Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Minty Chat with Mr. Clement Lefebvre

clip_image002 Since last few years Linux has slowly started to shed its geeky background and has come out as a mature and presentable desktop, fit for general use. Loads of effort has been put to make Linux even more useful and easy to use. One of those people who strive to do that is Clement Lefebvre. Clement is the founder of Linux Mint. Linux Mint is one of the best Linux distro out there and has been getting rave reviews for being an elegant and useable OS. So armed with questions I set out to find more about Mint and who can answer questions about Linux Mint better than Mr. Lefebvre? I would like to thank Clement for taking time out of his busy schedule and answering my questions. So without much ado here they are.

How did you get the idea of not only making Linux Mint, but also marketing?

I was writing articles and reviews for I'm a developer myself and the more I reviewed other distributions the more I got tempted to address things I thought were missing. I never "marketed" Linux Mint, I registered it on as a new distribution and that helped it get some visibility among the Linux users. We had a tiny ad campaign on distrowatch too but I guess the project got popular thanks the community spreading the word and as a snow ball effect with Mint ranking high on distrowatch's hits table.

What are the top 5 reasons people should switch over to Mint from Ubuntu or any other distro?

They shouldn't. No distribution is "best for everybody". Mint is very popular among people who use it, each distribution's user base is different. I would encourage Linux users and computer users in general to give us a try if they haven't done so yet, and if they like what they see then they can decide if they want to switch. I like to think we're the easiest desktop at the moment and we have done so without restricting features but by making it easy for the user to achieve complex things. But again, different people like different things. There are more than 300 distributions out there, you should really switch to the one you like best after you've tried them all :)

What tips would you give to Canonical Chief Mark Shuttleworth?

None, he's doing really well. He's being criticized a bit too much sometimes and for unfair reasons but that's because Ubuntu has been the most popular distribution since it came out. I like his philosophy, I think he's admirable in many ways and I'm grateful for all he's done for Linux so far. The challenge for him now will be to elevate himself and to be followed by others on cross-distributions initiatives. He'll face more cynicism I guess, but I'm confident he's got a role to play in this and he can improve not only Ubuntu but the status of Linux in general. As for me, I'm quite happy with my own achievements too but I don't feel like I've got any "tips" to give to Mark. If he wants any help from me or if we can work on something together I'd be happy to talk to him of course. Most likely we'll just go on and improve things each in our own areas ;)

How many people do you employ?

None. Hopefully this time next year I'll employ myself full-time :)

From where does Linux Mint get its revenue?

From different sources: Advertising, donations, and to a lesser extent partnerships and sponsoring. All sources come either directly or indirectly from the community, so we're financed by our own users.

Will Mint deviate from Ubuntu in the near future?

In terms of distributions both projects grow their separate ways so with each innovation Ubuntu introduces that doesn't make it into Mint, or with each innovation we make both distributions "deviate". In terms of Linux Mint using Ubuntu as a package base we're not likely to "deviate" anytime soon. I do want to invest some time and experiment porting our technology on top of other bases though, namely Debian and Fedora. I'm not planning on changing our base distro or on implementing our own but I see most of what we do as a desktop "layer" and I want to see how it behaves in different environments.

How about a Suse mint or PCLinuxOS mint?

If we can find anymore spare time then we'll put it in an edition called "Debian Edition", based on Debian Testing. We already developed and released an ALPHA for it, the next step is to develop an installer and to implement rolling-aspects within mintUpdate.

Tell us something about mint install.

MintInstall started as an online one-click-install system. It was inspired by PCBSD's PBIDir but instead of making large files containing the software we preferred to make tiny files which contained instructions on how to install the software. So we made .mint files which were interpreted by a client called mintInstall. Most of these .mint files are used to install packages via APT but the system is flexible enough for a .mint file to virtually do anything from adding keys to running commands on the system. Lately we extended the scope of mintInstall so users could browse and install applications directly from their desktops (a bit like with Gnome App Install). According to our users mintInstall is among the top 3 most popular tool we develop and so we improve it with every release. If you're interested in the lastest news about mintInstall you can read about it here:

Is it true that putting in codecs for propiertary formats like mp3 is violation and that Mint may have to face legal questions regarding it?

