Mint, which just released its latest version (Linux Mint 12 Lisa), has become the most popular Linux distribution on DistroWatch. Seizing the top spot from Ubuntu, the GNOME 3-based distro has evolved from a mere spin to a serious competitor to Canonical’s flagship product. As Mint continues to dominate DistroWatch, some journalists have already come to a conclusion that Ubuntu is no longer the most popular distro around. How true is that claim? Is Ubuntu’s popularity really declining? The answer to both these questions is Yes and No.

Yes, Ubuntu’s popularity is declining, but Mint’s not to blame.

With Unity, Ubuntu managed to annoy a lot of its loyal users. Regular Linux users, who relished the comfort of a clean simplistic UI, were presented with something entirely different and confusing. With Ocelot, Canonical did manage to alleviate many of those issues. However, Unity still remains a punching bag for longtime Linux users. Since there’s no denying that Unity’s complexities have coerced veteran Linuxians to look for better alternatives, many of them have found comfort in the familiar freshness of Mint and are probably never looking back. So, if Ubuntu’s popularity is declining, it’s here; it is the faithful Linux user who’s quitting the distro.

Having said that, Ubuntu’s popularity decline might not be something Canonical should worry about right now. Mint, though popular and better than the Unity-ridden distro, is still unknown to the average user who’s trying to escape the shackles of a world with Windows. Over the years, Ubuntu has gained a lot of popularity among Windows users, and to them, it’s still the virus-free magic pill that they can load onto a USB drive and impress their friends. Moreover, Ubuntu has a vast repertoire of support tools like Ask Ubuntu and Ubuntu Forums, which assure the user that if anything goes wrong, there’s a huge community backing you.

If you check out Ubuntu’s website, it’s far more appealing and inviting than Linux Mint’s homepage. Furthermore, Ubuntu has its very own cloud service, music store and even training courses that have been quite popular lately. Overall, it goes without saying that Ubuntu is still a behemoth in the wild distroland, and to topple it, ain’t that easy.

What about those lost users then?

As I mentioned before, Canonical shouldn’t worry about those lost users right now. They may be 100, 1000 or even a million, the number just doesn’t matter. If they manage to pull off something impressive with Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin, I’m sure almost 90% of those users would hop back on to Unityland. For veteran Linux users, switching distros isn’t a big deal. So, if Ubuntu does come out with something spectacular and useful of course, they’ll definitely switch back.

So, what about Unity then?

Many journalists have attributed Ubuntu’s much-hyped ‘decline’ to the contentious Unity interface. We all know what Unity is, what a launcher is, what global menu does, and how bad all that looks. But hey, does the average Windows user who has just started exploring Ubuntu know about these terms? Moreover, does he or she even care about them? Users just want a desktop that works for them. If they find it attractive and easy-to-use, they’ll download and use it. In short, Unity isn’t a cross Canonical has to bear for the rest of its life. It’s just a small feature of the desktop that needs some work.

Oh but DistroWatch says…

Since when did DistroWatch become the ultimate authority on a distribution’s popularity? Do they check each and every computer and see if users have switched to Mint? The answer is No. Currently, there is no way of telling whether a user has switched to Mint or any other distribution. Also, considering the fact that Ubuntu comes pre-installed on many laptops (see: Affordable Ubuntu Laptops) - its user base is undoubtedly much bigger than Mint. What’s more, the UbuntuOne client, which recently released its Windows version, is bringing in many new users to Ubuntu. So that, coupled with Ubuntu’s brand, still make it the no 1 Linux distribution around.

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

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