An Apology to Linux Mint

And a (for now) small rant against poor Linux coverage from mainstream tech blogs

If you remember my post all the way back in February of 2023, you might remember a blog post I made titled “Is Cinnamon Dying”, which was about Linux Mint’s flagship desktop environment Cinnamon not having proper Wayland support with no clear indication of when they’d start with the support.

I was very critical of their lack of progress of when the status of their Wayland support. At the time, they had not announced any plans for when the work would start, or even if work would start at all!

The reasons for this negativity?

Well, there are several:

First, I’ve seen Linux Mint often being recommended to new Linux users, particularly those coming over from Microsoft Windows because of its Windows-like layout and its relative ease of use for a Linux distro, with many graphical tools to do things without using the command line. Having a distro with its flagship desktop environment and only supported option for their Edge ISO (with a newer kernel to work on newer hardware) and their Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) be so stuck in the past and at risk of being abandoned with the inevitable shift over to Wayland (yes, Wayland will replace XOrg soon and there’s no getting around that fact) being recommended to new users I thought could hurt Linux as a whole.

This plus the lack of a concrete plan for Wayland certainly unnerved me…

You see, most people coming over to Linux from another OS (basically Windows or macOS) are probably are willing to give Linux a chance. The problem is if they have a bad first impression with a distro that doesn’t work because it keeps crashing, the desktop environment doesn’t work the way the user wants it to, or the community is toxic if/when they do ask for help is very bad. While some users may persevere and try another distro and/or DE, and they’ll probably get something that they like, many others will simply think Linux isn’t for them or worse, that it is a bad OS and go back to Windows or macOS and won’t return. And that is a huge shame, because many of the common distros I see recommended to new users aren’t actually very good for new users:

  • Ubuntu (and all of its official flavors): The decision by Canonical to not allow flavors to ship flatpak support out of the box and to only ship snaps, an inferior solution for desktop apps for several reasons hurts many users when their favorite apps either aren’t available, are super out of date (because the repository packages are feature frozen and snaps are generally falling out of favor in favor of flatpaks), or have major issues that the distro packages and flatpaks either don’t have at all or don’t have to the same degree. There is also a general feeling of Ubuntu having a lack of polish in recent years from 21.04 to 22.04. This is because those versions had mismatched GNOME and GTK app versions; 21.04 had GNOME 3.38 but versions of some apps from GNOME 40, 21.10 had GNOME 40, but had versions of some apps from GNOME 41; 22.04, the current LTS until April 2024, has GNOME 42, but some apps were held back from GNOME 41. The reason for this was because of some extensions Ubuntu adds to the “vanilla” GNOME desktop, like the Ubuntu dock and desktop icons extensions, to make sure that the extensions work with the new version. The problem is that in the case of 21.04 and 21.10, the versions of GNOME included were a version old; not a great look for what was a leading desktop distro for a long time. And while 22.04 fixed the GNOME version by skipping GNOME 41, it and those other two versions suffer from another problem: The mismatch of GNOME versions and apps likely hurt the stability and cohesiveness of the Ubuntu GNOME desktop compared to just using the same version of everything. Now, Ubuntu 22.10 fixed the issue by moving everything over to GNOME 43, however, given it is not an LTS version, it is only supported for 9 months, which is unacceptable in my opinion when even Fedora, a fast moving distro, supports their versions for at least until two new distro version numbers are released past the given version. And while the server and flagship Ubuntu GNOME flavors get 5 years of LTS support, the official flavors, including Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Ubuntu MATE, and Ubuntu Unity, get only 3 years of support, still not much better than Fedora. So at the moment, users are forced to choose between a better experience (but still no perfect because of the snap issue) but having to upgrade more frequently, or have better support, but use a mess of GNOME that was likely never intended to be used in such a way. Finally, while users can install flatpaks themselves, it is a bit trickier to setup on Ubuntu and is less cohesive than on other distros. Personally, I wouldn’t use Ubuntu as a desktop Linux distro for the reasons of the forced inclusion of snaps, the lack of out of the box support for flatpaks, and the lack of long-term support for most editions.
  • Zorin OS: While it seems rather easy to use and it looks nice, it is way to out of date, as it is still (as of this article) based on the much older 20.04 Ubuntu LTS with no word on when Zorin OS 17 will be out with a new Ubuntu LTS rebase. This is bad because Zorin OS has super old package versions in their repos, including their flagship DE, a heavily customized version of GNOME 3.38, released on 16 September 2020, over three years old at the time of this article. Due to the aging base and questionable standing of the distro itself, I cannot recommend it. Plus, snaps are enabled by default.
  • Fedora: I’ve seen several Linux YouTubers, including some I do respect, mention that “Fedora is the new Ubuntu“. It clearly isn’t. First of all, Fedora moves quickly on new technologies, such as being one of the first distros to adopt GNOME 3, systemd, PulseAudio, PipeWire, and Wayland. In Fedora 40, they will ship KDE Plasma 6.0 (and likely GNOME 46) without XOrg sessions support. While the vast majority of users shouldn’t have a problem with that, some use cases, like Nvidia GPU systems and certain apps missing features on Wayland (cough cough Discord screen sharing cough cough), it clearly isn’t. It is meant for two things: Red Hat’s test bed for Red Hat Enterprise Linux and the earlier test of new technologies before most other mainstream distros. The latter is a key reason why I do not recommend Fedora to complete Linux beginners. Things might just stop working as the project adopts a point release model of most packages but not the Linux kernel itself, and this moving kernel version may lead to issues. Another reason is the fact that the Fedora Project is heavily sponsored by Red Hat, which is owned by IBM and has made… Less than ethical decisions regarding RHEL (and possibly some illegal decisions, although that would need another dedicated article to fully explain). But the main reason reason why I do not recommend Fedora to complete Linux beginners is because of the high risk of breakage with Fedora.
  • KDE Neon: The distro is divided into a stable and unstable branch. The unstable branch is often the first place KDE Plasma and KDE applications are tested. But even the “stable” branch has recently… Not been very stable. Plus, Snaps are used by default. So the lack of stability is the main reason against recommendation.
  • Manjaro: Oh boy, there are so many things wrong with Manjaro that it’s not even funny anymore. Just check out these linked resources to see why. The TL;DR? Lack of stability, packaging patches to software against the developers’ requests, questionable business practices, blaming users, SSL certificates constantly expiring, two DDOSings of the AUR with one of their AUR helper tools (Pamac), and several other issues. I cannot recommend Manjaro to anybody. Seriously, I think its worse than Ubuntu (and that’s really saying something)!

