I've been thinking about Mint for a while now and what's happening to it in terms of Ubuntu switching to Unity, Mint may or may not follow, Gnome moving to Gnome 3, Mint may or may not follow, and the community distros moving away from using Ubuntu as their base to Debian. I can see a lot of stupid bugs appearing for a lot of people, where the general perception is that Mint doesn't have the same reputation for a polished product that it used to have. Ask any long term Mint advocate what the best editions they've used are, very few will say with complete honesty any of the latest editions.
I used to recommend Mint to new users regardless of what I used at the time, now I can't do that in good faith. I can't rely on it not breaking for them, or not to throw up stupid errors. I know it's not like for like, but I've been using Crunchbang a lot recently, my netbook is Crunchbang too. I can't help but compare the experience of it being light, fast, smooth, customizable and does not break with updates, to Mint. Yes I know this is in large part the fact that it's Debian Stable.
I've also been thinking about a bit of an overhaul in terms of "what Mint is". Think of it as taking a step back to rethink the whole thing, address the major issues and retool the factory.
UI's like Unity and Gnome Shell are personal opinions, some like them, some don't. They're also kinda marmite issues, in that people tend to be VERY strong in their opinions either way. How many people remember the days where you download an iso and install it, and you could switch WM's or DE's at the session login? Now it seems that everyone is obsessed with making their own specific DE version that's seemingly so unique that it can't be installed as a session, that it needs a separate install. Why? Does that encourage people to try new environments?
The sheer number of Mint editions is getting ridiculous now, as is the abbreviations for new users. They have a hard enough time coming from Windows or OSX where there is no choice of environments, so see a plethora of different editions. I've often had to do a double take between LMDE and LXDE. It's fine when you know what these are, but even then it gets ridiculous. This get's even more confusing for new users when the Main Mint has a regular number, but the others have dates to signify spin dates.
The fact that the Debian base is on Testing, but now a kinda Windows-esque update pack just adds more confusion to the mix. Testing is great, it's a rolling distro, it's also prone to breaking stoopid stuff. Enterprises don't use rolling distros for a reason. They need stuff to be reliable from day to day, while keeping the security updates timely. The target audience for Ubuntu and Mint are new users from Windows. They are people who may well be knowledgeable in other areas in life, but often don't know or want to know how an OS works. It's a tool for them, a means to an end. They wanna play music, watch youtube, check Facebook etc Surely the last thing they want to deal with is stuff that was working now breaks after an update. What does that do to the hard won Mint reputation of "just works"?
Move away from Ubuntu as a base altogether, break ties with Ubuntu. Switch 100% to Debian. Switch away from rolling releases to static releases, but 1yr versions. Mint 2012, Mint 2013 etc Aim to put the 2013 edition out near the start of 2013 so the year is the current one. Abandon all the separate DE / WM editions and consolidate into a single DVD iso which has the lot. I'm not sure how that'd work with a live environment though.
Perhaps it may work better the Debian way of having the 1st CD as the Gnome CD, the 2nd as KDE, 3rd as XFCE etc Where it's the same OS, with just a gnome-mint-metapackage or kde-mint-metapackage etc installed as the only difference. Maybe you could have a respin for each WM or DE. Or is this getting back too close to the multi-edition issue as it stands now?
I guess the difference would be the ability to download a single DVD install only iso with your choice of DE's and WM's, or a standalone live / installable single DE or WM CD. Oh, and the fact that they'd all appear on the same day, with a yearly release. There will be no "when is Mint KDE released?" questions, as Mint is Mint is Mint, they'll all be released at once, near the start of the year.
Even have a separate DVD image for US and Japan without the codecs. Have a separate Mint repo with updated versions of the most popular apps that won't affect the rest of the system, like Firefox, Thunderbird etc. With a one year cycle you can really nail down stability, and the visual polish that Mint has a good reputation for.
Right now we're kinda standing at the crossroads between Debian, Ubuntu, Unity, Gnome etc and the quality, along with the reputation of Mint is slipping away. If we continue down the same path, I can't see any other future than it continues to slip away. Mint has a small team, so focusing resources is very important. For those who want a rolling release, they can dist-upgrade to Testing if they like, but the default should be as stable as possible for the audience Mint targets. For those who want a bleeding edge OS, Mint was never for them.
Before Canonical threw their weight behind Unity, there was little reason to switch away from using Ubuntu as a base. Ubuntu provide extra polish to Debian, which Mint then improved upon with polish of their own. The last couple of Ubuntu releases and the path Canonical have chosen for Ubuntu does make it an ideal time to reassess things. Mint have already adopted Debian as the base for everything except Main so far. Isn't it time we went the whole way into Debian?
I hope this becomes a discussion with input from as many forum regulars as possible. This is not a "let's bash Unity / Canonical / Gnome" thread, but a discussion of where Mint could and perhaps should go now there's a good excuse to take a step back and think things through. An Ubuntu base made total sense at the time Mint started, the Debian editions also made sense at that time, maybe it's time for another rethink; only bigger.