You are here

Linux Desktop

For years, the operating system on my desktop was some version of Microsoft Windows. Then Microsoft decided to change its focus. Windows was to be the universal operating system for smartphones, for tablets, for personal computers and for servers. That led to abandoning Window XP and attempting to move everyone to Windows 8. The market did not react positively to this version of Windows, nor did I.

All of which led be back to Unix/Linux. Back in the 1970s, I was a fresh-faced young Computer Science faculty member. Unix was a very interesting operating system that went back to basics and did it properly. It became one of the most successful mini-computer operating systems. Bell Labs, where Unix was developed, provided licenses to a variety of computer companies, including IBM, Microsoft and Sun. Eventually, the rights (such as they were) were sold to Novell. But it was a bit of a rights muddle.

Linus Torvalds built a version of Unix that employed none of the copyrighted code from the original Unix. He named it Linux and it first saw the light of day in October 1991. It's open source which allows anyone to build their own version of Linux. Today, Linux or its direct descendants is the world's most popular operating system, with versions of the operating system running on smartphones, tablets, personal computers, servers and mainframes.

The personal computer versions are available in a very wide range of flavors. The proprietary operating system for Apple desktop computers is based on Linux. Canonical has made a business by offering a version of Linux intended for an “average” desktop user. Their version of Linux is called Ubuntu. And the MINT team is supporting a version of Ubuntu that offers a more conventional desktop, with proprietary, but free, codexs already installed. I've been using MINT on my desktop since version 15.

MINT is now up to version 17.2, with support for that version is promised to 2019. I've been happy with MINT. Out of the box, it has almost all the software that I need. LibreOffice is a satisfactory replacement for the Office from Microsoft that I had used on a Windows desktop. It does “everything” that MS Office does, … and then some. Firefox has been my preferred browser for years, and its sibling email program, Thunderbird, has similarly been my preferred email program for years. Both are installed out-of-the-box with MINT. And MINT installs a full range of programs to work with all types of media files.

If that wasn't enough, I can always go to the Software Manager. Currently there are some 73,000 programs that are available at no cost through Software Manager and for which MINT compatibility has been tested. There are a small number of programs that I still want back from my Windows days. WINE, a no cost application running under MINT, will run many standard Windows applications. Fortunately, the handful of Windows applications that I want all run under WINE. After a day or so to fiddle with the way MINT displays information on the screen, I was back up doing everything that I did under Windows.

My MINT experience has generally been quite positive. MINT revived a limited netbook computer I have – performance is noticeably better than under Windows. I did make an initial tactical mistake on my desktop. It is possible to find instructions for the installation of tens of thousands of additional Linux applications. But not all Linux applications run smoothly under all varieties of Linux. I strayed too far off the recommended path, the path shown by Software Manager. I was forced to rebuild my very first MINT install. Since then I have generally followed the advice of Software Manager, … and each subsequent install has performed better than the previous one.

The difficult background question is whether MINT is right for everyone. It's more than right for someone who has a technician do all the installing and who just uses standard desktop applications. The out-of-the-box experience really is quite good. And MINT ranks high in terms of stability and security. MINT just works, especially if a technician is available to install the system. At the other end of the spectrum, MINT is far more open than Windows. Someone who knows what s/he is doing can tweak a MINT system in interesting and useful ways.

Problems can arise, however, for users who tinker with their desktop, but depend on Microsoft to do all of the under-the-covers bit fiddling. MINT can do all of the basics. Windows has simple ways to effect a range of additional changes. MINT is far more open and allows the knowledgeable user to make radical and sweeping changes. Almost any and all aspects of MINT can be changed by the knowledgeable user. MINT is steadily expanding the range of changes that the naive user can safely make, but it isn't yet at the level of Windows.

One interesting aspect of MINT is that there is no cost to try a copy. The software is available to freely download. It simply installs on a DVD as a self-loading application. Virtually all of today's desktop computers will boot from a DVD. Booting from the MINT software burned onto a DVD presents the user with a three-way choice. Option One is to run MINT from the DVD drive. Understandably, that limits the speed of disk access, but does give the user the “full” MINT experience. Option Two is to install MINT as a dual-boot option. That choice leads to a basic question on start-up – Do you want to run Windows or MINT today? Unfortunately, Microsoft is taking steps to discourage such behavior with Windows 10. Last, Option Three is to install MINT as your desktop operating system of choice. Once you make the pro-MINT decision, that's the natural option.