No. Linux Mint is designed in Ireland and conforms to both Irish and European law. What happens in the USA or in Japan and the claims some companies have in regards to what they call "patents" and how they think this is applicable to software they haven't even written.. that's a concern for the citizens and the companies who live and do business in these countries. I wish the situation was better for them but to be honest the situation is pretty good anywhere else in the World. The best we can do is to provide these companies and these people an edition they can redistribute without having to fear the nonsense of their own legal systems and this is why we provide the Light Edition. As for the users, they usually use codecs anyway, even in the USA. It's their own decision whether they want to do it or not. Note that it doesn't make much difference legally whether they make the decision to install these codecs after the installation of the distribution via the repositories (as people do with most distributions) or whether they make that decision by downloading either the distribution with (Main Edition) or without (Light Edition) the codecs.

Why do you think users should support Opensource?

Open Source means that you get access to the source code and if things are clear and easy enough that you can make modifications to it and rebuild the application. In other words Open Source is great for developers. Now, what is the advantage of Open Source if you're not a developer? Well access to the source code is still extremely valuable, not directly to you, but as a guarantee that any developer who feels like it will be able to fork or continue the application may the maintainer of that application die, loose interest or simply goes in a way which doesn't satisfy part of its user base. Compare that to closed-source. Imagine you've been using an application for the last 5 years, all your documents are stored in binary formats and only readable via this application.. and now that VISTA comes it doesn't make much sense financially for the company which is editing this application to port it to VISTA. No, they choose to discontinue it and start selling something else. Not only will nobody ever maintain what you're using.. all your files are in a format which is going to die. The day XP is made obsolete and you've no other choice but to migrate to VISTA (or something else), these files won't be readable anymore. Of course if that application was open-source you'd be able to port it to VISTA and if not you, then somebody else with development skills. And if the document format was open then at the very least someone could be able to develop a converter. So in this case Open Source is a guarantee that the software's lifetime can go beyond the editor's interest.

What benefits does being Opensource give back to the inventor? (Say, I made this uber cool software which if I sell to Microsoft could give millions to me, why should I give it to the opensource community? What benefits will I get?)

Most developers don't make much so let's not go down the road of Microsoft giving you millions (if that was the case and you refused the offer in the name of Free Software you'd deserve to be working at the FSF and have at least 5 minutes of fame in Revolution OS). As a developer who's passionate about writing software you're interested in two things: gratification and money. The more your software is used and appreciated by your user base the more you'll feel good and passionate about it. There's nothing better than happy users, it's like motivation fuel :) The more money you make the faster you can quit your job and do what you really want to do: developing your software full time. People disagree a lot about this so I'll just express my own opinion here. The first thing to do is to develop a large user base because what's important is the popularity of the software (this is true whether you want to make money or not). This is achieved by pleasing users: good quality, close ties with the community, free download or (in the case of a closed-source application) 30-day trial with an easy way to find a crack for it. Once you've got momentum and a large user base the money will come anyway, if not via commercial licenses, via partnerships, advertisement, or even via donations from the community. This model has been used by TV and radio stations for years, providing free content to the users and generating money via alternative models. So in brief it's all about quality, feedback, word of mouth, interactions with the users... in other words your most valuable asset is your community. So give them as much as you can. Don't do any retention of information, implement what they need, don't charge for it, let them participate in patching the code..etc etc.. the more you give the more they'll give back. You and your users, in it together, this is the key towards popular software, and with this will come money eventually. As you can see Open Source makes sense from a business point of view, it's just the RIGHT way to do software. Add to that the ethical values of contributing back to a movement you're building upon, the great feeling of doing something nice... people who develop Shareware must be out of their mind! :)

Which is the best linux distro out there for noobs?

I don't like the "best for everybody" concept. The first one I'd suggest is Linux Mint of course but there are plenty of other good distributions for novice users.

