Linux Mint's claim to fame is usability and the search for the perfect Linux desktop. As a distribution Mint arrived on the scene in 2006 with release 1.0 code named "Ada". It never formally made it as a stable release, resulting in little fan fare. However with release 2.0 codenamed "Barbara" Linux Mint made its mark on the community. Over the next 2 years Mint released 5 versions and if you haven't guessed it already they were all codenamed after feminine first names.
Under the hood, Mint borrows heavily from Ubuntu, in fact over the years they've adjusted their release cycle to coincide with Ubuntu. However in 2010 they released a Debian centric release independent of Ubuntu. Unlike most Linux distributions (with a single software branch) Linux Mint has 3 separate releases.
Linux Mint LMDE (Debian)
Linux Mint LXDE (Ubuntu with XFCE)
Linux Mint (Ubuntu with Gnome)
Each release branch is meant for different users, yet all surprisingly retain a unique Mint user experience. From a software perspective Mint is not opposed to using non Open Source applications or libraries. However they prefer Open Source, and if proprietary is required such as hardware drivers Mint includes them. Users have the option of downloading a complete DVD with additional software, or a minimalist version that fits on a single CD. For Windows users wanting to try out Linux for the first time without a full installation Mint can also be run from a USB device.
The current release, Mint 11 codenamed "Katya" was released May 2011. It's promising to have something for everyone, therefore Mint will not disappoint as it truly is a community oriented Linux distribution. It relies heavily on community support, both technical and financial. With a fairly large development community, Mint has even developed their own tools, like the Software Manager, Update Manager, MintMenu, Upload Manager, Domain Blocker and few others.
I'm new to Mint and I'm dying to try all 3 versions. I've been using LXDE, so far so good, but over the next 3 weeks I'll have a complete review of each. Will I love it enough to replace Ubuntu? Time will tell so stayed tuned.