Ade Malsasa Akbar contact
Senior author, Open Source enthusiast.
Friday, August 9, 2019 at 13:58

I tried to make this article to help everybody find a desktop choice among Deepin, Mint, and Elementary operating systems. I select them because they are solely focused on desktop and have developed their own user interface. They are all GNU/Linux systems from Debian family, but with several distinctions you may love to see. For example, they differ on their own file managers, user interface layouts and built-in apps and several more things.
(Deepin 15.10, Mint 19, and Elementary 5.0 showing their desktops with start menu opened)

You will also find which one still supports 32-bit PC nowadays, which one supports Flatpak by default, and more. Finally, I wish you can empower your PC and laptop with one of them. Enjoy!

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How old are they?

  • Deepin started 2004, so, 15 years ago.
  • Mint started 2006, so, 13 years ago.
  • Elementary started 2011, so, 8 years ago.

For convenience sake, I use here all first-letter capitals of their names as it's hard to type names with first-letter lowercase. Their versions I used to make this comparison are, respectively, 15.10 and 19 LTS and 5.0. However, from above, it's clear that Deepin is the oldest one and Elementary is the youngest. And here, when I say Mint, I mean "Linux Mint Cinnamon Edition" of course. Okay, let's go.

1. Desktop Environment

This is the most important thing to compare: each has its own D.E. Deepin has DDE, Mint has Cinnamon, and elementary has Pantheon. This is what makes them unique compared to other desktop distros, let's say, for example, Kubuntu and Fedora, as most distro projects do not develop their own D.E.

(Left: DDE; right: Cinnamon; bottom: Pantheon)
  • Deepin: full-screen + normal start menu, icons on desktop, bottom dock, bottom tray, Super key OK, right-click OK, theming OK (on sidebar), movable panel
  • Mint: normal start menu, icons on desktop, bottom panel, bottom tray, Super key OK, right-click OK, theming OK (on System Settings), movable panel
  • Elementary: top-down start menu, NO icons on desktop, top panel, top tray, Super key does not open start menu, NO right-click, NO theming, NOT movable panel

Speaking about design, the most distinct one here is Pantheon, as it has its own Human Interface Guidelines (HIG), just like Apple Mac OS with its HIG, a detailed documentation to construct on how apps and user interface should look like. This HIG is the cause of how Elementary behaves and every app developer designs their app to look like what we've seen. For example, why, you say, Elementary does not have minimize buttons? The answer is, because, the HIG says so. Another example, we apps on Elementary lack settings? Because, the HIG says so. Concerning HIG, Deepin and Cinnamon do not have such thing. To help you learn more about this, do not forget that in our GNU/Linux community, we also have KDE's HIG and GNOME's HIG.

Speaking about themes, Mint is the most customizable, meaning, clear settings available to switch, add, remove, and mix desktop themes. Seeing Elementary in particular, in my opinion I always think it's designed to be unchanged, so we rarely see custom themes for it, just like what we see with Mac OS. Within the OS itself, we do not see any theme switcher available. Seeing Deepin, there is theme switcher available, but to compare with Mint's, it's still very limited.

(Mint with theme choices opened)

Speaking about technology, DDE is based on Qt, while both Cinnamon and Pantheon are based on GTK. If you do not have idea what is Qt or GTK, they are computer programming library to help you create awesome desktop application. So we can say DDE is on same boat with KDE, as KDE is the biggest thing created with Qt, while saying Cinnamon and Pantheon are in the same boat with GNOME, as GTK is the material that created GNOME.

2. File Manager

  • Deepin: DFM, multitabbing, no split vertical, quick search
  • Mint: Nemo, multitabbing, split vertical available, quick search
  • Elementary: Pantheon Files, multitabbing, no split vertical, limited search

(Left: DFM, right: Nemo, bottom: Pantheon Files)

 As a consequence to have own D.E., then, they have their own file managers too. Deepin has Deepin File Manager, Mint has Nemo, and elementary OS has Pantheon Files.

Speaking about search, the only one shortcoming I could say is limited search on Pantheon Files. Try Elementary, try to Ctrl+F anywhere, try to search anything you accustomed to, I believe you will be rather disappointed. It does not show all results (only limited number of them), it shows results in tooltip instead of main area, without indicator (like spinning icon) while its working, and it's rather slow. On the other hand, search on Deepin and Mint are quick and complete.

3. Desktop Extensions

  • Deepin: no
  • Mint: yes
  • Elementary: no

Only Mint supports extensions (called "Applets") while Deepin and elementary have no such thing. With extensions I mean like GNOME with its Shell Extensions or KDE with its Widgets, you can add more functionalities to your desktop like network indicator or notes. We do not know whether in the future Deepin and Elementary will have such, but, at least, Elementary HIG does not say anything about "extension" nor "add-on" at all.

(Mint with clock and picture slideshow applets appearing on left side with applet manager running on the middle)

4. ISO Availability & Backgrounds

  • Deepin: +/-2.5GB, LiveCD+Install, 64-bit only, mirrors available, no torrent
  • Mint: +/-1GB, LiveCD+Install, 32-bit and 64-bit available, mirrors available, torrents available
  • Elementary: +/-1GB, LiveCD+Install, 64-bit only, no mirrors, torrent available

Deepin, formerly Hiweed, is now a Debian derivative (after for a long time being an Ubuntu derivative). Latest version, 15.11 is derived from Debian 10 Buster. Perhaps, the most interesting, extrinsic fact about Deepin is its developed by Chinese community.

