempting to advise them.
Maintenence of such pages is an ongoing chore:  You vgrep your old pages
and suddenly say 'Huh?  Installation floppies?  What's that still doing
there?'  Anyway, today I was de-cobwebbing one of the 'I'm new to Linux' 
items, http://linuxmafia.com/~rick/faq/index.php?page=kicking#distro , 
and was obliged to do some hard thinking about its recommendation until
today of Ubuntu / Kubuntu / Xubuntu / Lubuntu in the top tier.

Problem is:  Some of the stuff new users typically seek (proprietary
codecs and such; see below), and complain about the absence of, _is
missing_ by default.  By policy.  I respect those omissions; there are
good reasons for them, and there are 'restricted formats' pages (etc.)
about how to retrofit them. 

And yet the point remains.  

Linux Mint and Ultimate Edition are Ubuntu with those things merged in.
So, if the aim is to make things as easy as humanly possible for 'simple
end users', shouldn't they merit higher recommendation?  Shouldn't
PCLinuxOS, MEPIS Linux, and Zenwalk Linux _also_ merit higher
recommendation by that same reasoning?

Here is my revised Q&A on that point, flattened to ASCII.  (Visit above
URL for the version with links and markup intact.)

Q:  Which Linux distribution should I get? Which distribution is             
friendliest to new users? Should I get Ubuntu?                           

A: Linux poses three distinct challenges: building, administering, and
using the system. You might be ecstatic with a Linux system constructed
and configured for you, but will (if you're an "ease of use" person)
probably be unhappy with the unfamiliar challenge of loading any
operating system on Intel-type PCs. (MS-Windows is typically
mis-perceived as "easy to install" by those who never install OSes, and
who use whatever comes pre-loaded.)

You can buy pre-assembled, pre-configured Linux systems from many
vendors. Those I know of in the San Francisco Bay Area are included in
my Other Local Linux Resources list. Please note that all of them do
mail-order business. Additionally, you can buy a hard drive pre-loaded
with a configured Linux distribution from Cosmos Engineering.

The questions of which distribution is "best" and which is "friendliest"
are both inherently debatable: Most opinions you'll hear will be both
bigoted and based on incomplete, out-of-date information concerning most
(or, often, nearly all) alternatives.  Anyone who tries to give you an
easy answer to either question is trying to sell you something.

You, for your part, should think long and carefully before you ask such
questions: Are you even serious about trying Linux at all?  How are you
going to distinguish between competent, relevant answers and blasts of
hot air from people barely less ill-informed than you are?

No, you should not automatically gravitate towards Ubuntu, just because
that distribution is best-known in the USA. (Before 2011, this FAQ item
used to say "Red Hat" rather than "Ubuntu", but the distribution touted
to the masses changes from year to year.) One of the glories of Linux is
the richness of choices that you can sample many of at low cost.
Consider trying several of them consecutively, using one of the
multi-distribution jewel-case sets described in a prior section.

I _personally_ strongly prefer the Debian distribution, especially for
servers. However, newcomers should consider starting with Linux Mint,
Ultimate Edition, MEPIS Linux, PCLinuxOS, or Zenwalk Linux, for desktop
Linux machines (not Debian).

The "Ubuntu" distribution family, comprising Ubuntu Linux / Kubuntu /
Lubuntu / Xubuntu (a single base distribution with your choice of four
desktop environments) is focussed on new users but has ongoing
moderately serious bug problems (less so in the "LTS" = Long-Term
Support releases), omits support for proprietary AV formats (including
Adobe Flash and MP3s) and Hollywood-type movie DVD playback for
understandable reasons of legal complications, omits some similar
popular proprietary software such as proprietary Sun Java, and popular
proprietary hardware drivers such as those for Nvidia and ATI video
chips (albeit quite good open source drivers are provided), for some
problematic wireless chips, etc.  Linux Mint and Ultimate Edition, cited
earlier, are Ubuntu-family distributions from outside maintainers that
merge in those "desktop enhancements" so they work out of the box, but
are otherwise pretty much the same as standard Ubuntu.

If you want a cutting-edge but at least somewhat new-user-friendly Linux
distribution but are not fixated on out-of-the-box support for
proprietary AV formats, DVD playback, the Adobe Flash browser plugin,
etc., then openSUSE, Kademar, aptosid, and Mageia all merit

If you're undecided on the question, read Karsten's Distributions Guide,
consult DistroWatch, and consult the Linux Distribution Chooser, first.

You may also find it interesting to compare the "look" of different
desktop environments and window managers at the "Window Managers for X"

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