Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce A tale of two distros: openSUSE and Linux Mint

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Linux Mint has taken an entirely different approach in implementing GNOME 3. It has implemented a layer - called Mint GNOME Shell extensions on top of GNOME 3 to allow users to gradually ease themselves into using GNOME 3. And for those who dislike the mobile-like interface of GNOME 3, Mint has a fork of GNOME 2.32 called MATE that preserves the old GNOME 2 interface.


This approach has earned Mint chief Clement Lefebvre praise aplenty and there have been numerous claims that Mint is now overtaking Ubuntu in user numbers. But this is impossible to verify with any degree of certainty as most GNU/Linux distributions do not call for registration forms to filled in when one installs the operating system. There are enterprise distributions which require subscriptions in order to receive updates.

While Mint is aiming at the market for Ubuntu users, it has one drawback - it is, itself, based on Ubuntu and even uses all the Ubuntu update servers for its updates, other than Mint-specific ones.

To some extent, this resembles the relationship between Red Hat Enterprise Linux and CentOS - the latter strips out all the trademarks from RHEL and thus allows people to use it free, without paying a subscription as one has to do with RHEL. Earlier this year, RHEL suddenly made a decision to release all updates as one big compressed file, making it that much more difficult for the CentOS project to provide those updates, often critical security fixes, to its users in a timely fashion. This is one way of nobbling the competition.

There are two questions that present themselves when one looks at the approach taken by Mint. One is, how long will it continue to provide MATE and be confident that fixes, if needed, will be provided by the upstream community? GNOME 2 will be maintained for some time, not forever. At some time in the future, all those GNOME 2 refugees who are using Mint will have to move to GNOME 3.

There is also the possibility that if Mint is perceived as making inroads into the Ubuntu brand and user base, then Shuttleworth may well look at something similar to what Red Hat has done, just to make it more difficult for a distribution like Mint to continue to be up-to-date in terms of fixes.

Mint is helping people to delay change as long as possible. openSUSE seems to have the better of the two approaches - accepting change and making it smoother than the raw interface.

 

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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