An interview with Clem from Linux Mint

Posted on Tuesday, June 16, 2009 by Erlik

A few days ago I reviewed what is in my opinion the easiest Linux distribution for Windows switchers: Linux Mint 7.0 The small group of talented people that manage this distribution is led by Clem, the "founder" of Linux Mint. Today he was kind enough to grant me an email interview as a follow up to my review.

Erlik: How did you get started on Linux Mint?

Clem: I've been passionate about Linux since the early days. I started using it as my main operating system in 1996. In the following years I did a lot of distro-hopping and I spent a lot of time helping other users. In 2006 I started selling reviews and tutorials to (my articles are still available here: and I eventually decided to publish them myself, and so the name of my website at the time was The more distributions I reviewed the more I felt something was missing and I started to develop a very precise idea of what I would personally like to see in a desktop operating system. I'm a developer myself so I wasn't afraid to develop the missing parts and I started taking what was already there in the Open Source world to build upon it. I chose not to develop my own package base and so I opted to base my little project on top of a Debian distribution. Ubuntu was popular, I would have ported most of their innovations anyway and being compatible with them was a huge advantage, so I chose the Ubuntu package base. At first it was probably just an experiment but after the release of version 2.0 "Barbara" people started to gather around it and to show interest. At the time it wasn't much more than Ubuntu with codecs but because this corresponded to something people wanted it created a following, and when the time came for me to really start improving the desktop and to implement a new vision (that started with the release of Linux Mint 2.2 "Bianca"), there was already and audience and a user base eager to see how Mint would develop and interested in the innovations.

Erlik: Linux Mint is very successful (3rd on distrowatch), what do you think is the reason behind such a success?

Clem: Well, as I said, it was probably a bit of luck at the start. The luck to fill a niche market with the codecs on top of a popular Ubuntu base but also the luck to find talented people in the very early days of Linux Mint, who helped the project and formed the core and a wonderful ambiance within the community. After that it was the fast pace and the amount of development done on Linux Mint. We pushed a lot of innovations and offered features no other operating systems had at the time. Some are still unique to Linux Mint and with each new release we try to push harder on the development and to offer new use cases and simplify the most common ones. An other element, at first due to the small size of our community and nowadays due to our light structures and the way we work, is the quality of the feedback we get from our community and the dialogue we have with its members. We try to listen to our users as much as possible and to communicate and justify our decisions and what lead to them. I'm personally easily reachable and I like to stay close to the user base, that's very important I think and although it gets harder as the community gets bigger this is what makes all the difference. So we're constantly trying to improve the communication between the team and the community.

Erlik: I see that a lot of work is done on the 64 bits edition of Linux Mint. Do you thing that 64 bits is ready for the average user?

Clem: Yes. There were a few incompatibilities but it's getting to a stage now where our x64 edition is almost as stable as the main one.

Erlik: One of the disadvantage of Linux Mint versus Ubuntu is the lack of an easy "push button" way to upgrade to the next Mint release, what is the status of the work on that?

It's funny you say that. I commented on your review of Linux Mint 7 and talked about this:

It's a valid point though. The upgrade is as risky on Mint as it is on Ubuntu, but Ubuntu made it much easier than we did. They need to work on making it safer and so do we. As for the ease of use, I'm adding this to the Linux Mint 8 roadmap, I think we can merge the features of the upgrader within mintUpdate and offer something similar than Ubuntu. That's easily achievable and you should see improvements in the next release. My worry when it comes to upgrading isn't how easy it is though, it's to be able to guarantee a safe result ... and this is where both Ubuntu and Linux Mint need to work really hard.

Erlik: Unlike a lot of other big distributions Mint does not have a big company offering behind it and is more of a community effort. Do you intend to keep it that way or do you want to develop a professional support structure for Linux Mint?

Clem: Ideally I would like Linux Mint to be financed by the community and through advertising so that we, developers, don't have to spend time on anything else than improving it. Most distributions provide a free desktop and rely on professional support to finance their activity. The problem with that model is that some of them get extremely focused on the support activity, that this takes most of their resources and that they're left with very little time to innovate.

Having said that, I would also like Linux Mint to represent a viable alternative for companies and so for this I will try to develop a structure that will allow us to offer adequate support. The main thing of course is not to rely on it too much financially and not to let it become our main point of focus.

Linux is a hobby to many of us and we're driven by passion. We need money of course to be able to work on it full time but it's pushing the development and the innovation that makes it interesting. If tomorrow our activity is solely devoted to maintaining an income then our work won't be very interesting. Professional support needs to become available, we need to work on this and get to the point where we can offer a solution, we will definitely generate an income out of it but it needs to remain something extra, the main thing here being the distribution itself.

So far we got here with 5 or 6 people working a few hours every day. If we get enough support within the community to start making people quit and to hire them full time, just for us, fully focused on improving Linux Mint, guess how far we can go. With the support I got from the sponsors and donors I already managed to free up 3 months of my time this year and I hope I'll be able to demonstrate how much of a difference this can make on the upcoming release.

Erlik: Thank you very much for this interview Clem, and continue the good work.

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22 Responses to "An interview with Clem from Linux Mint":

Spas Dimitrov says:

I realy like the up to point not shy aproach of linux mint as some eddition do as saing that is a bit like windows or you can do that by doin that and that and that and that instead of just doing one think and voala :-) I first started with linux MINT 5 which brought me to the linux word and I have tied a lot of distroes and linux mint is the one wich is in my heart probably because it show me thw door to the linux world and I love it.

Anonymous says:

Mint is like PCLinuxOS, it takes two very good distros and makes them even better.

