The Linux Mystique

Right then. It isn’t that there are that many people going around bragging how proud they are to be running Windows on Their PC. Bill Gates may be an exception, but these days I have heard more complaints about this monopolistic operating system than ever before.

Folks don’t like the forced updates in Windows 10. They don’t like the fact that Microsoft is forcing them to upgrade to Windows 10. They want to stay with Windows 7, but Microsoft seems determined to make that so inconvenient they’ll give in. I have heard of some unfortunates who had to reinstall their Windows 7 system and it took them a week to download and install all the updates again. And that’s with fast Internet. Heaven help anyone who might not have broadband.

Yes, there are alternatives. But ask the average person what they are and you get…buy a Mac…buy an iPad…buy an Android a Chromebook…buy, buy, buy. All of these choices involve a greater or lesser outlay of cash. However, there is one other risk-free alternative:

  • That is safe and secure. For the most part it’s immune to malware and viruses. It doesn’t need antivirus software, and includes a firewall by default.
  • That will do 99% of what anyone would want to do with a PC – and the other 1% in in the works.
  • That already runs on more than 50% of Internet servers, and an overwhelming majority of smartphones and tablets.
  • That can give a look and feel like Windows, like a Mac, or something completely and utterly different, if you want it.
  • That provides not only the operating system but compatible office software, music and video players, photo and video editing and cataloging, website creation software, you name it.
  • That is absolutely free – free to use, free to modify, free as in speech, free as in beer.

Of course I’m talking about Linux – the best desktop operating system you never heard of, and never used (unless you do stuff on the Internet, own a Roku box, a smart TV or an Android smartphone.) Sadly the percentage of PC desktop Linux users has stayed the same for many years – around 3%. That is Vista-esque in its minority and it’s a pity. Linux doesn’t come pre-installed on many new computers (guess what does?) so if you want it you have to install it yourself. This geeky requirement has given Linux a mystique it doesn’t really need, and discouraged a lot of people from switching to it from Windows.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s say you have an old Windows XP based computer sitting in your basement and you haven’t got around to taking it in to the recycler. That would be a perfect candidate to try a Linux install on. What have you got to lose? You can’t use the old beast safely now. So it’s re-purpose or die as far as the box is concerned.

I’ll suggest a couple of possible versions of Linux for you to try. There are literally hundreds of varieties – just check out Distrowatch and you’ll see, but your old PC would probably do best with one of the following “distros” – that’s Linux-speak for an operating system ready to use.

  • Xubuntu This is a version of one of the most popular Linux “flavors” that works great with older machines such as your XP box.
  • Linux Mint Xfce or MATE Both of these are variations of the most popular Linux distro on the planet. Very easy to learn and use.

You need to decide in advance if you want the 32 bit or 64 bit version of Linux. 64 bit is best if you know your machine can run it. 32 bit will work either way.

Next you download the ISO (image file) and you can either use a DVD burner to make a DVD or USB burning software to put it on a flash drive. After that you need to get your computer running from the ISO – usually pressing F12 when your computer starts will get you into a menu where you choose to start from the hard drive, DVD or flash drive.

Once Linux is running you can play with it all you want without affecting your Windows install – so on a new machine that’s what you’d do. On your old machine you can go ahead and install Linux and after it’s done you’ll have a brand new machine – up to date, safe, secure, useful again.

If all this seems too difficult get your local geek to do it for you – probably you’ll find one hanging out at the local high school computer club. Or ask somebody like me. Anyone who can help you fix Windows can install Linux for you.

There are some varieties of Linux that get very technical and deserve the mystical label, but Linux Mint and Xubuntu do not. If you had to install or reinstall Windows on your machine it’s just as tricky – even a Windows 10 upgrade will be as challenging as a complete Linux install.

Note: I am not advising anyone with a brand new computer and Windows 10 on it to start messing about with Linux – but if you have an old system gathering dust, such as a desktop from 2006 that ran XP or an old netbook that is slow and brain-dead with Windows 7 Starter – well, why not bring it back to life? Then you can share in the Linux Mystique with the “3%” of this world.

Disclaimer: This blog post was typed on a fairly new desktop PC running Linux Mint. I built the PC myself and it has never run Windows. But the installation of Linux Mint was just as easy as it would be for you. I use Google Chrome as my browser, and you can do that in Linux just the same way you do in Windows.

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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