Monday, February 19, 2018

Linux saved my computer

I have an admission I need to make.  My computer's operating system is Windows Vista. I know it has a reputation for being one of Windows' failed efforts, but it's what was pre-installed on my computer, and frankly, not only was I used to it, but it really didn't give me any serious problems. Sure, there was an occasional freeze, and rarely a crash, but it was nothing a simple reboot didn't fix. The first real problem I had was a couple years ago, while on the internet, I started to get blocked from websites with a warning that Internet Explorer was outdated and I needed to upgrade.  Normally, IE upgraded automatically, so I went to the website to manually upgrade it, and I found out IE no longer supported Vista.  I ended up switching to Firefox for my browser, and all went back to normal.  Until a couple months ago, when I noticed I didn't upgrade to the latest Firefox browser that was heavily promoted.  I went to the Firefox web site, and there I found out, not only will Firefox stop supporting Vista in May, but that Microsoft itself stopped supporting Vista nearly a year ago.  So now I thought I was screwed.  Does this mean I need to throw out a perfectly good computer just because the OS is obsolete?

My Windows Vista Desktop
There had to be another answer.  Installing the latest Windows 10 on my computer would cost nearly as much as buying a new computer, so that was not an option.  Perhaps there was a way to install Windows 7 at a very low cost or maybe even for free.  At least that may give me a couple more years of use out of my computer.  So, I did a web search to see if it was possible.  But what I found was something even better. I discovered Linux, which is a free alternative to Microsoft Windows.  It was the perfect solution to my situation: a perfectly good computer that is a few years old, and has a version of Windows that has become obsolete and unsupported.  Better yet, I didn't even have to install it blind, not knowing what I would be getting.  With Linux, you can create a bootable USB stick to test drive the OS simply by downloading the ISO image from the website, then using the free tool Rufus to burn it onto a regular USB stick. Now, I don't know anything about computer programming, or anything related to coding and how computers work, but this seemed like it would be real easy to do.  The biggest problem was choosing a Linux distribution (or "distro") as unlike its Microsoft counterpart, there are hundreds of different choices.

I decided to limit my choice to the 20 most popular distros according to Distrowatch, and those that are user friendly and aimed at beginners. I also had to decide if I wanted a point release or a rolling release. A long term support point release is a distro that is fully supported for three years, and has limited extended support for another two years.  So, in a similar scenario to Windows, every three to five years, you would need to install the newest version of the OS, or if you like variety, you can switch to a different distro. Naturally, it is free, unlike a Windows upgrade, but you would need to back up all your personal files, as the fresh install would wipe them out.  The advantage is that a point release is very stable and dependable.  A rolling release is an OS you install just once, and you just need to update it every few weeks.  The down side is rolling releases are not as stable, and can often have bugs.  But there are a couple rolling releases that are not so "bleeding edge" and are considered very stable and dependable.

The first one I tried was Elementary, a point release.  It was kind of slow loading web pages. It was very bare bones, but I liked its Pantheon desktop environment, which mimics Apple Mac rather than Windows. Like its name suggests, it is probably aimed at grade school computers and perhaps senior citizens.

Next I tried Linux Mint, another point release, and the number 1 distro on Distrowatch. It is the one most often suggested for first time Linux users coming from Windows. It was much quicker than Elementary, and seemed to be just like Windows. It would be a very easy transition. I noticed minor screen tearing while using the web browser while scrolling and watching videos. My printer/scanner works with it, so that was one concern eliminated.

Next I tried Antergos, a rolling release. It had some nice pre-installed apps like weather and maps, but the web browser was very juddery and had severe screen tearing. It also froze a lot. My printer/scanner would not work, so that may be a headache to deal with.

Next I attempted Manjaro, another rolling release that is considered more user friendly and stable than Antergos, but could not get the live boot to work, saying the kernel failed to load.

Then I tried Ubuntu, a point release that is considered the most used and preferred Linux distro. Many other distros, such as Mint and Elementary, are derivatives of Ubuntu, and if you ever happen to come across a computer in the store that has a Linux OS pre-installed, it would be Ubuntu. I really liked Ubuntu, perhaps more than Mint. The Gnome desktop is very different than Windows and Mint, but I kind of like it.  Unlike most other desktops which are based on the standard Windows, Gnome seems to be based on an iPhone or iPad. Gnome is also configured in a way that you can do everything from the keyboard and not use a mouse as much as you do in the Windows style desktops.  Like Mint, there was minor screen tearing in the web browser. My printer/scanner was able to configure.  I made a mental note, Ubuntu will be a finalist.

