…while it’s based on Ubuntu oddly enough, the people at Linux Mint actually listen to their user base.
If you read this article, you’ll see that the founder of Linux Mint agrees that the slaying of Gnome 2 in favor of Gnome 3 was:
. . . idiotic. I agree with what Linus said about it and the thing that upset me the most was the fact that nobody cared about what people wanted. GNOME 3 could have used a different name, or at least been packaged with new libs and in a way that allowed people to continue to run GNOME 2. The way it was done, you could only replace GNOME 2 with GNOME 3, not run both.
GNOME 2 is the most popular Linux desktop out there and a few people decided we were no longer going to use it. Of course, people always get what they want – MATE will bring back GNOME 2, but it will take time to get right.
I have tinkered with Linux Mint, and while it looks and acts very much like Ubuntu 10.x (which is good), I still think there’s some polishing needed. I tried Linux Mint Debian Edition (also known as LMDE), and I found it to be a very nice iteration of the latest classic Debian, though it did have a variety of bugs, especially when updating. I wouldn’t recommend Linux Mint Debian Edition to a beginning Linux user. Also worthy of note is that LMDE is running Gnome 2.32 … real Gnome 2.x.
I would encourage you to read up on the MATE (independent fork of Gnome 2) and Cinnamon (fork of Gnome 2 written by the developers of Linux Mint) projects, as they both endeavor to bring back that Gnome 2 flavor we all want. (I wonder if the Gnome developers are listening … )
Linux Mint 12 standard 32 or 64 bit edition runs very nicely. The Gnome Classic mode which you can select from the login menu, looks and acts very much like Gnome 2, or at least enough like it that one can actually get some work done. I am now running Linux Mint 12 on my laptop, and Linux Mint Debian Edition on a testing PC. Linux Mint 12 is running smoother than the Debian Edition, however the downside to Mint 12 is that to move to Mint 13 or any future major version, it seems you should completely uninstall and reinstall from scratch. While they support upgrading, I’m not sure how cleanly it works (I’m still researching this). LMDE allows for rolling distributions, so you can install any version, and just apt-get dist-upgrade yourself to the latest kernel and software.
For anyone experiencing frustration at the direction of Ubuntu and Gnome and doesn’t find solace in Red Hat or SUSE (as I did not), then Linux Mint provides a port in the storm, and has a more polished desktop than XFCE under Xubuntu. It also has the “just works” factor that classic Debian lacks. Also much of the forum posts supporting Ubuntu will also work for Mint as Mint is totally based off of Ubuntu.
One of the burdens we all bear as Linux users is that from time to time, Linux (or one of its pillars) goes through an identity crisis. This time it’s the Gnome desktop. While working through any of these crises, users sometimes have to flounder around for a distribution to call home. For now, for me, that’s Linux Mint. On my “main box” though, I am still running Ubuntu 10.04 which has support until April 2013 and is still running true Gnome 2.x. That box runs like butter and for now I don’t plan to touch it.
However I think that once 2013 rolls around, Mint (and by extension, MATE & Cinnamon) will have polished itself enough that I may just consider moving my “main box” over to it — for now, it’s a port in the storm.