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Why would a Windows user think about using Linux Mint?

Since Windows Vista, users of Windows have very clearly needed an escape route, an alternative to Windows.  In every version of Windows, Microsoft punishes its early adopters by either breaking the software or corrupting data following one mega-big update that eliminates the bugs that Microsoft cretinously allows into the first production versions of its software.  This happened in Windows 7 and again in Windows 10.  Enough is enough!  There must be an alternative!

This blog is my notes on learning Linux.  I've chosen to publish it, because it might serve somebody a purpose.

Background

Windows has been a workhorse environment for me since my teens.

I've grown up with Microsoft's Windows environment.  I've worked with it on a daily basis for 21 years.  I've watched it evolve, develop and form the basis of working habits that are now common practice for nearly everybody I know.

But I'm only a user.  Actually, I'm a power user.  I use the keyboard in preference to the mouse.  I don't hack, but I do use MS-DOS scripts when they achieve things more efficient than Windows Explorer.  I'm realising that I have to learn Visual Basic to do parts of my job.  I dabbled with programming when I was a kid, learning bad habits (!) in BBC Basic.  I dabbled with C++ in my late teens, but found no real purpose for it at the time (others, more motivated than me, did a better job!).  I'm the user that every IT manager hates to have in the office, because I'm the one who asks, "Why do we waste our time doing this? Why can't the machine do it for us?"

(Nowadays, my company refers to me as "line 3 support", I have no idea why: I guess it's sarcasm.)

But over the past few years, Microsoft - and more recently Google - have opted to "improve" their software by dumbing it down.  Functionality that is frankly quite basic is downgraded to an "advanced" user setting, buried behind millions of unnecessary dialogue boxes, billions of unnecessary keystrokes.  And some new dialogue boxes have the keyboard disabled, sometimes by design, sometimes by incompetence by developer, programmer and tester alike.

I cannot see how this can be sustainable.  IT works only if it makes us more productive.  Crap program design, and even crappier user interfaces, slow us down and destroys our productivity.  A keyboard user should be capable of four times more things than a mouse user in the same fixed time period.

While  the monoliths control the software market in the major apps - the Office suite - there is no prospect of change.  Their cynical, dumb-it-down design theology has spread: even HSBCnet refuses to develop a simple import script that prevents users copy-and-pasting five bits of data per payment instruction to pay a pile of suppliers, but are happy to develop a user interface that maximises the risk of typing error in a payment batch.

So the only players who might still give a damn about the long-suffering user are the open source crowd.  They can be found in the Linux community.  They won't entertain the monoliths.  But they can't replace them altogether, either.  So they should be able to contribute much relief to by-pass the arrogance of the monoliths and their bankster brethren.

So I better get ready.  I've taken the plunge.  In addition to getting more technical with Windows, I'm giving Linux Mint 18.3 a go, to widen my "vocabulary" in basic tech stuff.

An earlier attempt with Linux

Back in the day, Windows Vista was a particular problem.

At work, I was Acting IT Manager at the time.  Overnight, Windows Vista crippled my ability to support users the phone.  The slightest whiff of an admin privilege, the screen went blank, locked out all network connections - not great for remote support - and asked the user a question that they simply hadn't the competence to understand, let alone answer.  I ended up hearing the gibbering of emotional, panic-stricken rubber chickens over the phone.  It made a hard job nigh impossible, and corrupted my own job in the process.  I saw then - and still perceive now - that Windows Vista gave Apple a massive opportunity, which sensibly Apple exploited.

I never bought into Apple.  I knew enough about its cynical business model to know that I wouldn't get on with it.  Others did go for Apple, only to find that its weaknesses were similar to those of Microsoft Windows, with the same lack of reliability, but a substantial lack of choice.

A friend who was technically-minded in a field outside of computing said that, "Linux isn't consumer-friendly yet, probably won't be."  That notwithstanding, I did a quick Google for Linux machines that were user-ready anyway.  Amidst a torrent of results along the lines of Give up now!, I found one reference to Linux Mint, whose sales message was to be Windows without the Microsoft.

Aha.

At the time, I had an Asus EEE netbook ("Frodo")  which struggled to run Windows XP - by this time, Microsoft had long since given up supporting XP - and I realised that there was no way Frodo was going to cope with Linux Mint.  My main laptop at the time was an Acer Aspire 5732Z ("Gandalf") running Windows 7 Home, and I wasn't prepared to mess around with that.

As Frodo's battery failed, and started to roast the power transformer, I decided to install Puppy Linux onto it.  Puppy Linux is designed to be bootable from a USB stick, effectively being a recovery operating system with a graphical user interface.  But it was small enough to fit onto Frodo.  For a few weeks, Puppy Linux made me realise that this Linux thing was possible.

Sadly, Puppy didn't do much for Frodo's power management; the power transformer continued to deteriorate, so Frodo had to take his last journey... to St Albans' tip.  Not quite as Tolkein had intended, but just as one-way.

I then briefly attempted to run Linux Mint inside VirtualBox on Gandalf.  Gandalf couldn't cope with virtual box, even when the guest operating system was allocated its barest minimum resources.  I had to abandon VirtualBox on Gandalf.  So the project to use Linux Mint was suspended.

The current attempt with Linux

Gandalf lasted nearly two more years.

In December 2017, Gandalf's performance hit rock bottom, so I decided to re-install Windows.  It failed.  I was without laptop.  Without access to my bank.  Without access to my series of diabolical correspondence to members of the British elite, berating them for their existence and governing incompetence.  Things were serious.

On 02 January 2018, I ordered a new laptop - an HP Pavilion 15 running Windows 10 ("Legolas") - and migrated to it.  Windows 10 was more of a learning curve than I had expected, or wanted.  Of course, the "new-and-improved" interface turned out to be the usual dumbing down to patronise the standard simpleton user.  The old - useful - dialogue boxes were two or three unnecessary steps away.  Then I had to disable all of the spyware, spamware and resource-wasting stuff.  Even installing Microsoft Office 2016 needed three dialogue boxes to avoid Microsoft's cynical trap to con me into subscribing to an annual fee for Office 365.  And as for Microsoft Edge... ugh.

Meanwhile, at work, since the Windows Vista debacle, the full-time IT bod found that the whole company should abandon the concept of a single office network for a worldwide operation.  He sold  the concept of Google Apps for Business (now G-Suite) to the Board of Directors.  For nearly a decade, Google has delivered credible functionality (in spite of also dumbing-down its interface to make life unnecessary harder for power users, reducing their productivity).  The core of its service delivery model is a single app: a browser, Chrome.

In so doing, Google de-risked the life of all Windows users: no longer was a sole workstation running Microsoft software the weak point; there was a backup, even if it meant giving Google some data to play with.  The situation introduced a huge opportunity to crowbar Linux in my life.  And with Gandalf servicable, but for an irreparably failed installation of Windows 7, I even had a test environment.

Gandalf accepted its installation of Linux Mint 18.3 in mid-March 2018.

This blog

This blog is going to be less verbose than the above, and probably more like my notes of what happened and what I found.  Whether it makes sense, I don't know.  But I'll publish it anyway.


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