Scientific Linux and Antergos shut down: it’s time for Linux Mint to go

Cinnamon, the popular open-source desktop environment featured in Linux Mint, makes more sense as a distro-independent package.

Since time immemorial – or, more likely, the late 1990s – the intractable problem of “Linux desktop fragmentation” has been debated on the Internet. While some argue that the wide variety of competing distros gives users more choices, that choice can also be overwhelming, making it too difficult for new users to decide on a distro, or leading them to choose a poorly constructed distro. or not supported, providing a bad first experience.

While these arguments have merit, they ignore a critical issue: the infrastructure and developer attention required to maintain a distribution is vast and difficult to justify. Long-running Linux distributions have shut down due to lack of resources, and it’s time for Linux Mint to consider doing the same to avoid developer burnout, while still making Cinnamon an environment. office entirely independent of distribution.

Popular Linux distributions go out of business

Shortly after the release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 in May, Fermilab announced that there would be no new edition of Scientific Linux, thus ending Fermilab’s more than 20 year history of maintaining its own. Linux distribution. Scientific Linux is little more than a recompiled version of RHEL sources, with the Red Hat trademarks removed. This strategy made sense at the time, because RHEL is a paid commercial distribution. Red Hat’s acquisition of CentOS in 2014 – a free general-purpose recompile from RHEL sources – made Scientific Linux functionally redundant, particularly with the introduction of CentOS Special Interest Groups (SIGs).

SEE: 10 Ways to Avoid Developer Burnout (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

CERN withdrew from Scientific Linux in 2015, initiating a migration to CentOS, with Fermilab announcing its own migration to CentOS 8 as part of its own distribution transition.

Likewise, the Arch-based Antergos distribution has announced plans to shut down, as the developers “don’t have enough free time to properly maintain Antergos” and “continuing to neglect the project would be a huge disservice to the community” . Granted, community members have already announced their intention to continue under the Endeavor name, which will be a significant undertaking. reduce the abstractions that complicate the management of the system.

Why Linux Mint has become popular

Linux Mint has the unique distinction of being pragmatically correct twice, compared to the history of Linux on the desktop. When Mint was introduced in 2006, patented codecs weren’t easy to install in popular distributions like Ubuntu or Fedora; similarly, proprietary software like Adobe Flash required separate installation, which in itself was often a challenge. This was made possible in part by distributing Mint from the EU, where software patents are essentially unenforceable.

Circumstances changed soon after, as Ubuntu added an additional screen to the installer to install codecs from Ubuntu Linux 7.04, and in 2008 various third-party repositories for Fedora merged to form RPM Fusion, providing a single source for packages not provided by Fedora for legal reasons. In 2010, Google Chrome 5 was released, providing a built-in Flash plugin and support for Linux (and Mac OS), making the process of using Flash on Linux easier.

Flash adoption has since plummeted, with support ending in late 2020. Patents for MPEG-2, MP3, and Dolby AC3 have since expired, allowing Linux distributions to provide this capability freely, out of the box. . While Mint was the first distro to effectively tackle this problem, the idea that Mint is easier to use because it provides codecs installed by default is no longer valid, as other distributions have since caught up with. Mint has in fact regressed in this position, because codecs are no longer installed by default starting with Linux Mint 18, making it identical to other Linux distributions.

The office environment debacle of the early 2010s

Almost simultaneously, all of the major operating systems made some very polarizing changes to the user interface. Microsoft introduced the “don’t call it Metro” interface with Windows 8, in 2012, which landed with a thud and, in part, prompted the release of Stephen Sinofsky. In 2014, OS X Yosemitie attempted to make Helvetica Neue the default font and scrapped the idea a year later.

SEE: How to Manage Stress at Work: An IT Leader Guide (Free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Linux had its own schism, for desktop environments. Ubuntu Unity, originally developed for netbooks, was introduced in 2010 to widespread derision, but redeemed itself by the release of 12.04, with TechRepublic’s Jack Wallen migrating to Ubuntu after leaving ship due to problems. with the initial versions.

Likewise, in 2011, the introduction of GNOME 3.0 on Fedora 15 was met with derision. GNOME 3 was intended for use with touch screens, disrupting usage patterns that users had become familiar with, prompting Linus Torvalds to declare it “unacceptable”. Dirk Hohndel, then Linux chief and open source technologist at Intel, said at the time that “Gnome 3 is just completely unusable as far as I’m concerned.”

