Is Linux Mint adware?

I'm an avid reader of LifeHacker and recently tried out the Linux Mint distribution after reading this post.

While I don’t use Linux on the desktop, I run a couple of servers on Ubuntu and other distributions. My interest in Linux on the desktop roots in friends and relatives sometimes asking me for advice on cheap/free operating systems for older boxes and laptops, which is why I try to keep a little informed on developments in this area as well.

Linux Mint presents itself as a more user-friendly variant of the well-known Ubuntu distribution of Linux. My first impression of the website was utter astonishment - I’ve never before seen so many paid ads on the website of any other open-source project.

The real shocker however came when I booted the latest version (Linux Mint 10) up in a virtual machine and tried surfing the web using Linux Mint’s included Firefox browser. Any and all searches done through the search field are directed to a Google Custom Search Engine, which makes the project money from clicks on ads.

Now, I am quite sure there is nothing illegal in this approach to funding the project, but I find this highly unethical for a popular open-source project. First of all, a Custom Search Engine allows them to filter out certain searches, bordering censorship. More important to me is the question “If somebody modifies one application to make money, what else did they change in the system?”.

Notwithstanding the arguable improvements for newbie Linux users in Linux Mint, to me this approach is piggy-bagging on the success and effort of the Ubuntu developers in order to raise money for unknown causes, so I will continue recommending official Ubuntu versions to friends and relatives looking for a free operating system.

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