The battle for the best modern desktop still rages on. Two of Linux world’s favorite distributions are often difficult to choose from, especially if you are new to the penguinland. Whether you are a dabbler, a budding programmer, or an ever-curious tinkerer; choosing your first Linux desktop is a tough choice. Asking on the Internet for random people to make that choice for you, adds even more to the confusion. They will give you various answers, from Slackware and Fedora to Ubuntu and Plan 9. However, if you filter their responses to only pick the most popular ones, the distribution deathmatch can boast of only two contenders in the ring: Ubuntu and Linux Mint.

While Ubuntu and Mint both synergistically grown over the years, their progress hasn’t been able to resolve the desktop newbie’s longstanding dilemma. That is, which of these two is the best for me? Both Canonical and the Mint team have worked quite hard to set high usability standards when it comes to designing their desktops. While Ubuntu boasts of a more modern, platform-agnostic approach toward the PC, Mint leans heavily on familiarity and simplicity. Both approaches have their pros and cons; however, for the confused neophyte, these case points rarely matter. All the user wants to know is, among the latest iterations, which one is the best for her? That’s why, we at TechSource have decided to hold a little deathmatch between the newest versions of two of the most popular Linux ditros out there: Mint 17.1 and Ubuntu 14.10.


Features

It is important to understand that Linux Mint, unlike Ubuntu, comes in two distinct flavors. One is Cinnamon, which is a modern and elegant desktop based on GNOME 3. It has all the latest features and the graphical improvements built-in and is relatively heavy on the system resources. In other words, if you wanted features, performance, and eye-candy all packed into one, Cinnamon does that for you. The other flavor is MATE (pronounced as mahtay), which is designed for older, low-performing desktops. It is based on GNOME 2 and while it looks almost as elegant as Cinnamon, it does make some compromises on the graphics front. Furthermore, MATE is based on code that is no longer maintained as regularly as GNOME 3 and this might cause stability issues later on as you upgrade. So, unless you have a really old machine or an unsupported graphics card, Cinnamon would be the way to go. 


Ubuntu, on the other hand, sticks to a modern desktop with a “Dash” launcher. This approach is similar to mobile where a dashboard pops up every time you hit the Home button (which is, in the desktop’s case the Win/Super key). Unlike Mint, you won’t get choices if your graphics card is unsupported or your system is slow. That said it’s not that big a deal even if you are using a 5-year old computer. One can safely assume your desktop will be able to run Ubuntu perfectly well. 


Mint also offers a lot of extra features like domain blocker, privacy settings, full theming and much more.  The most powerful feature of Mint, however, is that it allows its users to customize their desktops in whichever way they want. And Mint 17.1 takes that to the next level. This latest version lets you change your folder colors, file manager color scheme, screensaver, and even your login screen. You can even change the basic theme to whatever color you want. Most of the customization features are missing in 14.10 and it makes the user accept and use the desktop as-is without any built-in tools for customization. The winner is quite obvious here. Note: For an in-depth look on the new features of Mint 17.1, check out the official blog post HERE

Winner: Linux Mint 17.1


Wallpapers, Goodies, and Extras

While the Canonical team was busy focusing on the mobile version of their operating system, the Linux Mint team was busy taking their desktop to the next level. They focused on keeping the changes simple yet relevant. The latest version brings along a completely redesigned backgrounds application that lets you pick beautiful images from not just this release but from earlier releases as well. Moreover, you can even set the wallpapers to change every few minutes thus keeping your desktop looking fresh all the time.
Nemo, the file manager, now lets you set emblems to your folders. Ubuntu 14.10 on the other hand just brings a new set of wallpapers. The default one though remains the same. Well, it at least appears to do so. Overall, there is no noticeable change in Ubuntu 14.10, apart from the list of updated applications. We hope Canonical at least decides to update their icons for the next iteration of the desktop.

Winner: Linux Mint 17.1


Looks

While Ubuntu 14.10 sticks with the same old Unity desktop, Mint 17.1 races ahead with some important changes to their UI part. The desktop now begins with a zoom animation, giving it a more modern feel. Also, the wallpaper-picker is now completely redesigned, thus allowing you to add wallpapers from previous versions of Linux Mint. Most importantly, though, you can now change the color of your desktop anyway you want. Mint 17.1 gives you complete freedom to fine-tune your computer to make sure it suits your preference. From the mouse pointer to the title bars, everything is customizable; and yet, the default theme looks so gorgeous, you wouldn't want to change it. If it continues on the same path, Mint is destined to become the best-looking desktop around. The winner, hands down is, Linux Mint 17.1.

Winner: Linux Mint 17.1


Performance

In my usage, I found Linux Mint quite stable, and in fact, it was more stable than Ubuntu or any other desktop I've used before. It starts up quick, the elements are snappy, and it rarely hangs or crashes. Whereas on the same computer, Ubuntu performed with a slight amount of glitches here and there. Though those were not severe, it won't take time for anyone to realize that Mint is Ubuntu's snappy, stable cousin.

Winner: Linux Mint 17.1


Conclusion

It is not hard to see why Linux Mint is an object of adoration amongst Linux desktop users. While Canonical is focusing on convergence, the Mint desktop is growing to a point where it doesn’t look like an Ubuntu-based distribution anymore; it now has its own identity. If the Mint team keeps up this pace while not doing anything drastic, they will surely surpass Ubuntu both in quality as well as popularity. They are already the 4th most popular desktop operating system in the world right now and if Ubuntu doesn't step up on the desktop front, that might change very soon.


Written by: Abhishek, a regular TechSource contributor and a long-time FOSS advocate.

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