Standing at the crosssroads

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Standing at the crosssroads

Postby ThistleWeb on Thu Sep 22, 2011 5:28 am

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"?

My Proposal

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.
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby Robin on Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:04 am

All of the Debian-based distros except Mepis and Ubuntu are so troublesome for me that I've tried non-Debian based distros like PCLinuxOS and SalixOS. Neither has been quite satisfactory and I always ended up back on some Ubuntu-based OS.

A complete switch to a Debian base will mean the loss of many users IMO. Even Mepis uses some Ubuntu code in order to achieve the "Mepis magic" that makes Debian "desktop friendly." Abandoning any Ubuntu components seems to make Debian "less desktop friendly." When Crunchbang was Ubuntu-based (9.04) it was awesome. When they switched to a "pure Debian" base it balked on my hardware.

I'm not one of those "can't install Debian so I use Ubuntu" kids. I have successfully installed and configured Debian, but it took weeks of searching, experimentation, and trial-and-error to finally make it mostly work (but sound never did work - a show stopper for a dance student!). What I ended up with turned out to be so little different from Xubuntu that I was like, "Dangit, I could have done this in minutes instead of months!" I learned alot, but Debian has to be made "desktop friendly" on my hardware, and only Ubuntu has achieved that (and Mepis, because it uses some Ubuntu code) for me.

I think Mint 9 Xfce is the best Linux distro in the history of ever! But when it reaches the end of its life I'll either use it unsupported or switch back to Xubuntu (LTS only), and be done with Mint since the future Xfce editions are Debian-based.

Perhaps on different hardware (someday, when I can afford a new 'puter) a "pure Debian" base won't be such a pain. But for now I simply must have the Ubuntu base. It's the only one "just works" on this old reliable hardware.
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby xenopeek on Thu Sep 22, 2011 6:27 am

Thank you ThistleWeb for putting this so eloquently, and I agree with you on the point that narrowing focus to one base can strengthen the distro. I'm at this time very happy with Ubuntu based Linux Mint 11, but share your concern for the splintering of focus. If LMDE could be pulled up in some areas like encryption offered in installer with one-click, hardware compatibility, and some of the polish that Ubuntu and Linux Mint have previously added... I'm running Debian 6 and LMDE both next to Linux Mint 11, and there is quite a gap remaining between these.

Yes, newbies get lost in the number of editions available, and the different ways of numbering. This has been discussed on the forum before. It is often enough you see somebody saying they use "Linux Mint 11.04" or "Mint Debian 11", which goes to show the naming and numbering is confusing for those not in the know.

Regarding "enterprises don't use rolling distros for a reason," that may be so. But I'm not sure targeting enterprise-grade stability will suit the current community; this will be holding you back as a user also.
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby GeneC on Thu Sep 22, 2011 7:47 am

I'd like to add some feedback from a realtive linux newbie.
It was just a year ago this month that I tried my first linux distro.

The reason I tried Linux, I suspect, was similar to many others, continuing problems with virus/malware infecting my Windows XP computer. I had been using computers for many years, but was totally ignorant of computer operating systems.
In the morning I started up the computer, if something broke, I toted my computer to the repair shop and they fixed it. I didnt have a clue.
A friend suggested I try Linux. I had heard of it, but thought it more an experiment or "hobbyist" OS, than a real usable tool. I thought it would be hard to learn. He suggested I try Linux Mint (then Mint 9), and the standard Gnome edition, as the easiest for a Windows user to adapt to. I booted the live CD and found it much more polished than I expected. A bit different than Windows, yes, but easy enough to navigate. After a brief learning period I ditched Windows for good, been running various Linux distros since, but always using Mint as my main.

Last Dec. I deicded to try the new Debian based version of Mint, the LMDE edition. I read were it would be more work, than the main ubuntu based edition, but it would be rolling and not superceeded by a "new" version every six months, which I thought was way too often. In the last year, I have become comfortable with LMDE. It has been some work, but a good learning experience. I have been tracking "testing" for the main part. Checking the "update warnings" sections of this forums daily is pretty much a must do, to stay out of problems caused by updates. It is some work, and something that I know new or casual users will not want to have to do. The vast number of updates to LMDE is considerable compared to what Windows users were used to. Things CAN break. It takes work on the end user part to keep things in order. Its enjoyable for me, and lots of other LMDE users, but, as is, would be too much trouble for the average user, who just wants things to work.