None of them were nearly ready for prime time when they launched, which drove users away. For a while Linux Mint “just worked” in a way that other distros struggled with pushing too new software onto users. Out of this chaos was born Cinnamon, the GNOME 3 fork made for Linux Mint that uses the classic desktop paradigm introduced in Windows 95. It’s familiar, and it’s a good thing.

Cinnamon, the raison d’être of Linux Mint

Cinnamon’s familiarity with millions of people, and the easy learning curve it offers in maintaining a nearly 25-year-old usage paradigm, is necessary, in a way that proponents of GNOME or KDE may not want to admit. While Cinnamon isn’t the only desktop environment Mint provides, the distro ditched the KDE edition with the release of Mint 19. Although Mint didn’t start with Cinnamon, for a while most of the Original code produced by the Linux Mint team is for Cinnamon — that’s why the distro has enduring popularity.

That said, the process of developing a Linux distribution and developing a desktop environment are quite different. Clement Lefèbvre, the founder and project manager of Linux Mint, does a fantastic job guiding the development of Cinnamon, although he noted his own frustrations with the project in the March Mint update. The post is difficult to summarize succinctly, although he notes that “I personally haven’t enjoyed this development cycle so far” and notes a gap between the concept of “users” and “developers. “.

The following month, Lefèbvre – who is simply called Clem, in the Linux community – returned to the comments noting that he was not “depressed”, despite some blogs that flagged him as such, adding that “I ‘ also talked a little too much about what was going on within the team. On the one hand it’s part of my role to report on the progress of things, on the other hand we are dealing with individuals, there are people involved, efforts that are made, feelings that can hurt and it’s also part of my role to protect that. “

Clem doesn’t need to carry the world on his shoulders

Linux Mint is actually two distributions: the derivative of Ubuntu, for which Cinnamon, MATE, and Xfce editions are provided, and the Linux Mint Debian (LMDE) edition based on Cinnamon, which exists “for the Linux Mint team. sees how viable our distro would be and how much work would be required if Ubuntu were to ever go away. ” Notably, LMDE previously had Xfce and MATE editions, although these were dropped as part of an increased focus on cinnamon.

Ubuntu is practically in the too big to fail category, as Linux distributions do. While Canonical has abandoned development of Unity for Ubuntu, reverting to a modified GNOME 3, the distribution continues. Canonical is, at a minimum, solvent, especially since spending on Unity’s development has stopped because the programmers on this project have been largely laid off.

SEE: Startup Republic: How France reinvented itself for the 21st century by courting entrepreneurs in Paris (PDF cover article) (TechRepublic)

Ubuntu is not going anywhere. But that only deals with why LMDE is unnecessary, not the Mint as a whole. Maintaining this parallel plumbing for an Alternate Currency for a doomsday scenario is paranoia, but it brings up an interesting point: Cinnamon is, to some extent, developed to be cast independent, in part because of existence. of the LMDE. Most of Mint’s original development is focused on Cinnamon, although maintaining the plumbing for Ubuntu and Debian-based distros – and other infrastructure, such as the website – is a huge undertaking and a waste of time. for such a small team.

Cinnamon has a momentum behind it, as a phased, feature-rich implementation of the classic desktop paradigm for Linux users. (For comparison, MATE, while venerable, is essentially in maintenance mode.) To persist in maintaining Linux Mint as a platform to showcase Cinnamon makes no sense, when the work of maintaining a distro is handled. – better – by Ubuntu, Fedora, SuSE, and Arch, among a few others.

Ultimately, Cinnamon’s benefit can be realized as a truly distribution-independent desktop environment. Most of the work is already done: Fedora already has a Cinnamon version and can be installed in Debian, OpenSuSE and Arch (among others). The transition of Linux Mint development efforts to make Cinnamon an Ubuntu flavor – more closely adhering to Ubuntu’s infrastructure and release timelines, rather than operating independently and running the risk of causing conflicts. packages – would deduct a lot of work, providing more time to further improve Cinnamon, and alleviate the busy schedules of Clem and other Linux Mint contributors.

For more on Linux, see “Fedora 30 Brings Huge Quality of Life Improvements to Linux on the Desktop” and “Half of Employees Believe the Cloud is Actually in the Sky, According to One-Third of IT Professionals” on TechRepublic.

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Image: Linux Mint

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