Linux Mint Debian Edition 5 has arrived • The Registry

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The Linux Mint project has announced version 5 of its Debian edition, named Elsie.

Linux Mint is one of the oldest and finest distributions downstream of Ubuntu, and really took off after Ubuntu moved to the controversial Unity desktop with 11.04. At that time, Mint 12 maintained a Windows-like appearance which later evolved into the Cinnamon desktop.

This earned it many converts who didn’t care for Ubuntu’s more Mac-like look. Even though Ubuntu killed Unity and reverted to GNOME, it’s GNOME 3 – still very different from Windows. Mint provides familiarity for many people who feel more comfortable with a taskbar, start menu, and more.

We reviewed Mint 20 when it was released a few years ago, and last January the latest version 20.3 as well – which includes a native version of Firefox, straight from Mozilla, instead of Ubuntu’s Snap version. In fact, it’s worth noting that Mint eschews Ubuntu’s Snap apps altogether. Instead, you get Red Hat-style Flatpaks.

Linux Mint Debian Edition – LMDE for short – is the other mint flavor. Instead of being based on the stable LTS release of Ubuntu, LMDE is directly based on Debian, which is largely the upstream of Ubuntu. LMDE 5 is based on Debian 11, named Bullseye.

The thing is, it’s hard to tell. LMDE uses the same Cinnamon desktop as its Ubuntu-based sibling. It has the latest native Firefox from Mozilla, rather than Debian’s outdated ESR version which is hard to update. Flatpak is also integrated, as well as multimedia codecs, etc. It has the same tools as the default Ubuntu-based edition, for software updates, backup, etc.

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There are advantages to being close to a widely used desktop distribution. For example, desktop users sometimes need third-party drivers, such as graphics cards or printers. Ubuntu has top notch driver support. If you’re having trouble, it’s often easy to find Ubuntu-based solutions online, and they’re very likely to work, at least as long as they’re not dependent on a specific desktop.

Debian is also neater than it was before. The old joke is that Ubuntu is an old word, meaning “I can’t configure Debian”. (It doesn’t, but it’s a good gag.)

This jibe is no longer true. Contemporary Debian is relatively simple: you can easily add Flatpak support – or Snap if you prefer, or both – and install non-FOSS firmware, etc. Bullseye also includes Cinnamon, although it’s a slightly older version.

Even so, LMDE 5 makes it a smoother and easier process, and it looks good too. If you want to run Debian on a desktop or laptop, don’t mind (or even actively need) non-FOSS codecs or firmware, and aren’t a Debian guru, then Elsie is a solid choice.

The positions of the Mint project and Ubuntu seem to diverge. Ubuntu officially favors GNOME 3, while Mint has built its own next-gen desktop. Ubuntu favors its own Snaps, while Mint favors Flatpak. Ubuntu bundles fast-evolving apps like Firefox as Snaps, while Mint favors natively packaged browsers. And Mint, as always, includes non-FOSS freeware like codecs and apps like Spotify in its repositories.

Other Ubuntu-based distros have switched upstream and switched to Debian in the past, such as the late Crunchbang Linux. Until version 9, it used Ubuntu; 10 and above used Debian, as did its continuous derivatives BunsenLabs and Crunchbang++. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a future release of Mint shelve its Ubuntu-derived edition in favor of the Debian edition, or even drop it altogether. ®

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