That being said I agree with ThistleWeb that Mint now seems at a "crossroads" with both Ubuntu and Gnome changing so much. It appears to me that Mint is leaning towards a Debian base. It had chosen to track "Debian testing" and that was a bit surprsing, if it wants to appeal to the average user. I beleibe the average user doesnt want to have to maintain a system, he just wants to "use" it. As it was, tracking testing, it just would never appeal to the average user. The developers recongnized that and are in the process of developing the new "update pack" snapshot system. As this is a "work in progress" there are a lot of very rough edges right now (as can be been by the confusion in so may posts on the LMDE forum section). Things ae in a mess right now. It feels to me to be much easier to track "testing" than the new mint 'incoming testing". I do daily updates, and daily checks of the forum. I am not sure why the developers feel that monthly update packs (consisting of several hundred packages) would be the best track to follow, for "incoming testing". With 300-400 updates at once, and you have a problem how to figure out which packages are the problem? Much easier to do it daily. Base the update packs on the feeback from those tracking "testing" (and SID). Monthly "stable" updates packs based on those rather than "incoming testing".

But it may be too early in the developement process to judge yet. I trust the developers have a grand plan, though a lot of it may be in a "trial and error" phase. It would be good to see a little clarification on those points by Clem and company.
I see the future of Mint based on Debian, and depending on the changes in Gnome, perhaps moving more towards KDE as the main desktop.
In all, I give Clem and the developers much credit in the "vision".
I think that six months from now we will see a much different, much more polished, stable LMDE and a leader in Linux OS's.
I believe following a Debian base is the right track.
We are just going through a few bumps in the road right now.
Just buckle your seatbelt for a little longer.
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby Garvan on Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:09 am

ThistleWeb,

I wonder about the truth in your statement, "The target audience for Ubuntu and Mint are new users from Windows". We are talking about Mint, so lets leave Ubuntu out of it. How many Mint users are "new users from Windows"? I suspect very few.

I am a new Mint user, of about four or five months, but I started using Linux as my main OS about six years ago. The key thing I was looking for when choosing Mint was strong software repositories, attractive desktop, and ease of instillation. I have a very broad selection of software that I use and it must work on my install. I need to use my computer daily, so I can't spend more than a few hours setting it up. A new install must provide me with a stable platform, complete with my email, Internet and skype - fast. A few days to complete installation of less used programs is okay, providing I am back at work quickly.

I would never bother with a three-cd install like you discuss above. Its already a shame how many CD's Linux users waste every six months. And now you want me to use a DVD download? No thanks. The Mint system is solid. I downloaded the CD version, burned it, and picked upgrade to DVD version on the first screen. Better still would be a no CD wastage install.

As for going 'back' to a Debian base, I am not encouraged. I have used Debian from time to time, and it would not be my distribution of choice. I need up-to-date software, and solid hardware support. Will Debian provide this? Will the wifi on my netbook work? Internet connections by bluetooth to my 3G phone? touchpad? Skype+webcam? I know they work in Ubuntu, so an Ubuntu based distribution gives confidence.

I hope you are exaggerating the problems that may exist in basing off future Ubuntu releases, because I believe this is a key to Mints future success.

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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby monkeyboy on Thu Sep 22, 2011 8:52 am

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Regardless of the choices the developers make there will always be other equally attractive alternatives that could be pursued. Enjoy
If you don't like it, make something better
If you can't make something better, adapt
If you can't do either ball your panties up and cry.

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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby ThistleWeb on Thu Sep 22, 2011 9:14 am

Garvan wrote:I wonder about the truth in your statement, "The target audience for Ubuntu and Mint are new users from Windows". We are talking about Mint, so lets leave Ubuntu out of it. How many Mint users are "new users from Windows"? I suspect very few.


Ubuntu and Mint target the same audience, but you're right in now all come from Windows. It'd be more accurate to say "new users to Linux".

