At the weekend I took a head stagger and downloaded Linux Mint 18. I set up a USB stick with the ISO on it. I broke out my eight year old Acer Travelmate 8371 and installed Mint Cinnamon. And what do you know, pretty soon it was up and running, with nary a hitch.
The Acer is old and slow and its screen no longer works. Its battery is dead. I needed to plug it into an external monitor. The installation process got pretty weird because initially I could not see any of the welcome and setup messages which were being sent to the laptop’s broken screen. It’s been years since I used Linux so it took me while to sort it out and make the monitor my primary screen. After that things went swimmingly. I now have a small, somewhat underpowered pseudo-desktop running Mint.
It might be worth rolling things back and asking why I bothered to do such a thing? A number of reasons. I have always been interested in Linux and I thought now might be the time to jump back in. Apple seems to have lost interest in MacOS save where it crosses over with iOS. I don’t have an iPhone so integration into the Apple eco-system is not a big deal for me. Also recent Apple price rises on this side of the pond make it seem like they are taking the piss.
I like Windows 10 a lot but Microsoft seems to be moving towards an advertising model for its operating system, and trying to make itself more like Google. As I get older, I find myself growing more troubled about the implications of the use of personal data by megacorporations and governments.
In the event of an upcoming privacy Apocalypse, I wanted to see if Linux might provide an escape route. A free secure stable desktop OS where you are in control of your own data. What’s not to love about that?
Also, and let’s not underestimate the importance of this, I was bored and looking for something to do. Yep, that’s right. I am the sort of man whose idea of amusement on a dull Sunday afternoon is to install Linux on a broken computer. Sad, isn’t it?
Other factors make considering the move easier. I mostly write in markdown these days, in Sublime Text. It is available on Linux and it uses the same keyboard shortcuts as the Windows version. I play fewer games so access to Windows is not so important. Many of the apps I use regularly are cloud-based so the OS I use is mostly irrelevant as long as the browser works. I can use WINE and Playonlinux to run the Windows software I still use.
The installation was pretty much trouble free other than the problems inflicted by my own aging hardware. The only real problem was that for some reason the Boot-loader got installed on the USB stick rather than the hard drive. This led to a few weird moments where I thought the hard drive was corrupted. Then the machine booted just fine when I put in the USB stick to try another installation. In the end I copied GRUB to the main hard drive. Problem solved.
All of this aside, the most notable thing was how smoothly it all went. Mint installed just fine. Everything is patched and updated. The operating system looks beautiful, like OSX back in the days when Steve Jobs was alive. There’s lots of brushed metal, which is fine by me. My brain apparently thinks this is how operating systems should look.
Times have certainly changed on the Linux software front. There are loads of commercial games that run natively. I can download the ones I already own from GOG.com easily enough.
I installed Spotify, which worked just fine.
I can watch Netflix in Firefox without any additional plug ins. No Silverlight required. It does require you activate DRM though. Some people object to this. It does not bother me too much.
Dropbox works just fine, but then it always has. I was pretty soon up and running with my markdown files.
I installed RedNotebook which I use for journaling. I keep the files in Dropbox so it runs cross-platform.
Sublime Text works just fine. I installed Pandoc so I could export directly to docx and OpenOffice odt format.
Running the Cinammon desktop, the SU9400 processor chugged and stuttered a bit, so I tried Xfce and then Mate both of which work just fine. Cinammon is undoubtedly the most beautiful looking but Mate looks good. Xfce is a bit Windows 2000 for my taste but it runs fast.
I am not in a position to give you an in-depth review of Mint or even compare it to my former installation. I haven’t used the older version in ages. Mint is easy to use though. In Mate, it runs fast, even on a very old 320 GB hard drive. If you are used to modern computers with SSDs, the boot time is very slow (90 seconds), but once things are up and running, programs load and run snappily. Things certainly don’t seem any worse than on the Lenovo 100s. I imagine it would probably run at least as fast as Windows 10 on a modern computer.
I am writing this blog post in Sublime Text and if you are reading it, I have uploaded it with Blogilo.
What would I miss if I left Windows or MacOS? The usual suspects– Scrivener (although I could run it in WINE), Dragon Naturally Speaking, 1Password. If I do decide to flee the mainstream operating systems I am sure I could get work done in Linux. My next project is to test it on a Chromebook. Rumour has it they make very fine secondary machines, and you can run Linux alongside Chrome OS.
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