Goodbye Windows XP - Hello Linux Mint!

By Tom Ledford | The Practical Computer


Linux Mint 16 "Petra" with Cinnamon desktop 

It's been a great ride!

Microsoft gave ample notice of when they would stop supporting XP. Even so, Windows XP is still installed on millions of computers. When Microsoft announced that all versions of Internet Explorer had a zero day vulnerability, they made an exception to make the patch available to XP after it's end of support date. 
"A zero day vulnerability refers to a hole in software that is unknown to the vendor. This security hole is then exploited by hackers before the vendor becomes aware and hurries to fix it—this exploit is called a zero day attack." - PC Tools by Symantec
That gave me the push to install Linux Mint. There are many reasons people are clinging to XP, but my reason was simple. I don't want to buy another new PC. I only recently bought a new Windows 7 desktop. But I have another desktop and two laptops. My other desktop and one of my laptops were still running Windows XP and neither one had the specs to run Windows 7 or Windows 8. Or to run them well. Enter Linux! 


Linux is ready for the everyday computer user

I know this seems like a departure from "Practical advice about technology for the everyday computer user," but I think Linux is ready for the everyday computer user. And what can be more practical than free? The new versions of Linux are easy to install and easy to use. Here is how...

My wife isn't technical at all. She is a typical computer user and has been using Linux Mint 13 on her desktop for weeks. I don't think she knows! She is getting around just fine. Practically everything she does with a computer she can do in a browser. Especially now that, Microsoft Office Online is available. 

She can copy pictures from her iPhone and camera, open them with Image Viewer and print them to our wireless printer. She uses Gmail so she is good to go with email. I'm working on setting up iTunes for her now. I will write about that soon, in a new post.


Installing Linux Mint

For my laptop, a seven year old Toshiba Satellite, I chose Linux Mint 16 and the Cinnamon desktop environment (Cinnamon has nothing to do with color). You can choose different desktop "types" with Linux. It's mostly a difference in menus, windows, and other UI (user interface) components. 

With Linux Mint 16, you can choose between "Mate", "Cinnamon," "KDE" or "Xfce" desktops . For beginners Mate or Cinnamon will do just fine. I think you can get closer to a Windows look and feel with Cinnamon. Mate and "Cinnamon" are more popular, and there's a lot of information in the Linux Mint forums about them. 

There's not as much info in the forums about the others. That's just the way it seems to me, but that could be because I don't use them, so I'm not looking for info. However, if your computer is older, or has a slow processor, you may benefit from Xfce, it has lower processor and memory requirements.

Just like Windows, you can choose from the available themes for your desktop, or download new ones. You can also change the background picture. The picture at the beginning of this post, shows the Cinnamon desktop environment with the "Coffee Stain" theme. It has glassy transparent menus that may be too hard to read for some, but it is beautiful. I changed the desktop background picture to match the theme's colors better.


Determine if your computer will run Linux

My Toshiba laptop has a dual core, 1.73 Ghz, Intel Pentium processor, and 3 GB of RAM. Linux excels on much lower specs than XP does. My Laptop has a lot more zip now.

You will need to determine if your processor is 32 bit or 64 bit, so you can download the correct version of Linux Mint.To do this in XP, right click on "My Computer," on your desktop or in your main menu, and select properties. You should see the amount of RAM in your computer, and your processor make and model. It will look something like this: Genuine Intel CPU, T2080 @ 1.73GHz. 


- How to identify your processor. 

A quick Google search will find Intel's site or others, where you can find the specs for your processor. You will need to know if you need a 32 bit or 64 bit version of the Linux Mint installation files.  

Minimum requirements for Linux Mint 16: 




As you can see, unless your computer is very old, it can probably run Linux. You will find it is faster than XP on the same hardware, too.


Download the installation files and create DVD.

Download the file -

The installation files are all in a single DVD disc image file (.iso). Download the appropriate file for your 32 bit or 64 bit processor as you determined in the previous step:

http://www.linuxmint.com/download.php

Create DVD - 

For this step, you will need a DVD drive that can record (burn) a DVD (DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, or DVD-RAM) and a blank DVD.

You will need software that is capable of burning a DVD using .iso files. Windows 7 and 8 come with burning software. After the .iso file is downloaded, right click on it and select Open with - "Windows Disc Image Burner."

If you are using XP and your computer didn't come with a program that will burn DVD's from image files, you will need to install one. There are several free, easy to use programs. Easy CD/DVD Recorder is a good basic program that will burn .iso images.
  

Start the installation

Make sure you have around 10GB or more free on your hard drive. You may want to take this time to clean up your drive and remove any unnecessary programs and files. I recommend that you install Linux Mint on it's own partition and keep Windows XP  in it's own partition in a dual boot arrangement. This way you can choose which OS you want to use at startup. The Linux installation will help you resize the Windows partition to make room for a new partition for Linux.

To start the installation, boot to the DVD you created when you burned the ISO image. Here is a good step by step guide for setting your computer up to boot from CD/DVD.

Here are two, step by step guides for installing Linux in a dual boot configuration. Whichever guide you use, make sure when you see the Installation Type screen, you choose "Something Else." 

On the next screen, the installation will allow you to resize the windows partition and make room for the Linux installation.

Installation type
Guide To Install Linux Mint 16 In Dual Boot With Windows
Linux Mint 16 “Petra” Released – Installation Guide with Screenshots & Features

The pains of installing Linux in years past and digging around to find drivers, are all gone. Now Linux Mint will setup all of your computer's devices and required drivers automatically. Installing printers is easy too. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the installation was on my old laptop. Almost every time I thought of installing a feature I was going to need, I found that it was already installed.


Living with Linux Mint

Firefox will be the only browser installed during installation, but Chrome is available and easy to install. It looks and works identically with Chrome for PCs. You can sync your bookmarks, settings, extensions, and passwords with all the computers that use Chrome.

You can also sync all those with Firefox too. I recently installed Firefox, version 29, on my Linux and Windows computers. I am really impressed with its speed. It has much simpler and easy to use configuration and settings too. I think it may be a little faster than Chrome on Linux, but I have a ton of extensions installed on it, and only a few on Firefox 29.

You can download documentation and easily search through forums, or ask new questions on the Linux Mint website.

Linux Mint is free, open source software. The programming and maintenance efforts are supported by donations and advertising on the website. Technical support is provided through the large Linux Mint community. Many volunteer to answer questions in the forums. You may find yourself answering question some day. You're part of the community as soon as you start using Linux.

You will be pleased with results in simple Google searches too. Just add "Linux Mint" or Linux Mint 16 to the end of your search, and you will find a surprising number of search results. There are several blogs and websites that have Linux Mint information. The first user friendly version of Linux is becoming popular fast.

Helpful Resources for Linux and Linux Mint

Versions of Linux are often called "distros" (short for distributions). Since all Linux distributions share common code bases, they are all closely related. They may have different utilities for installing software, and a few different system tools, but they all have commands in common and most can run the same software as other distributions.


Other Resources:

www.linuxmint.com
Six Clicks: Linux Mint tips and tricks
Tips and Tricks for Linux Mint after Installation [Mint 13 to 16 -Cinnamon Edition]
10 Things To Do After Installing Linux Mint 16 Petra
IT eBooks - Free Download IT Books - Linux