Garvan wrote:I would never bother with a three-cd install like you discuss above. Its already a shame how many CD's Linux users waste every six months. And now you want me to use a DVD download? No thanks. The Mint system is solid. I downloaded the CD version, burned it, and picked upgrade to DVD version on the first screen. Better still would be a no CD wastage install.


You misunderstand me. Perhaps because the initial idea of the DVD kinda grew into the Debian CD idea while I was typing, I put it wrong. The idea is that if you want a generic image to install in multiple places, or want a choice of DE's / WM's you can download the DVD image. If you know you only want say Gnome, you only download the Gnome CD. Each CD is a self contained iso, it does not need any others.

Garvan wrote:I hope you are exaggerating the problems that may exist in basing off future Ubuntu releases, because I believe this is a key to Mints future success.


For the first few years Canonical have been very open, they are increasingly turning Ubuntu into a branded OS, where all of their additions, modifications etc are Ubuntu specific. It's getting harder and harder for distros based on Ubuntu to strip out the Ubuntu specific modifications and branding, to put their own in. To add momentum to this, is Unity. When Ubuntu drop Gnome in 11.10 onwards, they won't have done any updates to Gnome, so all of those have to be done by any distro based on Ubuntu. Increasingly there will be less and less benefit of an Ubuntu base unless the distro is willing to follow the Unity path, and more hassle and time consuming to change it. This is the future facing all distros based on Ubuntu. This is why several distros that used to be based on Ubuntu have moved to Debian.

Comparing Mint Main and LMDE is a good way of seeing just how much work Canonical have done in polishing and refining Debian. That includes hardware support for things like wifi and bluetooth, as well as font rendering etc. Sticking with Ubuntu does give those advantages, the point is, is it becoming more hassle than it's worth to keep doing that, knowing the direction Canonical are taking Ubuntu? Would it not be better to switch developer focus to Debian and work with upstream to make that extra polish available in a Debian base?

Part of the issue Canonical have had, is in creating something in house, the when they try to send it upstream, upstream doesn't want it because it arrived as a bolt from the blue, or doesn't adhere to their own preferred ways of working, or their ethos. Mint has always flown in the face of pure Debian, in terms of including binaries for drivers etc. So attempts to add that hardware compatibility may need to be a Mint repo rather than upstream at Debian.

If you want to call that exaggeration, by all means. The writing is on the wall for all Ubuntu based distros. The question is how and when they will react.
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby xenopeek on Thu Sep 22, 2011 12:14 pm

Just from this thread a few gaps with pure Debian are identified. Speaking for myself, I'll give some more consideration to this and try to draw up, point based, the gaps I need closed to focus fully on Debian base. I think this calls for identification of the gaps, community voting on the gaps to get priorities sorted on which to solve first (for example with additional repos for binaries, or additional software for polish), and at least roughly milestoning this into a plan. Transitioning that way to a full Debian base (leaving Ubuntu behind) has my vote, and I'd be on board for this.
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby Habitual on Thu Sep 22, 2011 12:42 pm

Gordon: I always enjoy your views and commentaries on various subjects, including this one.

I enjoyed LM when I had it installed but I knew it was not "the" OS for me.

LM needs to go "where no man has gone before" and start setting precedents through innovation.
What's a landing but a take off in reverse?
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Re: Standing at the crosssroads

Postby Fandangio on Sat Nov 05, 2011 3:28 am

A well thought out and presented argument as always.

I have to agree with your view that there are too many Mint Editions available which must be a huge drain on resource. There is no reason why a user cannot install the DE of their choice providing there is a decent stable base on which to do so.

I've recently installed KDE on Mint Debian XFCE (finally, and at a number of other users advice). I've also installed Gnome Shell on another distro. I do like the "works out of the box" ethos but this fails when your selected DE of choice is pushed to the back of the pile (as one or other will surely be). Releases become irregular and communication is poor.

It would be great if the Mint team could share a clear vision of what their plans are but maybe in this time of flux it is just too difficult to foresee. The whole Gnome3, Mate issue in Mint12 just says that the team does not know which way to go. There should be a clear decision to make the best of Gnome3 and put the required emphasis into making this work (rather than waste resource on Mate).

With that said I do think the team are trying to do their absolute best.
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