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Who cares about your dang Desktop Environment?!

Nov 21, 2011 - Tags:

Well, actually . . . I do.

If you are into such things, and you place your faith on those distro popularity numbers over on DistroWatch, you'll see that Ubuntu has dropped from its number one position, a position now held by Linux Mint. Heavens, no! Surely the universe is about to implode! And isn't even 2012 yet! 

Sorry about that. The reason for Ubuntu's decline from that venerated number one position has been speculated on by tea leaf readers everywhere (i.e. my fellow tech journalists). Much has been made about the Canonical's embrace of Unity over traditional GNOME and I am among the guilty when it comes to that. I happen to dislike Unity but I do like GNOME 3. This, oddly enough, puts me at odds with the majority of people who runs GNOME in one way or another though more people seem to hate Unity than GNOME 3 --  I could be wrong. The question, however, is this . . .  

Has Canonical shot itself in the foot, giving up its number one position, by adopting and sticking by Unity? Does the choice of desktop environment matter that much? Are Linux users, who traditionally just install and run whatever they want, regardless of what it presented to them, really that irked about Unity that they are abandoning Ubuntu? Okay, that's at least three questions.

Which brings me to my Ubuntu and Linux Mint experience.

You could say I've had a love/hate relationship with Ubuntu going back a long ways. Ubuntu, or in my case, Kubuntu, and I have parted ways several times (see my "Crisis of Kubuntu Faith" video), only to get back together a few months later. I got to loving Ubuntu and Kubuntu so much that I became senior editor of Ubuntu User Magazine. But even in that role, I was regularly drawn to Linux Mint, an Ubuntu-based distribution that was particularly friendly to Windows-refugees, mostly due to the fact that it came with all those lovely proprietary codecs and plugins that you always have to load whenever you install a new distribution. Linux Mint was, as I called it a couple of years ago, Ubuntu done right.

So when I blew away Windows and loaded up my new notebook, I naturally went and downloaded the latest Linux Mint. I did that partly because I've gotten into the habit of recommending it to my non-Linux friends who are looking to improve their desktop experience. That's my snarky way of saying "leaving Windows". But I digress . . . 

Three weeks pass and I start to get a little antsy. This Linux Mint is okay, but the KDE implementation, is way out of date. Mint has seemingly abandoned my favorite desktop interface. Seeing as I am particularly good at this Linux stuff, I figure it's no biggee. Besides, I like playing on the bleeding edge, despite having gotten bloodied more than once over the years, and so I add the apt repositories for Project Neon, the true bleeding edge of KDE.

Except that I do also like to have, at my disposal, the current stable version of my software, including my desktop environment. While there's some talk on the Linux Mint channels about a new KDE distribution coming some time soon(ish), I can no longer pretend. Linux Mint has let me down. Last night, I downloaded the latest Oneric-based Kubuntu and installed it on my computer. My OS is up to date and I've got a recent, and stable, KDE (and Project Neon too). 

The point of all this is that I have, more than once, abandoned a distribution for its desktop environment, or its support of a desktop environment. And, as I demonstrated last night, I'll do it again. And again. You can subtract one from those Linux Mint numbers and add one to Kubuntu because I'm back to Kubuntu, Baby!. You're dang right the desktop environment matters. It matters a lot. To me. And to others. Is this, however, what's hurting Ubuntu's numbers? Maybe not, but it's not that crazy an idea. 

So . . . are you a until recently happy Ubuntu user who has switched to Linux Mint? Was it Unity, or something else?

As for my opinion . . . I also loved Window Maker and used it for years. Read into that what you desire.

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