Linux Mint Debian Edition 10: Rolling Release Nirvana

Linux Mint Debian Edition 10 is out, and it's just what the doctor ordered for Linux gearheads who want a rolling release with the extra touches that make Mint unique.

We first looked at Linux Mint Debian Edition when it was released in September of last year. Just before Christmas, the Mint team released a new spin of the Debian Edition with features from Linux Mint 10 that’s better than ever.

The first release of LMDE was a bit of an experiment. I think the Mint team wanted to see how much interest there was in a Debian-based release rather than Ubuntu-based. Answer? A lot. Or at least enough to merit a second take.

This time around, LMDE comes in 32- and 64-bit flavors. The first release only shipped 32-bit, which is good enough for playing around with in a virtual machine, but not so hot when you’re running on a 64-bit machine with a fair amount of RAM. My main laptop, desktop, and test machine (also known as the “hot swap” for if/when a main desktop dies…) all have a 64-bit CPU and 8GB of RAM, and I’d like to take advantage of that.

This isn’t the only improvement in the December release, of course. This release adds the features from LM10 while still being based on Debian Testing. See the earlier article for a full summary of those — but they include improvements to the Mint Menu, Upload Manager, and so on.

In addition, LMDE10 gets the “4 lines of code” speedup, so users don’t have to apply it themselves. (Which, if you blinked in November, you probably didn’t even hear about this.)

A big improvement in LMDE10 is the font smoothing, using Ubuntu’s font improvements rather than Debian’s stock libraries and such. For some folks, this won’t matter. For me? It makes an enormous difference. I mentioned last week that I’ve started running Debian on my main desktop. That’s been going OK, but I have to admit that the drabness of the default GNOME desktop plus the ugly fonts on Debian testing is grating a bit. When you’re staring at a system 10 hours a day, you kind of want it to look nice too. I’m probably going to stick with Debian for at least another month on the desktop, but go with LMDE on the laptop.

The release notes say that there have been installer improvements, but I can’t say I noticed anything major — this might be because a lot focused on things like Btrfs support, which I’m not using.

The Little Touches

Really, what I appreciated initially about Ubuntu, and now Mint, is that it adds the little touches to a system without turning it into a something else entirely. Anybody can do these things, of course, it’s just more of an issue of having to know where and how.

As an example — if you use APT at the command line, on Ubuntu and Linux Mint you can easily use autocompletion rather than having to type the full package name. Debian doesn’t add this touch — though it’s just uncommenting three lines in /etc/bash.bashrc to get there. Mint automatically installs the Nautilus package so that I can open the GNOME Terminal with a right-click (nautilus-open-terminal), whereas Debian does not.

One of the questions I usually ask when considering a new Linux distribution is what, if anything, it adds to the community. There’s a lot of redundancy out there, and while anybody can make their own Linux distribution it doesn’t mean they should. I think LMDE does add something to the mix, especially as Ubuntu evolves further and further away from its Debian heritage.

That’s not a poke at Ubuntu or Canonical — just an observation that it’s come a long way from where it started. That has been making some of the early Ubuntu adopters less than happy, but it does seem to appeal more to folks who aren’t Linux enthusiasts already. When Ubuntu first launched, it was very much Debian but tamed just a little bit. While Ubuntu still draws a lot from Debian, it feels less and less like Debian with every release. For a mainstream audience, that’s probably a good thing. For Linux enthusiasts who like Debian but feel it could use a few additional touches, LMDE10 is exceptional.

If you’re looking for a rolling release distribution with some of the rough edges sanded down a bit, LMDE is a really good choice. I’m really pleased with this release. Even though it’s emphatically not for everybody, it should appeal to a lot of old-school Linux folks.

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