I’ve always been a Microsoft user. Their operating systems are effective, stable, and familiar to anyone who might be using the computer. Systems shipped ready to use often come standard with the latest edition, and students can often get a copy of the expensive software at a great price. As a company, Microsoft is a shining example of how to maintain a reputation of quality and innovation. But a friend recently tipped me off to a recent distribution of Linux that was worth trying out.
For those who might not be familiar with anything other than Windows or OS X, the word Linux is practically an umbrella term for any of the flavors of operating systems that use the Linux code and licensing terms, that descended from the GNU project. The project, started at MIT in 1983, declared its goals to be the creation of a free body of software that would allow users to get along without any proprietary software. The source code is constantly being improved by a community of devoted programmers, and sometimes even collaboratively with major companies.
What does this mean practically? It’s a free operating system in a world where nothing is ever free. Compare that to Windows 7 Ultimate at $320, or an OS X Lion upgrade at $30 So hey! I figured I would give this software suite a fair shake.
In the past I had unsuccessfully attempted to install a copy of Ubuntu, the flagship Linux version on my rig; a computer that had been assembled from parts. But once I booted for the first time, I found the experience something only an active software programmer could enjoy. I retreated from the brand at that point. Until my friend told me about Linux Mint.
This new version styles itself as a version of Linux that is completely intuitive and ready out of the box. I downloaded a free copy of the appropriate version of their latest, Mint 12, and installed it alongside my prior OS, Windows 7 Ultimate. The new operating system was heavily customisable, beautifully polished, and frightfully unstable. The GNOME 2 graphical user interface (GUI) was designed for a desktop computer, but they overlay it with the GNOME 3 engine, which is designed for use with mobile devices like tablets. The combination was something I had never experienced with Windows, but I bet the new Windows 8 would have a similar feel. However, my encounter with the 45 day old operating system was not to last. I ended up re-installing Mint 12 five times as I struggled to get all of my previous software onto the new system, and many of the drivers for my hardware wasn’t yet supported.
Eventually, the 60 GB solid state I had been running both OS’s from crashed and would refuse to allow my computer to boot. I couldn’t even get to the BIOS to figure out exactly what was wrong. At this point, my solid state is beside me on my desk, weighting down a stack of papers from the fan’s interference. This was probably unrelated to my Linux Mint woes, but just to be safe I decided to go with a slightly older version of Mint that wasn’t so cutting edge.
Linux Mint 11 sports only the GNOME 2 interface, but what it lacks in polish, it provides in every other way. After the initial installation and update, the user is free to do anything they did on their old operating system with the collection of software that comes pre-installed or provided in their massive catalogue of community written free-ware. And if you absolutely need to use that Windows program you used to have, the developers have provided a special program called Wine that allows you to run Windows programs on a Linux OS.
Since my original hard drive crashed, I am now exclusively using Linux Mint 11 and have no regrets making the switch. Other than the 60 GB solid state that went floppy on me.