Computers

‘Just works’ mantra finally applies to Linux (Mint ‘Rafaela’) adopters

20151013_102722It was time to get back to Linux on one of my old PC’s. I have Windows 10 running well on an ancient 1.83 GHz Core2Duo processor desktop PC. I also have an old AMD Athlon 64 eMachines tower that was waiting to have the 160 GB hard drive formatted with a new OS. But, what OS was I going to try to install?

I settled on Linux Mint 17.2 Rafaela. I have had experience with Ubuntu, and while that remains a popular Linux distro, I wanted something that was the Linux version of set it and forget it. Ubuntu gave me fits regarding display resolution and Xorg.conf file tinkering. I do appreciate the time spent on getting PCs to work properly, but seems like available troubleshooting time is pretty much non-existent for me these days.

A friend had been urging me to try Linux Mint if I ever wanted a good desktop version of Linux that was closer to just working out of the box on many old PCs than other distros. To be clear, depending on machine and configuration, any Linux distro can be problematic with niggling idiosyncrasies that many users end up living and compromising with. Or, they nuke and pave repeatedly trying different Linux distro versions until they settle on one with the least amount of issues for them.

That is what’s great about Linux that you can’t say if you’re a user of Microsoft or Apple operating systems. You have to take what they give you. With Linux, there are many distros with varying degrees of system resource overhead. Essentially, you can try many different flavors and see what works best, again, if you have the time that is.

I was intrigued by what I’ve read and seen about Linux Mint. Could it really be true that it would work right out of the box after installation? Would printers I plugged in via USB just work like they do on Macs and PCs? I had my lingering doubts after trying to get an old 400 MHz CRT iMac G3 to work with Xubuntu and Lubuntu PowerPC versions. For this ancient Apple machine I settled on an older version of Ubuntu—perhaps 5.x or 6.x, I can’t recall. I only remember I had it working (mostly) well enough to donate it one day to Goodwill (sans working Adobe Flash plug in which is not supported on Ubuntu PowerPC rigs).

The iMac wouldn’t recognize any printers in Ubuntu and I couldn’t surf wirelessly (seems I had it working spottily if at all), but I was able to use the Internet via Ethernet. I did spend hours getting the Video display at an acceptable resolution. And, whoever ended up with it at Goodwill, had themselves a very good machine for what it was—Internet, email and Office suite functionality.

Back to the AMD eMachines Mint install

I burn the disk image to DVD for installation. There is a USB stick method, but since the old tower has a DVD drive and I have some blank discs around still, I use what I already have to do the install. I also have a fast external burner that I use to burn the image. I mistakenly burn the image to a dual layer DVD, but no problem, I repeatedly hit F10 on reboot and select the external burner as my startup source.

Linux Mint comes up rapidly and the install is underway. It prompts me for some basic things like warnings about erasing the entire contents of the hard drive (I want that), asks my location for date and time settings and keyboard style (US English), and then the remainder of the installation is off and running.

The install completes in less than an hour. I want to say it is done in about a half an hour and then it restarts, ejecting the DVD. It brings me up to the desktop with sign in prompt and I am in. It prompts me to install updates and I comply.

Afterwards, Linux Mint feels snappy, modern and most importantly, untethered to either Microsoft or Apple.

I am not directly or intentionally seeking to avoid Microsoft or Apple on this old geezer of a tower that originally had XP on it. But, I want a 64 bit OS on this box and Linux Mint 64 is on it now.

Some first impressions

Initially, I had only two resolution choices: 800 x 600 and 1024 x 768. I was disappointed and was thinking I was going to need to edit the Xorg.conf file. No way did I want to mess with that again some five plus years after stumbling through it on the aforementioned iMac. I know geeks will tell me it’s not that hard to do. But, what’s hard is to digest the unpredictable, hit or miss results that are editing the Xorg.conf file (and expecting it to stick without crashing your rig). Additionally, I did not want to mess with Terminal and the command line on this go around with Linux. Mint was supposed to be the set it and forget it Linux desktop OS and that’s what I wanted.

I did some research and found the ability to engage the NVIDIA video drivers that were recommended within the driver menu selections. It was as easy as a drop down, click on the NVIDIA recommended driver setting, allow them to load, apply and reboot. I now had a 1360 x 768 drop down choice in the display settings that was not previously available. Choosing it gave me a good-looking desktop and Firefox web browser display on the ancient 19” ViewSonic TV & Monitor combo display I have hooked up to the eMachines box.

Sawtooth G4

Power Mac G4 showing no sign of letting PowerPC users down anytime soon.

What works right out of the box?

Pretty much everything. I tried two different Netgear USB Wireless sticks and both worked. I eventually settled on an AirLink101 AWLL6075 Wireless N Mini USB Adapter to provide the fastest connection. The only issues were after waking from sleep (suspend or hibernate) I had to remove and reinsert the stick (identical issue on PowerPC G4 Sawtooth Mac). Also, upon wake from suspend or hibernate I had to reselect the 1360 x 768 display setting. On the bright side, the HP 4200 series inkjet was recognized and I printed out my boarding passes for my trip to New Orleans just for fun. And yes, I do use mobile boarding passes, too.

So, it’s not perfect, but it’s as good if not better than anything Apple or Microsoft compatible on old Macs and PCs. Again, for old Macs, they should be Intel processors to run Linux, unless you have nothing but time on your hands and the need to get a Linux distro running well on PowerPC Macs.

I won’t hesitate to recommend Linux Mint for older AMD and Intel Processor PCs. For hardly any time at all you get a modern, good-looking operating system that handles everything you throw at it well. You also get the security of Linux. You also don’t get the virus and malware threats that will always plague Microsoft OS’s. And, you also enjoy support by a community of users and developers that are there to help you in forums around the world 24/7. How nice is that?

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