Sunday, October 9, 2016

Reduce Reuse Recycle

As I noted in my last post, I have turned to Linux to breathe new life into some of my old hardware that I am just not ready to retire yet. For due diligence, I should point out that the two laptops at home that I have converted over to Linux are "non-detrimental" pieces of hardware. I am not saying that Linux isn't acceptable use itself because it is actively used in many places today like servers, cars, home appliances and many more. I am merely pointing out that using old, out of date equipment isn't the most dependable due to risk of hardware failure. 

That being said, you may choose to give Linux a shot yourself for one of probably two main reasons. One, because it's fun to learn new things. And two, because you want to breathe new life into an older computer. My personal reason was a combination of both. 

I had an eight year old Toshiba laptop with an AMD processor and 2GB of RAM. Those specs are laughable by today's standards, but completely workable with Linux. In my case, I wanted to get this Toshiba running well enough that my daughters could play with it and not have constant system lag. 

I decided to jump in with both feet and wipe the computer and do a full, clean install of Linux Ubuntu. There is a multitude of Linux distributions you can pick from, but I found Ubuntu to be the easiest to work with for a beginner. My initial plan was to install Ubuntu and play with other flavors until I settled on what I liked most. (I keep coming back to Ubuntu.) 

It's pretty easy to load Linux. Since there are a few thousand detailed outlines on how to do this, I will keep my explanation very high level.

First, you pick the distribution you want and download the ISO image file of your choosing and burn it to a DVD. (The cool thing here is that most of them are free.) You can also use a USB if you want, but I like the simplicity of a DVD because you don't have to change your computer's boot sequence to run it.

NOTE: Before you do any of this, make sure you have a backup of anything you don't want lost. My intent is to show you how easy it is to load Linux on a computer you have laying around. Messing with your primary daily driver is a higher stakes game if you're not careful.

Whenever you're ready to give it a shot, you just need to shut down your computer (with the DVD in the drive) and then restart your computer. Your computer should auto-run the DVD and give you a screen like this (Note that I am using Ubuntu): 

Here you can run Ubuntu from the CD along side your existing operating system or choose "Install Ubuntu" to do a clean install. This "Install Ubuntu" option will erase your drive and load a new OS. That is what I chose to do because even Windows 7 was a dog on the old laptop.

After a handful of you typical setup prompts for language, time zone, users, network connections, etc, you are running Ubuntu. (It rarely takes more than 15-20 minutes.) You are now ready. It's so easy, even I don't mess it up. 

I then installed Virtual Box (also free) so I could load multiple operating systems in virtual machines on this laptop. It's much the same process as above except you can load the ISO file directly into your Virtual Box setup rather than having to burn a DVD. 

If you were to scroll back up to the top, you will see the VMs I currently have on my desktop image. I have Windows 10, Linux Mint, open SUSE and Elementary OS loaded in VMs to play around with. Why would I do that you might ask??

I use the Windows 10 VM for two main reasons. I do a lot of troubleshooting for friends and I like to have a Windows 10 machine to play with as that's what they all seem to have upgraded to. It's a decent OS, but it's plagued with a lot of bugs and seems to have new issues every time a new update rolls out. All in all, I like Windows 10 - so don't get me wrong. I also like to have a Windows OS at my fingertips for the occasional application that doesn't like Linux...but I'll get into that in another post. 

Mint, SUSE and Elementary OS are more for someone who likes the added features (I think most are basically bloatware) that your typical Windows OS comes with. Basically, the multitude of distributions you may try come down to personal preference on what bells and whistles you want and what you want the OS to look like. 

All in all, I have been very impressed with Linux in general. In my next post, I will highlight a few gotchas, pros and cons that I have found. Since everyone uses their computers in a little different manner, I am going to focus on the main tools I use my home laptop for - mostly blogging and social media. My review will cover the highlights of the browsers, word processing, spreadsheets and photo/video application options I use on Linux. 

Let me know if there's something in particular you've been curious about - especially if you have been toying with the idea of giving Linux a shot. Keep in mind the two-fold implication of an intermediate user like myself venturing into the world of Linux. I don't have all the answers (or I wouldn't call myself "intermediate"), but if I can do it - so can you. Until next time....