Updated: April 23, 2012
This has never been done before, EVAR, either on Dedoimedo or elsewhere, a head-on review of three different Linux distributions at the same time. Well, I am just about to give you a unique experience, with Mint 12 Lisa and Oneiric Ocelot in Unity and KDE flavors competing for your attention on my brand old-new test box, a T61 laptop with two SSD hard disks, w00t, w00t!
This will also be my first encounter with Kubuntu 11.10, which I seem to have skipped this last autumn, so it ought to be interesting. Moreover, since you've already had your fat share of reviews of both Mint and Ubuntu on this very website, I'm going to cut down on some of the trivial details. Well, I guess we can start enjoying ourselves. Commence.
Common stuff and basic differences
Before we begin, here's some info that's pretty much identical for all three. Naturally, Ubuntu and Kubuntu belong to the same family. Mint is a derivative of Ubuntu and it's 100% compatible. All three run 126.96.36.199 kernel, if you care about little numbers and dots. All three distributions offer a complete desktop experience. Ubuntu can install third-party codecs and plugins, like Flash and MP3, while installing, whereas Mint comes with all the goodies preinstalled.
The two Ubuntu flavors were installed on the first SSD, with 10GB / and 17GB /home. Mint got a separate slot on the second disk, with the identical characteristics and partitioning layout, and since we're talking about non-mechanical, SSD devices, the location on the disk makes no difference. Two swap partitions, equal to the size of physical memory are available to each of the booted distros. Oh, need I say, 64-bit?
Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot
The system booted fine and identified all of the hardware, including both hard disks and the internal Web camera. Drivers for all of the peripherals were offered, including Intel graphics. The installation took just about 5 minutes. The system is very fast, very snappy.
I did have to install the Compiz Setting Manager in order to make the Launcher smaller, which is doable in the upcoming Ubuntu 12.04, as well as remove the super-annoying overlay scrollbars.
Overall impression: 9.5/10.
More reading on Ubuntu
Kubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot
Here, I ought to focus a little more, as this is a newcomer to the list. Kubuntu 11.10 is little different from the previous edition, 11.04, which is permanently installed on my fancy high-end desktop. Visually, it's a fairly polished and elegant KDE desktop.
The installation took about five minutes, similar to Ubuntu. However, while the former tried to push a local version of keyboard onto me, despite choosing English as the installation language, Kubuntu was smarter.
Before I've successfully completed my first round of updates, worth some 220MB of data, the desktop was fairly unstable. Plasma crashed two times and Samba performance was sluggish. Since, the system is rock solid, but Gparted still refuses to run for some reason.
On top of that, I needed to grab Firefox and redesign the desktop. The good part about Kubuntu is that it allows you to setup multiple activities, each with its own set of plasmoids, widgets, desktop icons, wallpapers, and whatnot. The customized palette allows for a very flexible and rather beautiful use. All in all, the taming part took far less that I expected. All of the hardware works; suspend & resume, laptop hotkeys, all that.
Overall impression: 9/10.
Linux Mint 12 Lisa with Cinnamon
The installation took about 20 minutes, the longest of the bunch, spending quite some time configuring hardware and downloading packages. Mint is also the only distro that did not use my local country mirrors, which made updates a little slower.
After the first boot, there were some 300MB worth of fixes and updates waiting, which resolves some of the small quirks that I've observed in my previous round of testing. Cinnamon is stable and beautiful and works great. Following the mega update, there are no weird bugs or glitches.
I'd also like to point out that Cheese works fine too, which did not seem to be the case recently on my 64-bit systems. Another interesting aspect is the all-black boot splash screen, which works as expected for the first time since introduced. The shutdown is a bit longer than in Ubuntu. As to the system startup, well, we will discuss that separately.
Overall impression: 10/10.
More Mint reading
Despite sharing the same family tree, the brethren and sistren of the Ubuntu family are ever so slightly different from one another. Ubuntu and Kubuntu share the same speed when it comes to installation, while Lisa and Ubuntu take the lead in overall performance and desktop responsiveness. Mint is the most convenient and beautiful of the three, Kubuntu the most buggy.
As it turns out, entirely subjective, Linux Mint 12 seems to be the best overall choice, with a seamless, stylish experience. Ubuntu seems to cater to a transitional audience between desktop and touch, which somewhat hurts the overall karma, but it's a tiny blemish. Kubuntu has its share of odd ends, but it's a great option nonetheless. There we go, a predictable winner, and lots of goodness overall! Nice, no? Your Linux future is not as bleak as it looked just a few weeks back.
And here's a question for you - the fourth installation slot is empty for now. So what distro ought to be the first one to go there? Should I test CentOS perhaps? Or something else? Well, do let me know.