Look out Ubuntu, look out Arch: Linux Mint Debian

I don’t consider myself a distro reviewer. My own views on software and usability are so far out of line from the everyday desktop Linux user that my opinions can’t help but be twisted and bizarre.

But I do have a long list of distros I’ve looked over, tweaked, punched, kicked and pondered, and even if I’m harsher on some days than others, I try — really, I do try — to be honest and fair. If I like it, I say so. If I don’t, I say so.

This, I really like.


I never was a Linux Mint fan. It won a few points recently in its LXDE rendition by pleasing a neighbor, so in a roundabout way it made me happy too.

And with the release of a Debian-based version, I figured it was time to pause, breathe deeply and take a closer look. So this morning I sloughed off my prejudices (like a snake shedding its skin), installed it and spent the day with it.

I expected no speed differences over the Ubuntu version, and no real super duper changes in the way things worked. I didn’t anticipate any usability issues or frustrations, given its history and reputation for making Ubuntu “even easier.”

In fact, the only expectation I had really, was an Arch Linux-style rolling release structure, and perhaps a few updates to make after installing.* So this was a shock:

A mere 110Mb, plus or minus, after a cold boot is amazing. I haven’t seen a full Gnome setup ride out a startup in under 110Mb since I put together a Gnome skeleton in Arch Linux. And that one was rather sparse.

So a full desktop, with bells and whistles and accoutrements looking at me from about 105Mb out of 3Gb is a bucket of cold water to the face. This is giving Arch a run for its money too.

And really, if anything, this is a complete and absolute vindication for any Debian fan who has ever suggested building a custom system from The Swirl and insisted it would be lighter and/or faster than Ubuntu.

Aye, there’s the rub: Ubuntu in its grotesque corpulence, tipping the scales at more than 300Mb just to show a startup screen, is suddenly in a very, very harsh light. Linux Mint Debian is doing as much with only a fraction of the resources.

Even worse, Mint Debian is matching what Lubuntu and its brethren need to get going. The term “lightweight” is suddenly relative.

For a lot of people, resource demand is immaterial; I acknowledge that. And for me, for this machine, it should be also: A core duo with 3Gb of PC2-5300 and a 7200rpm SATA3G drive is hardly a clunker (I hope ๐Ÿ™„ ).

But I don’t do my best work on an L2300. I live at 120Mhz and use the fast machine for dull things like checking for spam and streaming audio. (Sue me for wasting resources. I enjoy the irony. ๐Ÿ˜ˆ )

So if you tell me that you have a distro that includes almost every heavyweight program available in the Linux software spectrum, to include Firefox with Flash, Java, Gnome, Compiz, MPlayer and VLC and codecs, plus the kitchen sink, and then tell me it’ll start up on less than 110Mb … I can’t help but be impressed.

And beyond that, I have no higher compliment. Ubuntu, look out: This one offers more, and eats up less. And Arch, look out, because this one can do much the same, with a lot less time spent setting up.

A gold smilie — no, better yet, a green smilie for the Linux Mint Debian crew: :mrgreen:

*”A few,” by the way, was a drastic underestimate … I had to download about 300Mb in updates and the ISO was released what, 10 days ago? ๐Ÿ˜ฏ Be prepared.

36 thoughts on “Look out Ubuntu, look out Arch: Linux Mint Debian

  1. Sam Weston

    This is seriously impressive. It’s definitely on my list of distros to keep watching. It’s not clear whether it is considered stable yet though, so I won’t be recommending it to friends just yet.

  2. prinzzchavo

    I wouldnยดt say that it is not stable…just that it is a rolling release…and disasters happen! (Try debian testing directly, and tell me how they compare…)

    Anyway, if Stability is your thing, I read somewhere about a script that can be used in Arch, that informs of the latest news related to the Distro, so that you can know before updating if something might go wrong… That might be really helpful on this one too.

    I hope this helps Debian on recovering their status.

    If it only worked somehow under 128Mb RAM, with, say, openbox in it…

  3. Barista Uno

    I had a mind to install Mandriva 2010 Spring gnome edition when I get to assemble my desktop rig. But with Mandriva’s future shrouded in fog, I started to look around for an alternative. I think LMDE is it. This one will be my desktop OS.

    Thanks for the off-the-beaten-path review. It sounds as fresh as mint.

    1. Conkeh

      I have ๐Ÿ˜€ My system starts at 39.1 MBs. I have 1GB of RAM but for some reason it means the world to me that the system will start at such a low figure and never go over 250 even when I use a whole range of memory hogs all at once for my daily tasks. I have everything I need in that OS except Gnome… and well Compiz :D:D which I don’t need. I use that computer for work, Crunchbang’s truly very light and stable. Took some courage to try it as my sole OS here ๐Ÿ˜€ but I haven’t regretted it.

      As for Mint Debian, I hear good things about it, and it’s part love fest for Debian, part hope that the perfect distro is finally here, complete, yet sane. But I just dislike Gnome. I know I couldn’t use it.

    1. Craig

      He is talking about when you actually RUN it..not the size of the dvd that you install it with…

      And it is true…i just ran it as a live cd and was amazed how little memory it took…would be even less on a hard install…

  4. geoda

    Like Brian I’d recommend checking out crunchbang statler — it is very similar to the LMDE project but without the gnome. I’ve had LMDE running on a ION-based HTPC for a week now. Thus far it administers just like my main system (#! statler) via ssh, and has a very friendly interface for those who come by who are frightened by anything but big desktop icons and an auto-updated menu.

    May become a distro of choice for resurrection older hardware for friends and family.

  5. Barista Uno

    I was using Crunchbang 9.04, then still Ubuntu-based, and liked it for its speed and stability. The DE, though, required a bit of wrestling with scripts and config files. I have got no more time to spare for that so I have settled, for the time being, for lxde (Peppermint OS). It lacks some of the features many Linux users would consider important or essential. But it suits me fine.