Mint is an Ubuntu derivative focused on desktop only and consistently provide 32-bit version along with the 64-bit one up to today. Latest version, 19 LTS, is derived from Ubuntu 18.04 LTS.

Elementary is also an Ubuntu derivative solely focused on desktop with clear Human Interface Guidelines that fundamentally constructs how the design of the U.I. and the apps should look. Latest version, 5.0 Juno, is derived from Ubuntu 18.04.

To sum it up, because these 3 are Debian family, they are all using APT/DEB as their software management system. So the package format (.deb) is the same as Debian and Ubuntu, and basically user uses APT to install software. Only Mint provides & supports 32-bit version. Only Deepin does not have official torrent download. Only Deepin does not compatible to PPAs as its derived from Debian not Ubuntu.

5. Software Center

Deepin has App Store, Mint has Software Manager, and elementary OS has AppCenter.

(Left: Deepin App Store, right: Mint Software Manager, bottom: Elementary AppCenter)

With each own software center, they can install software from each official repository (.deb packages). With software center, you can search software in fancy ways, with screenshots available but technical info hidden, iconic and easy. For Deepin and Mint, there is one more thing, as they can also install more software from Flatpak repository (see

6. Alternative Package Managers

Among Flatpak and Snap solutions available today, Deepin and Mint include the former, while Elementary includes none of these. This means Software Center on that two can help you search & install additional applications, but not on Elementary. However, Flatpak is a new thing in our community, it's a huge platform to find & install software with new format that works across different GNU/Linux distros.

7. Control Panels

  • Deepin: sidebar
  • Mint: System Settings
  • Elementary: Switchboard


Deepin has its unique right-panel System Settings, while Mint has System Settings, and elementary has Switchboard. So, the most unique one here is Deepin, with its sidebar as control panel, you click the gear button on the dock to reveal it (similar to BlankOn's Manokwari and Solus' Raven).

Speaking about search in settings, Deepin does not have it, while Mint and Elementary have. With Deepin, you must scroll up/down to navigate to the setting you want.

8. Applications

Deepin has its own set of apps:
  • Movie, video player
  • Music, music player
  • Manual, help reader
  • Boot Maker, ISO image writer for USB
  • Repair, troubleshooting tool
  • Remote Assistant, remote desktop tool
  • Screen Recorder, screencasting tool
  • File Manager
  • Voice Recorder
  • Screenshot
  • Image Viewer
  • Terminal
  • Cloud Print
  • User Feedback

Mint has:
  • Nemo, file manager
  • Xed, text editor
  • Xplayer, video player
  • Xreader, PDF viewer
  • Pix, image viewer

elementary has:
  • Pantheon Files, file manager
  • Pantheon Music, audio player
  • Pantheon Videos, video player
  • Pantheon Mail, email client
  • Switchboard, control panel
  • AppCenter, software center

Seeing these, we can say that Deepin has biggest number of applications developed by themselves with their own design and purposes. Take for example, the Deepin Manual, it's very very beautiful, with a lot of pictures, and I have never seen any other manual from other distros displayed in such pretty way. What I can say is that talking about applications, Deepin is a real and serious desktop project.

More interestingly, in case of office suite, they are also distinct to each others, as Deepin brings WPS Office, Mint brings LibreOffice, while Elementary brings none of them. In my opinion, from free software community point of view, I love Mint's choice the most.

9. Repository

Among these three, only Deepin has its own independent repository without additional ones. Since version 18, Mint already has own repository with own Web Package Search feature here. Elementary really uses Ubuntu's repository and additionally their official repository as PPA you can find here.

10. Multiboot

Speaking about creating multiboot USB with MultiSystem tool, deepin is NOT ok, but both Mint and elementary are OK. This means you maybe managed to burn deepin ISO and run LiveCD well, but the system installation will always failed. Meanwhile, for the rest two LiveCD and System Install work perfectly.

My Opinions

The only one thing I feel missing from them three is to be shipped with computers. You see, like my previous comparison article, Ubuntu and Ubuntu MATE has System76 and Entroware to ship the operating systems with their branded PCs and laptops, and of course, the OSes had been tested to be working out-of-the-box with the hardware. We will be really happy if we could see in near future, for example, Entroware to ship PCs and laptops with Deepin, Mint, and Elementary worldwide. I believe you would also love if Asus, Acer, Dell, Toshiba, and Fujitsu, sell their laptops preinstalled with these three, right? In particular, Deepin is from China, and many electronic components said "Made In China", so why we could not see a laptop shipped officially with Deepin? To be honest to you, actually the nearest has already happened with Mint and MintBox mini PC, I say congratulations for them, but I would really love to see Mint Laptops more than that. This is my last opinion of them.

Finally, if you want to choose among these three, feel free to consider my 10 points above. I wish you will find the best one for your PC and laptop. Enjoy!

This article is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.