Yeah, and to think many technology blogs that don’t really cover Linux properly promote these distros as “beginner-friendly”… But these blogs, many of which only cover Linux superficially, also promoted Linux Mint, and I was worried that Linux Mint would eventually go down with the ship when the Wayland transition is finished. And the fact that Xfce, one of the three offically supported DEs in Linux Mint, was further along than Cinnamon.

Not to mention, many users were actually upset at that and other things, like the GNOME header bar style creeping its way into other Linux Mint applications. I was just a bit… Unhinged about it.

As you can see, I wasn’t the only one upset, and not just because of no status report on Wayland… (Yes, that’s me at the bottom.)

Finally, after discontinuing the KDE Plasma flavor of Linux Mint with Mint 19, much to the anger of many of those users, Linux Mint seemed to be in a bit of a mid-life crisis. The distro felt old and stagnant with some (like me) question if Linux Mint would turn into Ubuntu, with Canonical’s poor decisions and all.

But as we all are sometimes, I was wrong. Oh so wrong. And to Clément Lefèbvre and the Linux Mint team, I am sorry. I only wanted the best for Linux.

My Worries

I didn’t want Linux to squander any chance they had to take market share from Microsoft refusing to support computers that should be able to upgrade to Windows 11 but aren’t easily able to because MIcRoSoFt KnOwS bEtTeR tHaN uS. This has happened before with Linux missing the boat on Windows 8 and failing to make a dent after the initial boom of Linux netbooks from major OEMs, with GNOME 3 and its UI and UX disaster still being fresh in the minds of Linux users. Not to mention all of the Cinnamon Unity that was shattered because of GNOME 3.0, MATE (cheeky I know). (Now all that’s missing is LXQt!)

Then Microsoft seemed to make a recovery with Windows 10, and as a result, many big computer OEMs seemed to let their Linux offering dry up, and while new Linux focused OEMs tried to take up the mantle, because of weak hardware offerings and poor sales as a result, Linux was stuck in the “low user count so few hardware choices but few hardware choices because of low user count” loop. And this is despite a few laptops from HP with their Dev One (now discontinued) and Dell’s XPS 13 Developer Edition (no longer recommended by me because it otherwise is a bad laptop).

But Linux might have another chance: After October 2025, it seems more and more likely that Windows 10 support will be fully ended, and consumers will have a choice to make: Do they treat their (in many cases) perfectly good computer that just so happens to not be supported under Windows 11 as e-waste, do they just run Windows 10 and hope for the best (like many businesses will probably do), or do they take a chance to take control of their hardware with Linux?

I genuinely hope for the final option, as Linux has come so far since I started using it in 2010 (with Ubuntu 10.04) and switching to Linux full-time in late 2021 with EndeavourOS (an Arch-based distro) after Microsoft made that and other ridiculous changes to Windows 11, including but not limited to:

But back to Linux Mint, in the October 2023 release blog for the upcoming release of Linux Mint 21.3, along other things, Linux Mint was finally announced to have started work on Wayland support for Cinnamon, and Cinnamon would have an experimental option for a Wayland session starting in 21.3. Granted, it would likely not become the default until Linux Mint 23, which would be based on Ubuntu 26.04 (if they don’t drop the Ubuntu base by then for LMDE), but it’s a start, with a Trello board showing the progress on Wayland support.

My Hopes

Hopefully this means better and one to one touchpad gesture support, as the current implementation is more customizable than Pantheon’s, GNOME’s or even KDE Plasma’s, but it isn’t one to one like those other three DEs.

And maybe it will fix the other limitations of using an XOrg session, like not having proper fractional scaling support, not being able to set two or more monitors with different refresh rates or DPIs, and having a lot of the technical debt that XOrg, XFree86, and X11 carry over the years.

As they say, X11 is “like a house of cards, one blow from caving in“. Quote by Katy Perry, from her song Firework. Used very out of context.

Bring on the Wayland!

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