Quite unexpectedly I find myself caught up in using Linux again. It all started when I installed Mint on my broken Acer Travelmate last week. I was so impressed by the way things worked that, at the weekend, I dug out an Asus K42 I bought in Singapore about seven years ago and repeated the process. For reasons best known only to my subconscious, I decided to try using Linux to get some work done.
The installation went smoothly, and soon things were up and running. I decided to use Xfce as my desktop since the K42 is a pretty old machine. I now have to retract my comments about the ugliness of Xfce and its resemblance to Windows 2000. That was for the version I pulled straight from the repositories. The version that comes with installation ISO of Mint looks every bit as lovely as Mate.
A lot of Sunday afternoon was spent just installing software and downloading stuff. As ever the convenience of the cloud proved its worth. I installed Dropbox and the Insync client for Google Drive. Despite sounding like a boy band, this did a stellar job of syncing the photos from my Google account.
Using the Asus was a time machine journey into the world of computing as it was last decade before the prevalence of ultrabooks and SSDs. The machine has a 14-inch screen and weighs over 5 pounds which seems gigantic when you are used to a MacBook Air or Pro, but which was relatively svelte for its time.
Encountering an actual spinning hard drive again was a reminder of how much the SSD has changed things. The machine takes 72 seconds to boot. This seems like forever in the modern era. I am spoiled by the extremely short boot times of my MacBook and Surface Pro. That said, once the machine was up and running things got a little weird.
I installed Scrivener. Much to my surprise, the Linux version worked just fine. If anything it worked better than the Windows version. On a relatively small file, it took under a second to boot. On the monstrous file I use for storing all of the Kormak books and their notes, covers, etc. it took under eight seconds. For comparison, the Lenovo 100S takes about 18 seconds to open the file, and it has an SSD. The performance is, in fact, comparable to the Surface Pro and not that much slower than the MacBook Pro. My only explanation for this is that Xfce Mint is much less resource intensive than the other operating systems. And, of course, the Surface and the MacBook are driving retina screens with integrated graphics, which must be a pretty huge system overhead right there.
In a working environment, there was not as much difference between the hard drive and the SSD as I expected for most things. The only time things get laggy is when a lot of background activity is going on with the hard drive, as when Dropbox or Gdrive were performing their initial syncs. Then launch times get slow.
Come Monday morning I was ready to get some work done. The most noticeable thing here was the total absence of drama. Everything just worked. There were no glitches, no random crashes, nothing weird at all. I was up and running right away, writing in Sublime Text, editing in Scrivener, looking at email, printing PDFs. I had no trouble with any of it. Mint is very familiar looking if you’ve ever used any of the older versions of Windows. I even use Kupfer to get much the same effect as I get from Launchbar on the Mac.
There are some things I miss from Windows. Jump lists for quick launching specific files I am working on is one thing. The Windows Key + Number method of launching apps from the Taskbar is another. (Although I suspect I could manage the latter by defining some keyboard shortcuts.) Mostly, though, it was business as usual, no muss, no fuss. In the long term, if I had to use Linux exclusively I would probably miss Microsoft Word. It’s not that I love Word so much, it’s just that it’s the industry standard for sending documents to editors. I have heard various reports of problems with Track Changes in files exchanged between OpenOffice format and Word format. Some people never have any trouble. For others, it’s a nightmare.
For someone like me, whose documents are simple, no tables or graphics or complex formatting, things would probably go fine. I used to use Apple’s Pages to do my track changes revisions just because I preferred the interface to that of Word on the Mac. I never had any bother. I doubt LibreOffice will do any worse, but there’s only one way to find out…
Jutoh works well for creating ebooks. Its output does not have the beauty of Vellum on the Mac, but it does have the ease of use. I can load in a Word (or an OpenOffice) file, push a button and have an ebook produced in every format. It works like a charm.
One area I had problems was with games. For some reason, Age of Wonders Shadow Magic refuses to install on Wine. I am not sure why, though I do have extensive error messages to sift through when I have the time. In a work environment, this could be regarded as a feature, not a bug.
Basically, I reckon that if I needed to, I could work exclusively in a Linux environment without any problems at all. I already own valid licenses for all of the proprietary software I would use (Sublime Text, Jutoh) and everything else is free and/or open source, which is a bonus. As I write this, DD is cloning the Asus’s hard drive to an SSD in the background. When that is done, I will break out a screwdriver and swap the SSD and the hard drive. Hopefully, this will give me a much more modern feeling machine.
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