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How the Fiddle Hangout Turned Me into a Linux Mint User

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 @1:02:29 AM

When the Fiddle Hangout started a few years back, I was a normal Windows XP user... well, not entirely... I had come to Windows only grudgingly...  I used a now obscure graphical operating system called GeoWorks for a while... it was fast, and worked well on the old computers I tended to have.

Anyway back to Windoze.  I used Win 95 for a while, then Win 98.  About 2006, I got a new computer because I thought it would be better for recording... it was an eMachines with XP installed.  But after a while the McAfee installation that came with the 'pewter expired, and they wanted MORE MONEY.... I got tired of their rather aggressive badgering, and decided to try a different antivirus- AVG.

Well, I don't remember whose watch it was on- McAfee's or AVG's, or maybe in the unprotected period between them.  The Fiddle Hangout was attacked by some kind of malicious script, and my 'pewter picked up a virus that fortunately didn't do much damage, but it was super annoying.

And during the time when Eric was battling the script invasion, I started using a Linux version called Knoppix to visit the Fiddle Hangout to shield my computer against the script, since not coming to the Fiddle Hangout was NOT an option.

To add to the need for a more virus-proof browsing method, ezfolk.com ALSO got hit by a virus attack not long afterwards (or was it before??? I forget!)  Music websites are NOT normally thought of as "high-risk" web sites!

Knoppix is a German Linux "distro" (distribution) that ONLY works as a boot CD... you DON'T normally install it on your hard drive.  I got it partly because it has a reputation of being EXCELLENT at recognizing hardware.... if something isn't working, how do you know the hardware is bad, or if it's just Windoze having a problem with it???  Run Knoppix... if Knoppix recognizes it, then Windows' somethingorother is causing the problem.  Also, running a Linux boot CD is virtually virus proof- first of all, most viruses are written for Windows, secondly, on a boot CD, the operating system CAN'T be tampered with, since it's on CD-ROM... if it can't be written to, it can't be "infected".

While useful, Knoppix is filled with geeky Linux stuff, and the background (at least of the version I had) was some icey mountains in Spitzbergen or some similar inhospitable place! BRRRRR!!!!!  Since the symbol of Linux is a cartoon penguin, Linux geeks sometimes like chilly backgrounds- thanks, but no thanks!!! But the main reason is that after a while, I DO want to customize the operating system to make it feel like "home", and you can't do that with a "Live CD" version.

So I started looking at other Linux distributions.  The MAIN appeal for me was that, because of the way it runs, Linux is INHERENTLY more secure from computer viruses and other malware attacks than Windows.  There is a site called Distrowatch that keeps tabs on ALL the Linux distros (well, nearly all) and does reviews of them and announces new version releases and stuff.  They have a ranking of the different Linux "distros" (versions) according to the number of hits they get on DistroWatch.  I looked a lot at the top runners, reading reviews.  Of course there was Ubuntu- a fiddler friend used it, so I downloaded it, but I couldn't get used to either the brown theme or the toolbar being across the top.  Many "distros" are very specialized, or really designed to appeal to other Linux geeks. (I may be a geek, but I'm not really a computer geek... I don't ENJOY tweaking my computer and operating system... I'd rather be playing music, or at least discussing it!) However, there was this "distro" called Linux Mint, that seemed to have some big pluses (not necessarily in order of importance):

1. It was based on Ubuntu, meaning that software that runs on Ubuntu runs on Mint.

2. It had a green theme, keeping with the name- green is probably my favorite color although blue comes a very close second. (Fiddle Hangout is about my favorite shade of blue!)

3. The philosophy of the lead developer and his team is to make Linux more user-friendly and less geeky, and more welcoming for Windows refugees.

4. The Linux Mint team adds another layer of bug removal to the stuff they inherit from the Ubuntu distro.  Fewer bugs is GOOD!

5. The Linux Mint team has done a good job on their installer- it has a reputation as being one of the most user-friendly Linux installers.  This is important, since like many first time Linux users, I wanted to set up a dual boot system that allows me to run Windows when I need it.  A confusing installation program could  conceivably allow you do delete your Windows installation.... so a user-friendly one is a BIG PLUS.

Anyway, I started on version 5, code named Elyssa.  It's one of Mint's quirks... all the versions of Mint have women's names ending in A, but starting with the letter of the alphabet corresponding to the version number.  Another oddity about both Mint and Ubuntu- they have a 6 month release cycle.  I think this is a bit extreme... I don't want to install new software every 6 months, so I opted for the Elyssa since it's an LTS (Long Term Support) version. Elyssa did the job very well, but it seemed a little rough around the edges.  Then I upgraded to the next LTS version, Isadora, which seems a lot more polished.  With Elyssa and Firefox, web pages didn't display as well as Windows and Firefox- with Isadora and Firefox, they display BETTER than Windows.

