8. A Minty Sweet Linux for Windows Withdrawals

In my previous posts, I went into some detail about Free and Open Source Software. The logical place to start with FOSS is with the operating system, the software that everything else runs on. For us, this will be Linux.

Over the years, and especially these past few months, I have installed over a dozen versions of “recommended” versions for new users. I figured that most of my readers were Windows users, or had work experience with Windows, so I also looked for versions of Linux that looked as much like a Microsoft desktop. The conclusion was that only one version of Linux was ideal for our use, a minty sweet version…

Introducing Linux Mint

Linux developers tend to have a tongue-in-cheek approach to marketing, so their branding isn’t going to impress (I mentioned some of the reasons in my What is FOSS post). Linux Mint is no exception. On the one hand, it makes you think of minty goodness, but then it defaults to a desktop called Cinnamon. It also lacks much that looks and feels like mint, except for a green logo and some accent color. Yet even that looks more like an emoji than a logo. Sign of the times I guess.

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Once you look past these quibbles, though, it feels surprisingly Windows-like. On my own system I changed some colors around and changed the look of the menus to make it look just like Windows. Ultimately, no matter how it looks, you can click around just like in Windows and find most of what you need. So while the default look doesn’t quite evoke minty sweetness, it works just like you are used to.

And if you are really troubled with this, then you can do what I do and tell yourself that it will save you a mint in software licensing costs. If you want, change the desktop background to a picture of a pile of money, change the icons to be little banks, and give it your own green “money” flavor. The bottom line is that it’s infinitely configurable, another big plus.

Several years ago, I was fed up with all the malware and junk that Windows was throwing at my parent’s aging desktop and I installed Mint for them. They hardly noticed many differences, but it made an old home-built (white-box) computer run much better and with less clutter. They eventually bought a new computer, but it did give them a few more years on an old computer without much fuss. The point being that if my parents could use it without a hitch for years, anyone can.

So why Linux Mint?

Well aside from the interface, Linux Mint has some other important advantages. I am especially focusing on attributes that will make a difference for our needs on our quest to find an inexpensive computing platform for gigsters, entrepreneurs and small businesses. To that end, here are my top reasons.

It’s free. This was a primary criteria from the start. Better than low-cost, it’s completely free to download, install on as many computers as you like, and you can give copies to all your friends. This is completely legal, and as a matter of fact, it’s encouraged.

It has been around. Being a startup means some degree of instability, so using products and services that are stable helps stabilize the business. Linux Mint has been around since 2006 and it shows no signs of slowing down. As a result, the underlying code is extremely stable and trouble-free. Yes, it is actually more stable than Windows or MacOS, too.

It is based on Debian. Debian Stable Branch is the most successful Linux branch to come from the original Linux kernel and is the basis of many of the best known Linux operating systems today. As such, many of Linux Mint’s processes are also industry standards.

It is geared to beginners. This is clear from the beginning. There is a lot of hand-holding along the way. The latest installation has a pop-up Welcome Screen when you first log in that walks you through common tasks (like setting up snapshot backups) that aren’t common practice in Windows or MacOS, but should be.

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It is for experts, too. While it is easy to get started with, most people who do also stay with it. You too can stay with Linux Mint even as you become more of a Linux pro – this is another plus for stability. Mint is for beginners, intermediate users and experts.

It is popular. At over 6 million users, there is plenty of expertise out there to offer support, assistance, and to continue to improve the product. One of the important aspects of using Linux is the community. Unlike commercial software where you typically contact the manufacturer for help, sometimes with hours spent in a phone tree, Linux Mint handles this differently. For assistance, you typically turn to the community where there is always someone who can help.

It isn’t completely FOSS. Linux Mint has been criticized by purists because it uses some closed-sourced software and even proprietary codecs. OK, but that’s for purists. I like the fact that it isn’t completely on one side of the FOSS debate on this. Their reason for doing it, by the way, is usability, so that’s another plus for me.

It has a large repository of software to choose from. Unlike other operating systems, in Linux, installation of software from other developers occurs from within the operating system. Linux Mint, using a standard software installation procedure derived from Debian, provides access to not hundreds, but thousands of software applications. This will come in handy when we need to find alternative to all the Windows applications we’re used to.

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It runs on any computer. Since most of us are using older hand-me-down or salvaged computers for this project, it is nice to know that Linux Mint is fast and zippy. This is very noticeable when comparing it to running Windows on the same computer (I know I tested it). If you have a much older computer, you can even download a lighter version of Linux Mint that does not use Cinnamon as the main desktop, but a lighter version called Mate, and a super light version called Xfce. If your CPU is extremely old and only 32-bit, then you can even download 32 bit versions of these.

It has a good file manager. I won’t sugar-coat this: Linux has a very different directory tree that will take some getting used to. Fortunately, Linux Mint includes a file manager called Nemo that makes the directories and folders far easier to navigate than other Linux versions.

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It has Long Term Support. The current version of Linux Mint is good for 5 years. That means they won’t require you to upgrade to a new version for at least five years. It’s nice that they tell you this up-front, many Linux version don’t. Five years should be plenty of time to get your business off the ground, or get it to the next phase.

It can read and write to Windows and MacOS folders. Linux Mint can seamlessly read and write to removable drives or networked drives on Windows and MacOS computers on your network. This is particularly important for those of us who will need to share files with their existing Windows and MacOS computers.

Updates are seamless. Linux Mint can do most updates in the background, without user interactivity and will seldom if ever require a reboot. Compare that to Windows and MacOS with their weekly updates that take over the system so that you can’t work and that then require more time after rebooting. This is a significant impediment to productivity, especially for our readers who need to get work done in time.

Conclusion: Linux Mint just works

I know there are many other versions of Linux out there, and some have very good applications for their specific user-base. I certainly have enjoyed working with many of the other ones. That said, I always compared them back to Linux Mint. That says something.

When installed for others, Linux Mint is the version I hear the least about (meaning it works for them). If you’re also the person who maintains Linux for others, do them and yourself a favor and choose Linux Mint. It will work better than other versions across more systems and for more people than other versions of Linux. As a matter of fact, I’ve logged far more hours fixing Windows problems than Linux Mint problems…

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For me, it’s the version I use when I need to get work done. The system has far fewer issues than my the many Windows and MacOS computers I support and have supported in the past. It also hardly ever needs to be rebooted, and it connects to everything else in the home. That is why I recommend it above any other version of Linux.

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In the next post I will go over how to acquire a copy of Linux Mint for installation on your computer. Yes, this is fairly straight forward for many of you, but since it isn’t something that is bought off-the-shelf at Best Buy or Walmart, I wanted to cover this for those who aren’t familiar with how to do acquire software the Linux way.

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