What do you make of the sordid brown theme in Ubuntu?

I like it actually. It's different, they dared to do it and they did it well. "Human" is stunning and there's a lot of potential with brown and orange. Ubuntu created its own visual identity, it matches its philosophy.. I think it's great that they've done that. We're doing it too, in a different way but with each release we improve our visual identity and it's starting to reflect ourselves.

Do you believe Ubuntu and other distros should take the Mint way of a system that "just works"?

That's definitely something we think is important. I think a feature should offer as many options as possible while at the same time not requiring any input from the user to work perfectly in the way that most people would expect. I think most other distributions share that idea. We just implement it differently and apply it to different priorities. Take Fedora for instance, they made disk encryption and LVM work out of the box.. something which is still quite complicated for Linux Mint users. So they do make things simple, they just don't focus on the same use cases and they address priorities for a different audience.

Will there be special editions of Linux Mint, for instance for programmers with IDEs
like Netbeans or Eclipse preinstalled?

No. The trend would be to stop diversifying and to focus on doing better what we already do at the moment. At least until we grow into a company with people working full time on it.

Will support for EEE or similar PCs be extended?

Again, it's a matter of resources. Until we have people working full time on Linux Mint we can only focus on what we define as the core of our project.

Are you looking to change people's mindset that Linux Mint is more than Ubuntu + nice looking theme+ codecs and other extra stuff?

Linux Mint is a project which is among the most innovative and prolific in regards to developing GTK applications. Of course we like to make the distribution look nice, we do include the codecs and we do sit on top of a great package base (credit for this goes to Ubuntu but also to Debian by the way). What we do though, where we spend a lot of time and where we really add value to the Linux desktop has to do with development. We implemented our own software and upgrade managers, we have a unique Gnome menu, we designed a file-sharing system which doesn't exist anywhere else and these are some of the things we like to be appreciated for. Adding codecs takes about 5 minutes so it's a bit insulting to think that's all we've done since 2006. Our release notes are very detailed, so is our User Guide and our blog keeps going on about our latest developments. We're very proud of the tools we design and the innovations we push forward. I don't really understand the obsession people have with the codecs... they're nice to have but let's focus on more interesting things.

Where will Mint go from here on?

Up :) The Windows market will slowly shrink and Linux Mint will remain among the most successful distributions. The more people are aware of the choice they have the more they'll start using Linux and I can see a snow ball effect has already started. I don't know if Linux Mint will become as popular as say Debian or Ubuntu within the Linux market but it surely will get its fair share of new users when people start migrating from Windows. As for us we'll continue to do what we do best, improve what we have, innovate and gather our users' feedback.


  1. I have followed the development of Linux Mint since the early beginnings.

    Its success,in my opinion, is due to the 'democratic' attitude of Clement that allowed a large community to chip in with some very great ideas.

    Clem's attitude and the enthusiasm of the community resulted in the 'Elegance' of Mint.

  2. Mint's success and the loyalty of the users has to be partly attributed to the speed with which bugs and problems are fixed, e.g. MintInstall 5 was released recently. Several feature request and (unfortunately) bug reports were made, but these were addressed with 2 releases in less than a week, 5.1 & 5.2.

  3. I would like to say to Mr. Lefebvre that he has done an outstanding job with this distro Ease of install and use and the many other features that really got my attention is what has made me decide that I will stay with this distro. You guys Rock and have no doubt that your hard work and dedication will payoff big. Hats off to you LINUX Mint Team

  4. i'm using mint 4.0 for about 7 months and i really enjoy it...this distro is competing directly with Ubuntu and i don't know if it's really good, if that's means a good future for Mint...someday canonical will come for it's users to Mint ;)

  5. Mint's success and the loyalty of the users has to be partly attributed to the speed with which bugs and problems are fixed, e.g. MintInstall 5 was released recently. Several feature request and (unfortunately) bug reports were made, but these were addressed with 2 releases in less than a week, 5.1 & 5.2.Çene estetigi

  6. More he deviates more i'll be happy it'd be nice if it's more deb based than ubuntu based .


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