Anyway, Mint used to come with Open Office, current versions come with the similar LibreOffice.  And one of the first things I did was to install Audacity.  Browser choice is Firefox and Opera.  Since Firefox and Audacity are almost the same in Linux as in Windows, it makes the transition much easier... and I'm getting used to the Open Office word processor.  I also chose a theme that makes things look a lot like Windows... sometimes I can hardly believe I'm using a Linux installation.

Evidently when I picked Mint, I picked well- last month, Mint went to #1 surging past Ubuntu in hits on Distrowatch... this doesn't mean it has more installations... it's just currently generating more interest.  But it is #2 overall in Linux installations- in the millions.

Pluses:

1. No virus headaches

2. No headaches from nagging antivirus programs

3. No need for "Windows Cleanup" or "Windows Mechanic" type programs to unclutter your Windows installation- Windows (at least XP) gets MORE inefficient over time, and needs housekeeping done.

4. MUCH faster bootup than Windoze!!!

5. Like Knoppix, it also runs from a "boot CD" or DVD called a "Live CD"... this allows you to check it out for compatibility with both your needs and your computer before you committ to installing on your hard drive.

Minuses:

1. There are lots of little utility programs written for Windows... sometimes dozens in a category, and you can pick the best one.  With Linux.... there may only be one, and a fairly elementary one at that.  For instance the equivalent of Media Player in Linux Mint doesn't have a slow down function.  I still haven't figured out how to do "abc" files with Linux Mint... I think there is a way, but it's a bit off the beaten path and I haven't figured it out yet.

2. Computer hardware manufacturers don't always take Linux seriously yet, and sometimes drivers are a problem.

I've been having sporadic problems with the mouse pointer disappearing, which I think is due to an incompatibility between the video driver and the NVidia video adaptor. I had to drop to a slightly lower monitor resolution, and it doesn't happen AS MUCH.  But when it did happen, all I had to do is reboot, and even WITH the reboot, the computer was STILL ready to work quicker than with Windoze!!!

(Including the "Grub Loader" which is a menu that gives you the choice of Linux Mint or Windows, it takes me 55 seconds to get completely booted into Linux Mint Isadora, and it's REALLY ready to work.  NOT including the Grub menu, it takes my Windows XP TWO minutes just to get to the desktop, and THEN, it's not really ready to work and launch Firefox... I still haven't figured how long it actually takes, because if I click on Firefox too early, it seems to ignore me. And I noticed another issue with Windows- you are always being forced to update stuff as soon as you boot up- either your browser or Adobe Shockwave, because they have to be updated to cope with continually evolving malware and security threats.... and they won't let you wait, because then you would be unprotected... so those delays REALLY need to be figured into the amount of time you need to get Windows up and running.  Granted, I supposed Windows 7 fixes much of this, but I can't afford to upgrade and it would probably require SOME hardware upgrades too.)

3. It's not totally a minus, but the way of installing software in Linux Mint isn't like Windows at all- and that takes some getting used to- you download from a safe repository.

Written down, the minuses SEEM large, but weighed in the balance, they aren't NEARLY as headache-causing or time-consuming as the problems I had with Windows.

Over time, I'm using Windows less and less... the main use being to print out invoices for the senior facilities I play at that require them.... and that's only twice a month.  Otherwise I mostly go into my Windows XP install to find music files... sometimes I can find them on the Windows hard disk with Linux Mint, but things don't look the same- it messes up my visual memory of where things are.

However, I don't think I would download and install Linux Mint 12... version 10 is supposed to be very fast, and version 11 is supposed to be very stable.  But Ubuntu changed a LOT of things recently, and the Mint team has had a LOT to deal with.  According to the reviews, they've dealt with it all well, but Mint 12 apparently has more rough edges than Mint normally does.  I'm going to wait for Mint 13, which is the next LTS release (if I understood correctly).  And it will probably be a more polished version than Mint 12.

One interesting thing is that a lot of the software that appeals to me is from Celtic places-

Ubuntu is from the Isle of Man. (But the head guy is South African)

Mint is from Ireland- but the head guy is a Frenchman, Clement Lefebvre.

There is another "distro" based in Ireland that looks interesting, but apparently isn't quite as polished as Mint- it's called "Zorin", and it aims to be very friendly for ex-Windows users.

There is also an American redo of Linux Mint called "Ultimate" that sounds interesting.

Linux Mint also seems to be hedging their bets... they now have a version based directly on the Linux version called Debian, bypassing Ubuntu, which is itself based on Debian.

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