“New” Computer?

mint1702_postinstall_smOkay, not really. It certainly feels that way, though: I just replaced the operating system I use for “everyday” purposes with a new one: good-bye, Ubuntu 12.04 (Linux), and hello Mint 17.2 (also Linux).

I spent about four hours this morning laying the groundwork, which mostly involved researching the problems I might expect to encounter (and how to avoid or recover from them), doing backups, and so on. In the event, though, the installation process itself took about a half-hour to run — during only a few minutes of which I actually had to be hands-on involved.

For what it’s worth, my PC is fairly new (bought in 2013). When I got this computer, it was with the idea that (a) I really didn’t want to buy another one for a long, long  time — maybe never! — and (b) I don’t expect to be doing anything really heavy-duty technical (or requiring super-high performance) on it — preferable ever! So (a) I wanted its capacity to be big, but (a) I didn’t want to pay for a lot of stuff I’d never take advantage of — exotic video and sound cards, for example. So it has 16GB RAM, and a single 3TB hard drive… with other specs reasonable for when I bought it, but not especially forward-looking. I didn’t even get a new monitor.

Since it’s a Dell, of course the operating system it came installed with was (still is) Windows 7. I do have occasional need to run Windows stuff*, so I didn’t want to replace Windows; instead, I wanted to install Linux as my primary OS, alongside Windows.

(When the PC starts up, it presents me with a menu asking which OS I want to start: Linux, including several sub-options, or Windows. The default is Linux, so I can just walk away at that point and I’ll have my desktop all ready to go.)

I’d used the Ubuntu flavor of Linux for several years that way already, upgrading to a new version every now and then, and knew I’d be comfortable going forward that way. And so I was… until the last few months.

Oh, nothing was wrong with Linux itself. I’m comfortable with but not a big user of the (in)famous Linux command line (a/k/a “Terminal”), which scares so many Windows people away from the alternative OS. (“You mean you have to type commands, like in old MS-DOS? No way, uh-uh!”) No, for 99% of what I do in Linux, a fancy graphical user interface (GUI) serves just fine: pointing and clicking with the mouse, dragging and dropping, all that.

No, the “problem” (such as it was) was the GUI itself. New Ubuntu versions become available every six months, in April and October, with miscellaneous updates and patches every now and then as needed. But every five years, they release a new “long-term support” version, which receives formal support from the Ubuntu developers until the next one. That always seemed to me the way to go; since I “do computers” for my day job, after all, I had no interest in spending my off-hours on the same stuff. When at the computer at home, I’d much rather be writing, or researching, or emailing, and so on. I wanted (want) stability, not cutting edge.

In that last few months, between one thing and another — who knows why? — the Ubuntu 12.04 user interface, and how it responded before my eyes, under my fingertips and mouse cursor, had started to “slip.” The details? Unimportant. Linux is so powerful and configurable that I knew each and every one of those problems to be solvable somehow…

…as long as I wanted to spend hours researching them, tinkering, un-tinkering, backing up and restoring my data and/or settings, and so on and so forth. No. Way.

So I spent at most a few minutes a day, usually not even that much, looking into what other Linux flavors — they’re called distributions, or distros for short — were also popular. (Ubuntu has been by far, I think, the biggest Linux success story among “normal” users, especially Windows refugees. But there are numerous others.)

The answer for me, interestingly enough, is the Mint distro. Why “interestingly”? Because Mint is built on top of Ubuntu. This means that the software applications which I’ve been used to using run pretty much unchanged under Mint. The differences (and I’m vastly oversimplifying here) almost all reside in the GUI itself.

The job of switching over to Mint isn’t done yet. I still must restore my data backups, for instance, and I know I’ll have various settings to, um, reset. But it already feels like a new computer again. And I’m really looking forward to doing what I want to do with it again — writing, research, email, and so on. I’m really looking forward to stability — again.

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* …although sometimes it feels as though I get into Windows almost exclusively to keep the OS itself up-to-date — running the apparently endless stream of system updates which Microsoft insists are important (with all the concomitant reboots in between).

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