  6. lefty.crupps

    I am very excited for this release, as a concept, but I’ll be holding off until the KDE version is released… I’ve been waiting for a good Debian-based, full-featured, desktop-ready, rolling-release distro for far too long, and I suspect that I’m not alone.

  7. Pingback: Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE): this thing might blow up « Rusty Shackleford's Library Card

  8. Guillermo Garron

    Nice review, I am right now running Arch Linux and I love it, it was hard for me to let Debian go to start using Arch.
    Ubuntu was a summer affair for me, as it was Fedora.
    Debian and Arch are definitely my favorite distros.
    I am actually also running LMDE on a virtual machine, and I am liking it a lot.

    I have also played with http://www.go2linux.org/installing-a-light-linux-operating-system-debian-fluxbox

    And I am really specting to see the new Debian based http://crunchbanglinux.org/

    congratz for your review, and also congratulations to the Linux Mint developers for such a great work!

  9. Pingback: New Page, New Developments, No New Code (Yet) « Becoming A Glider

  10. tomas

    I just installed arch on a friends computer since Ubuntu and Mint wouldnt even install for some reason… (yes, md5sums checked etc)…

    Im planning to install LMDE on my comp when the x64 is released tho and i bet its gonna be awesome ๐Ÿ˜€


  11. Pingback: Links 17/9/2010: The ZFS Linux Module, XDS Toulouse Reports | Techrights

  12. Pingback: Boredom strikes again… « Andy C.'s weblog

  13. steve

    Just more proof that Debian is more awesome than it’s offspring.

    “I hope this helps Debian on recovering their status.” – say wut!? LOL

    Using Debian testing here with openbox and it starts up in under 30MB of RAM, XFCE in under 60MB

  14. steve

    “And really, if anything, this is a complete and absolute vindication for any Debian fan who has ever suggested building a custom system from The Swirl and insisted it would be lighter and/or faster than Ubuntu.”

    That’s me! ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. Pingback: Liberado Linux Mint Debian « LINUX GALEGO

  16. Joe

    Excellent point- Gnome can be lightweight, impressive!

    I switched my mom’s laptop to LinuxMint8 when M$ halted support for XP. She always called with problems and questions, but since she switched I don’t get those calls anymore.

    As for me, I grew up on Ubuntu, because my wireless worked. I don’t mind tweaking so all the great work that LM does went unnoticed. I do distro-hop often, I was impressed most by Slitaz (30MB ISO?) and PClinuxOS Zen Mini (384MB Gnome ISO) and I have to mention MacPuppy & Knoppix– they do great work.

    BTW, would someone plz help those poor guy working on aptosid (formerly sidux)– it was so ugly I couldn’t appreciate its performance!

  17. Pingback: The also-rans « Motho ke motho ka botho

  18. seidos

    I’m impressed by this, but i have to say 3GB may seem like a lot to you, but only if you actually close applications you use :3. With two workspaces by default in gnome, i just keep almost everything i use open, so that when i need them they come up snappy. This of course eats up my 2GB of ram rather quickly, so an extra 100 MB of ram would be nice for me, without having to buy an upgrade. Actually, reading this has inspired me to try openbox; i’ve been thinking nothing more than a glorified terminal that runs gui apps would be all i needed as a desktop environment. Hopefully openbox is what i’m looking for in this regard. Thanks for being out there doing the work you do. Great blog.

    1. mulenmar

      IceWM might be better for what you want, since it has it’s own taskbar, and you get a simple command line in that taskbar with an easy Ctrl-Alt-Space combo.

      I recommend the DustIce theme: http://box-look.org/content/show.php/DustIce?content=118313

      Thanks to its compile options, IceWM can run on a sliver of resources, or only a hair’s-width. ๐Ÿ™‚ Puppy Linux uses it. People with PC’s with Pentium 90MHz CPUs use/used it, with the simpler themes.

      Oh, and thanks to its support for XPM transparency, some IceWM themes have “rounded corners” — one of several things Openbox cannot (and should not, given its goals) provide.

      Just be sure to use version 1.2.37, and not the 1.3.7pre2 testing version — that has a bug that causes a crash on attempting to use “Cascade” window arrangement.

  19. Pingback: No joke: A Gnome desktop on 105Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho

  20. Pingback: No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb « Motho ke motho ka botho

  21. Pingback: No joke: A full Gnome desktop on 105Mb ยซ Motho ke motho ka botho | Don Bishop's Blog dweb98

  22. Pingback: Three middleweights « Motho ke motho ka botho

  23. shicky256

    I know it’s a bit of an old post at this point, but I just wanted to share this. I recently put Debian 7 on my ThinkPad T41 (Bought it off eBay really cheaply a couple weeks ago as a replacement for a dead netbook, and put in a PRO/2200 network card and 80 GB hard drive). There wasn’t really any reason for my doing this: I tried Arch first, but there’s a kernel bug that makes suspend not work. I CERTAINLY wasn’t going for lightweightness (if that’s a word), as I have 1.5 gigs of RAM in this bad boy, and a Pentium M isn’t too old. Hence, I was rather surprised when I checked my memory usage on a clean boot, and found this: http://i.imgur.com/Qur1Lun.png . If WordPress doesn’t make this link work, that’s 102.6 megs of memory usage on a clean boot, plus whatever amount of RAM mate-screenshot, the system monitor, and the terminal emulator are taking up. Without the screenshot utility, that’s reduced to about 97 megs. Compare that to Ubuntu 14.10’s memory usage (about 450 MB), or even Ubuntu 14.10 MATE edition’s memory usage (about 370 MB) on their respective cold boots.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s