Linux Mint Forges New Deals with OEMs
The most recent buzz related to desktop Linux OEMs has centered around Canonical. But Linux Mint, the Ubuntu-based distribution that remains fiercely independent of Canonical, has been striking deals of its own with hardware manufacturers to preinstall Mint on their devices. Could there be a commercial future for this outspoken member of the open source channel?
Linux Mint traces its history back to 2006, when the project released the first versions of its flagship operating system. Those releases were based on Ubuntu, and Mint has remained closely associated with Ubuntu from a technical standpoint ever since. Mint pulls most of its application stack from Ubuntu packages, and its release cycle is coordinated with Ubuntu's, with new versions of Mint appearing about a month after each new Ubuntu iteration.
But although Mint is very similar to Ubuntu software-wise, in some respects one might consider it the anti-Ubuntu of the Linux world. Mint owes much of the following it has enjoyed in recent years to its decision to replace unpopular components of Ubuntu — such as the Unity desktop interface — with alternatives that have proven more appealing to some users. It has also isolated itself from the political controversy and fallout that have swept the Ubuntu world in the wake of debates over issues like the new Amazon.com search lens in Ubuntu 12.10.
Those moves have helped Mint to rise to first place in distrowatch.com's rankings of Linux distribution popularity. Of course, as distrowatch.com admits, those statistics are hardly a totally reliable measure of market share. But they nonetheless speak to Mint's growing impact within the open source channel.
Mint OEM Deals
In another sign of Mint's momentum, the project recently announced a new online store that includes, among other merchandise, desktop and laptop PCs from ThinkPenguin with Mint preinstalled. Mint developers are not actually engaged in retailing themselves, but have designed the store as a central portal with links to Mint-related products sold by other vendors, which donate a portion of their proceeds to support the Mint project. (In the case of the ThinkPenguin PCs, the kickback is 10 percent of the listing price.)
ThinkPenguin and CompuLab, of course, are both niche hardware manufacturers. Mint's partnerships with them are hardly of the same importance as, for instance, the deals Canonical has been making to ship Ubuntu on PCs manufactured by Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) and HP (NYSE: HPQ) in China.
Still, the simple fact that Mint, a community-based distribution that totally lacks the kind of commercial backing and business presence that Canonical provides to Ubuntu, is making some commercial inroads of its own is notable. Mint may receive much less press than the big commercial distributions such as Ubuntu and Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), but it is holding its own all the same within the open source channel.