Linux Mint was developed in France, and released in 2006, by Clement Lefebvre. Lefebvre is notoriously reclusive and reluctant to give interviews – his online biography, in total, is ‘Nothing much to say… ;)’ – but he has repeatedly stressed that his aim in modifying Ubuntu was to achieve ‘elegance’. In practice this meant focusing on ease of use, incorporating user feedback, and choosing pleasant colour schemes and layouts.
Mint has been steadily in development since that time, put together by a growing team largely based in Europe, with new releases every six months. In addition to the ‘standard’ GNOME-equipped Ubuntu-based Mint, they have produced releases running KDE and XFCE, and even a Mint based directly on Debian, cutting out the Ubuntu middleman. By 2010 Mint was on to its ninth release, and gradually acquiring a reputation as a friendly, stable, and reliable operating system. It was abruptly pushed into the limelight by a series of unexpected events.
First, the distributors of the popular GNOME interface decided to make some radical changes in moving from Version 2 to Version 3. These alienated many GNOME users. They might have switched to KDE systems – except that at the time KDE was going through similar convulsions in transitioning from Version 3 to 4. At the same time Ubuntu switched its own default interface to a touch-screen layout called Unity, which alienated many users still more. There was a rapid swing in the Linux community towards older, simpler, distros – and Mint was the most polished and familiar of these. Its user base grew rapidly between 2010 and 2013, and eventually rivalled that of Ubuntu, the former champion.
Lefebvre and his team responded to their new-found prominence with charm and aplomb. They took the new version of GNOME on board and ‘tamed’ it by adding their own interfaces – first MATE (pronounced Matt-ay, as in Maté tea), then the more exotic Cinnamon, both of which remain available as choices for users. For real traditionalists they have developed a Mint version using the older, simpler XFCE GUI. Despite their relatively small team, they have proved adept at anticipating and meeting users’ needs. It will take a very strong opponent distro to knock Mint off the pedestal that it has come to occupy, and there are no signs of it happening soon.