Anonymous says:

I was a fan, for all the reasons stated above, until Clem's blog post where he blasted anyone who supported Israel, prefering they don't use or support Linux Mint. Linux shouldn't be political, and he should know that. It makes me wonder what other wild turns the distro will take under his leadership. If an artist, developer, actor chooses to inflict knowledge of their politics on me, then I will invariably choose not to support politics I disagree with. Again, until that point.. Huge fan.. now repulsed.

Anonymous says:

The best thing about Clem is his real emotions. he loves green color, peace and the easyness and he hate wars, people who made the wars and hardness ..
go on Clem, we are with you ...

Anonymous says:

Great interview! Well said, previous Anonymous poster - "*go on Clem, we are with you." agreed!

jphinds says:

Enjoying Linux Mint since version 5 currently using both versions 6 an 7. As we say in Jamaica, "nuff respec" Clem you work is appreciated

Willensky says:

I'm amazed how far you went with just 5-6 people. This distribution is OFF THE HOOK! Keep up the good work Clem! Like we say here in Quebec, "LÂCHE PAS LA PATATE"!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous says:

To be honest I really admire your dedication and work. This distribution is stable, very friendly and powerful. At this time I've "convert" around 20 pc's and Laptops to Mint. My parents who are not computer literate at all, are amazed with my laptop and they have asked me to substitute their Windows XP OS and install LM. Sure I will. Congrats and keep up the excellent work. You are not alone.

Anonymous says:

Very interesting inerview! I like Linux Mint because you can start working, surfing the web, listening to music or watching video from the very beginning after the installation. You don't need to waste your time on such thing as looking for proper drivers for your hardware (you can install the missing drivers with only one click), codeks, java, flash - everything is here in Linux Mint and working great!!! Thank you Clem and all the people who work over this great distro!
Anatoliy W. (Russia)
ps As for Clem's personality - he is not afraid to speak the truth about bad things that happen on our planet and many people appreciate it and support him.

oi_antz says:

"Huge fan.. now repulsed" - What a narrow view, to think any human product is either attractive or repulsive depending on a reaction to any opinion! Mate, Clem's work is a product of love and passion and it shows, and that is why OSS is the ultimate bounty - a gift and contribution from one person with love, for MY appreciation and ALL OF OURS !!

Anonymous says:

oi_antz, I appreciate what you are saying about Clem's "love and passion". I also think Mint is excellent. What the other Anonymous (my name is Bob) reacts to, however, is Clem's wish that no supporter of Israel would use Mint. There I must agree with Anonymous -- what a pity! Linux Mint should bring people together and not push some away (repulse them..). I hope Mint can form a users base without political filtering. There are other forums for politics, aren't there?

Piotrek says:

I haven't read Clem's post about that but i agree with it at some point and also disagree. While majority of israel users are the same hard working people as You or me then it was probably posted to raise awareness. I think the ultimate point is to be above all this and create an Open Source utopia which is possible in the IT world ;)

Anonymous says:

Piotrek, Bob - My point exactly (I am repulsed).

Bob Jones says:

Another former Mint user here, repulsed by the pro-terrorist and subversive comments by Clem.

Piotrek says:

Do you realize that Israel is the real threat?? Why do You care what is his opinion on that?? Does it affect Linux Mint in any way?? It's democracy and everyone can have their own opinion. You don't have to accept his views. Just use Linux Mint because it's great.

Bob Jones says:

Israel is a threat to who? Those who walk into a wedding party and blow up the place? Those who fire rockets indiscriminately into cities and innocent children are killed? Yes, you're right, they are a threat to those things. He clearly stated if you supported Israel then he didn't you using Mint or your support. I will gladly comply. For now i will use Ubuntu until there is a better Debian based distro with Gnome.

Anonymous says:

Sorry mate but you have watched too much official TV, in fact the first suicide bombing was commited by an israeli person. They are killing hundreds for one killed israeli. They have nuclear bombs and nobody says anything against this, isn't this weird? They get billions of dollars from USA, they are the strongest force there. Israel is killin many innocent people but you normally won't see that in the news, israel is ALWAYS the poor innocent one. Israel was created to cause instability in the middle east. The suicide bombers, they are too poor to have any guns so they choose to fight this way. I understand Clem in what he claims BUT he was too harsh since most israelis don't fight, they are merely puppets. People that wanted You believe that israel is the victim succeeded. To discover the truth you can't rely only on TV, start digging and you'll discover the truth.

Anonymous says:

Totally agree with above comment. Here's some stats to back it up:

Since September 2000, 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians. 1,487 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis.

0 Israeli homes have been demolished by Palestinians and 18,147 Palestinian homes have been demolished by Israel since 1967.

Israel's the victim, eh?

(More info at

Anonymous says:

why, because Israel has better aim than Palestinians, are they chastised and the Arabs get a free pass?

Piotrek says:

I see no reason to discuss it anymore, if You want to live in a dreamland then so be it but stop convincing anyone about things you have no idea about. The world is not always sweet and happy and the truth is no more there. If any medias would start broadcasting that the palestinians are the victims then they would immediately be called antisemites etc. There is no more room for such truth in official media. Deal with it. Only internet is not encoumebered with so many lies YETt.

Anonymous says:

oh my goodness, we are commenting about this interview about mint linux aren't we? lol, u guys are funny.. seriously, just use whatever you want to use for whatever reason that u want to use it.
peace out

Anonymous says:

As my end-users continue to have their home computers 'crash and burn' ("windows32.dll corrupt---please buy again"), I've been offering them the choice of Linux Mint. They are loving it! Keep up the great work Clem, Regarding terrorism, who started what, etc. Terrorism by ANYONE is an act of cowardice. It cannot be legitimized, or defended.