I tried another flavor of Ubuntu, Ubuntu MATE. It was OK, but seemed like a second-tier version of the main Ubuntu Gnome. I did not care for the MATE desktop.  It just seemed kind of old and outdated to me, like it was from 1995.  I also tried Xubuntu, which is Ubuntu with the XFCE desktop.  It kept freezing on me, and also seemed kind of old, like it was based on Windows XP, which would be a step backward from Vista.

Next I tried PCLinuxOS with the KDE desktop. It is a rolling release and has been around longer than a lot of other distros, making it very stable and dependable.  I really like this one. Just about everything I need is pre-installed. It has a very Windows-familiar system, and is also very modern.  Again, there was minor screen tearing while watching videos in the web browser. My printer/scanner seemed to configure properly. Another little thing I liked about PCLinuxOS is that, like Windows, the number lock is on by default.  All the other Linux distros have the number lock off by default, which can be annoying when you go to use the number pad to type in numbers. I noted this one would also be a finalist.

Solus was a distro I was looking forward to trying, as I have read many great things about it. It is a rolling release, yet is extremely stable. It has rave reviews from those who have used it, and it's Budgie desktop is said to have no screen tearing at all.  It is a rising star on Distrowatch. Unfortunately, I could not get it to live boot on my computer. After the countdown screen, all I would get is a flashing cursor, and then a text that said "unable to get SMM Dell signature".  I tried several things, like burning the ISO image in DD mode.  I  tried contacting Solus for help, but the only reply I got was to the effect "Sorry it's not working for you... too bad".  It's really a shame, because for a minute there I thought it would be the one I would pick. Apparently, after looking at some Linux message boards for a solution, the problem live booting Solus seems fairly common. I guess because this is, in fact, a fairly new distro it will be more buggy than a lot of the positive reviews admit.  Maybe in six months or so, if they can fix the problem, I'll give it another try, but now I felt I needed to just move on.
(UPDATE: I ended up finding a work around to get Solus to live boot. In the end I wasn't too impressed by it.  It seemed buggy, and there was screen tearing in the web browser.)

So then I tried Ubuntu Budgie, just to see what Solus' Budgie desktop is like. I liked it. It was like an updated version of the MATE desktop, what it should be in 2018. I did not get any screen tearing while watching videos with Chrome. I was able to switch to Firefox, and did get the minor screen tearing as in the other distros.

I then decided to give Manjaro a second shot, since the first attempt did not boot up. Unlike Solus, Manjaro worked on a second attempt. I tried its Budgie desktop, which I did get some screen tearing in the web browser. I also tried Manjaro's Gnome desktop. There's something about the Gnome desktop I kind of like.  I made a note- if I want a rolling release with a Gnome desktop, Manjaro would be the pick.

I also briefly tried Korora.  This point release reminded me a lot of Mint, but with more choices in desktop environments.

So now the time came to choose.  In theory I like the idea of a rolling release, but I also realized for a beginner like myself, it could be a disaster.  So I decided for a back up if a rolling release just did not work out for me, I would go with Ubuntu- either the standard Gnome or Budgie.

The rolling release I did pick was PCLinuxOS. I now have PCLinuxOS dual booted on my hard drive with Vista as my safety net.

My new PCLinuxOS KDE desktop

So far so good.  I like it. My printer/scanner works, although it prints out a page very slowly, stopping in between lines. I get some screen tearing in videos in the web browser, but from other sources, like a file, it is perfect. As I use it over the next weeks and months, hopefully there will be no major bugs.  Then perhaps after a few months, if all continues to go well, I will delete Vista from the hard drive.  If things go south, then I will replace PCLinuxOS with Ubuntu while keeping Vista as a safety net for a little while longer.

UPDATE: After having PCLinuxOS on my computer for six months, I found it to be very stable, dependable, and problem free. Vista would sometimes freeze on me and occasionally crash. I am amazed that PCLinuxOS has never yet froze on me, much less crash. I make it a point to update the system every 7 to 10 days. Originally I was going to delete Vista from my computer, but I found out I could shrink the Vista partition and give most of my computer's memory to PCLinuxOS. Even though I have not logged on to Vista in months, I decided, just for an extra safety net and since I have enough free space on my computer, to shrink the Vista partition down to 100gb, and expand the PCLinuxOS partition.  All in all, I am very happy and satisfied with PCLinuxOS.


Anonymous said...

Your tearing may be caused by the age of your video card and the lack of memory.

Anonymous said...

Also forgot to mention maybe you could
update your processor a little.