Linux is attracting a growing number of users to its enormous selection of distribution systems. These 'distros' are operating systems with the Linux kernel at their foundation and a variety of software built on top to create a desktop environment tailored to the needs of users.
Ubuntu and Linux Mint are among the most popular flavours of these.
Ubuntu's name derives from a Southern Africa philosophy that can loosely be defined as "humanity to others", a spirit its founders wanted to harness in a complete operating system that is both free and highly customisable.
Linux Mint is based on Ubuntu and built as a user-friendly alternative with full out-of-the-box multimedia support. By some measures, Linux Mint has surpassed the popularity of its progenitor, but Ubuntu retains a loyal following of its own.
Each distro comes with its own range of features and advantages, and the best pick for you will depend on your needs and preference.
Ubuntu and Linux Mint are both accessible desktop options for newcomers to Linux. They're each ready to use out the box after an easy installation with the Ubiquity installer.
The interfaces are both highly customisable, but each has a different desktop environment. Ubuntu formerly used the Unity desktop but has since returned to GNOME, the default desktop for most Linux distributions, while Linux Mint offers a choice between Cinnamon and MATE.
GNOME provides a huge range of configurations, while Cinnamon is known for innovations, and MATE for consuming low resources. Users can switch to a different desktop if they don’t like the default.
The Cinnamon interface bears a strong resemblance to Windows, which helps make it comfortable for users moving from the Microsoft operating system.
Both come with a big range of software pre-installed, including an office suite, browser, and multimedia player. If users would prefer an alternative, other applications can be installed through their graphical package managers.
Linux Mint has become a popular Linux distro, but Ubuntu still has the larger community overall. This big user base boosts the system's stability, and also gives it the widest range of online support.
Regular releases of Ubuntu are rolled out every six months and are supported for nine months. Long-term support (LTS) releases come out every two years and include five years of support.
This sets it apart from Mint, which has an unscheduled release cycle. It does tend to follow that of Ubuntu though, coming out a month after each new release from its predecessor.
System requirements are very similar. The latest version of Ubuntu at the time of publication, 17.10.1, requires 2GB system memory, 1024×768 resolution and 25GB of free hard drive space.
The latest version of Mint, 18.3 also needs 2GB RAM and 1024×768 resolution, but slightly less disk space at 15GB. However, it recommends 20GB to ensure the best performance.
Both Linux Mint and Ubuntu are free and open source distros that are popular choices for newcomers to Linux. Each is highly customisable and suitable for any device, making them also good options for experienced users and a wide range of uses.
Linux Mint has the edge for users transitioning from Windows due to the familiar feel of its interface. Ubuntu has a has a clearer upgrade system and bigger community of users, which means it has more online support across forums and tutorials. Linux Mint's community is smaller but substantial.
Linux Mint provides an excellent desktop experience and is also a good choice for powerful laptops. If you’re running a system with older hardware, the lightweight alternative of Ubuntu may be a better fit for your needs.