Thursday, April 11, 2013

Minty Fresh Linux!

I'm trying out my namesake operating system LINUX MINT - and I'm loving it! (If you want an in-depth nerdy appraisal of Linux, then look elsewhere. I don't know enough! These are just my first impressions...)

I've been aware of the existence of Linux Mint for some time, but I'd never really explored it. I had tried out other versions of Linux in the past, but I'd come to the conclusion that, if I was looking for an alternative to M****soft Windows, it wasn't a serious contender and was not really for the likes of me. A while back, a SpaceFriend (was it Drude or was it Seb?) asked if I'd tried Linux and, at the time, I didn't have much to say about it. The other day, I was sorting through a drawer of old magazine coverdisks and I found a 'live'* version of Linux Mint 9, so I thought I'd give it a go.
* A 'live' distribution is one that will boot straight from a DVD without affecting anything you already have installed on your hard-drive. It's a way to try it out for yourself before you commit...

It turns out to be a most delightful operating system, with everything that any sane person would really need to install on their 'netbook' already included on the disk - a version of Firefox, a complete OpenOffice suite and my long-time favourite paint program The GIMP. I immediately loved the novelty of a new working environment and I had hours of fun poking around to see what it all does... but I had to admit it did feel a bit old. Some of the built-in apps (particularly Firefox) were rather outdated versions. "But I'm sure they must have improved on it since this version was released?" thought I... So with that in mind, I downloaded a more recent version, the 32-bit KDE** version of Linux Mint 12.

Ah! Not quite so much fun! It wouldn't load. I retried burning the downloaded ISO*** to disk a couple more times, just in case it was corrupted in some way. Still the same. It froze up during the boot-up process and I was faced with a black screen full of frightening looking code. I dug deeper and read some articles online and I discovered that there were previously reported 'hardware compatibility issues' with this version, which makes it fail to boot up with certain network cards installed. Not one to be deterred, I bought a magazine that had the LATEST version (14) on a 'live' disk.
** KDE - is the name of an open source community that puts this stuff together. The term is usually used to describe a 'way of doing things' with the desktop layout and/or operating platform. I found 'KDE' versions of Linux (as opposed to 'GNOME'-based desktops) to be be more Windows-like and intuitive, but that's just me. By the way, before you ask, it seems nobody can agree to what 'KDE' actually stands for...
*** ISO - the letters refer to any international standard of measurement (as in the International Standards Organisation), but in this context it's short for the 'ISO 9660 file system' and refers to a downloadable 'image' of a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM that you burn yourself onto a disk.

Wuh ho ho! This one is the business! There's an up-to-date version of Firefox that will work with most of my favourite plug-ins and add-ons; a new version of LibreOffice (it's the same as OpenOffice, but under a new name - it still does everything M****soft Office does, only for FREE!); a shiny new 'brushed aluminium' look that has more than a touch of an Apple OS about it; nice clear screen fonts (based on the DejaVu family, if I'm not mistaken); plus a bottomless pit of extensions and widgets just waiting for you to pick and choose and make it your own. It auto-detected my ethernet (and the un-used wireless card!), so it required absolutely no messing about in order to set up a network connection. I was booted up and online in under five minutes! I'm now totally won over and I'm no longer convinced that Linux is just for nerds, as I'd previously thought (although there are much nerdier distros**** available, I'll grant you).
**** distro - short for 'distribution'. That's what they call all those different versions of Linux out there. All the different Linux' (Linuces?) are developed by communities of boffins working hard to improve on and add new stuff to platforms that previous communities of boffins have come up with, so there are lots of different 'distros' all splitting off from each other. Some are Gnomes and some are KDEs and all of them have exotic names and subtitles to distinguish them apart. Many of them have cute pictures of penguins on the disk. Just do what I did: buy a Linux magazine or two, try out the live versions that come on the coverdisks, until you find one that suits you. There are platforms that make it easy for Windows users to understand, some that are quite Mac-like, others that are really only suitable for seasoned Linux experts to come to terms with...
I've looked at the ugly, LegoLand-like m1¢£0soft Windows 8, winced a few times, even guffawed on occasion, and decided that I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. To be honest, I don't think I've actually heard anyone praise it anywhere. For me, that is definitely a step in the wrong direction as far as functional design is concerned. If that is the future, I don't want to go there. But I'm more than happy to have LINUX MINT 14 on a 'netbook'. It's well cute! And it's named after me...

This is the 64-bit Linux Mint 14 ("Nadia") Cinnamon Edition
as installed on my new Lenovo laptop. Notice that Mozilla
Firefox functions exactly like any other version you may be
used to, running all the essential add-ons like Stylish and
AdBlock Plus. In fact, I'm finding it does some things even better.

I don't want to sound all 'born again' and preachy about Linux - "Lawdy! Lawdy! I done seen the light!" - because I know it will definitely not suit everyone. Even the most intuitive Windoze-like versions of Linux will still require you to learn a whole new way of doing things (and a lot of new terminology to pick up). If you are already frightened of your own computer when using Windoze, then this is not the alternative for you. It won't work 'straight out of the box'. But if you have more than a hint of the geek about you and you're partial to a bit of DIY and problem-solving, there's lots of fun to be had exploring the possibilities. Complete nerd-o-phobes should stay clear and save up for an AppleMac instead.