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For years I had been a faithful Microsoft user. Their operating systems offered an appealing combination of features and flexibility, and ran on a wide range of hardware platforms. I had been using XP for more than a decade. I saw no reason to update the operating system, XP worked just fine.

Security was a growing concern, but I understood XP and didn't find anything missing. Then Microsoft decided that XP life was to end – no further security updates would be available after April, 2014. I recognized that I would need to change. Windows 8 held no appeal – I now think at a keyboard. Windows 7 was a possibility, but the length of its life was uncertain – Microsoft was moving to a rental model for software and could well end Windows 7 life in just a few short years.

There were two obvious alternatives, Apple and Linux. The relatively closed nature of the Apple computing environment held little appeal for me. I enjoy tinkering with my desktop, and there does seem to be a price premium for Apple branded products. Linux was the natural alternative. I had dabbled with versions of Linux for years. The Ubuntu distribution of Linux was targeted at people just like me.

The Ubuntu aim is to provide a unified desktop computing environment. I decided to move in stages from XP to Ubuntu. I bought a powerful bare-bones computing platform from a local discount supplier. After too many fits and starts, I did have an attractively priced, powerful (6 cpu) system that was stable enough to begin my Ubuntu adventure. I went with the most recent long-term version of Ubuntu (12.04).

Everything seemed to work, more of less well. I installed a batch of software and configured email to smoothly transition from XP to Ubuntu. I experimented with different Graphical User Interfaces. Two conclusions emerged. First, I should have been more careful in my selection of software to install, and the interface I found most comfortable belonged to MINT.

A word about MINT and where it comes from might be helpful. Ubuntu is the preferred desktop Linux computing environment. It has the lion's share of installed Linux desktops. MINT takes the Ubuntu Linux distribution and tweaks it to offer the MINT Linux distribution. MINT has all of the basic Ubuntu computing features, but with a different graphical user interface and some extended free utilities pre-installed.

I began the transition off of XP. XP was still the platform I used to respond to email and to do desktop computing work. I decided to scrap my Ubuntu installation and go with the current version of MINT (15). Over the course of several weeks, I moved all of my important files from the old XP platform to the new MINT platform. I pulled the plug on the XP system after a few weeks and started to do everything on MINT.

When everything is installed and working properly, I find MINT to be distinctly superior to XP. The security model is clearly better. Only the “root” user has the right to install new software on a MINT system. And to begin to play the roll of the root user requires that the correct password be provided. Rogue software has little chance to find a home on a MINT system. The system automatically recognizes all attempts to install software and requests the root password be provided. There are few viruses on a MINT system.

MINT provides a Software Manager that gives the user access to 65,000 vetted applications that can be freely installed on the system (based on a similar service for Ubuntu systems). It's almost too much of a good thing. I still haven't sorted out exactly which applications I should have installed. There have been only a few disappointments, and only a very few deadends.

One popular MINT application is something called WINE. It emulates the Windows environment, allowing you to run many popular Windows applications on MINT. I use it to run a couple XP graphical applications, specifically Irfanview and PhotoFiltre. I also use WINE to run foobar2000 – it's my preferred application to manipulate audio files. I did run into a deadend with Artisteer – Aftisteer generates new themes for a variety of web content management systems and refuses to run properly under WINE.

All in all, my new MINT computing environment meets or exceeds my expectations. But I'm still learning my way. Many of the available MINT applications have a rich history and a wide range of features. It takes time to re-establish the comfortable environment I had developed in ten years of working with XP. I'm getting there, and have discovered some superior MINT applications. One example is KeepNote – an excellent note taking application that offers real-time spell checking, but only under Linux.

It would be wrong to claim that everything works perfectly under MINT. There are peripheral hardware issues. My old scanner doesn't work at all under MINT, but it would not be very expensive to replace it with a scanner that does. My old monitor works better under MINT – with just a bit of tweaking, I'm now able to use the full screen resolution. And my colour laser printer works, … mostly, but off-sets page images. There is a work-around and I'm optimistic that a proper solution will be found.

What's the bottom line? Establishing an appropriate MINT environment does take a bit of additional work. Once established, I doubt that most XP users would find any fault with a stable MINT environment, and are likely to prefer it to what would be available under Windows 8. There are some limitations, primarily in the form of peripherals that don't work as one might hope. Security will be significantly better. And the cost will be noticeably lower.

For me, the big advantage is the power and flexibility of the underlying platform. I enjoy tinkering with my desktop computing environment. MINT allows me to tinker at any level I may wish. I have no doubt that MINT, after only a few years of tinkering, will be superior to what I could have developed were I to have stayed with Windows. MINT is right for me. I suspect to would also be right for many desktop users who are after a stable computing environment. Windows 8, with its new “tablet” approach to computing, has opened the door to alternatives. Based on my experience, MINT is one of the most attractive of those alternatives.