For anyone who, like me, is still using Windows XP (because my PC is pretty old and XP works great on it), support from Microsoft will end on April 8th next year. From that point on, there will be NO more security updates issued. Your system will be open to any hacker who decides to take an interest. Software developers are also less likely to keep developing / updating XP versions of their programs.
For many people, the new Microsoft ‘alternative’, Windows 8, is no alternative at all. If you’ve got an older machine, you’ve got little to no chance of getting it to run. It also looks like crap as far as I’m concerned.
In the past, Linux would’ve been a tricky proposition for the average computer user. Not any more. The latest versions (a.k.a. distros) include several (fairly) user-friendly alternatives. If you’ve ever installed / upgraded Windows, you should have no problem with them. These distros allow you to create what’s known as a live DVD. Simply burn the .iso file you’ve downloaded on to DVD, restart your PC with the disc in the tray and then try it out. You’ll also be able to make sure that things like your wifi and printers work OK (and, if they don’t, Googling the problem may well get you an answer).
If you like the version, simpy follow the instructions to install it from the disc, usually nothing harder than double-clicking a desktop icon and filling in a bit of info. And if, after installing it, you later decide you don’t like it, uninstalling is about as easy as inserting a new live DVD and repeating the above process (although you may want to learn about formatting and partitioning your hard drive – it’s not as scary as it sounds and ultimately worth getting to grips with anyway).
I’ve been trying a few Linux distros over the last week, to see what works best for me and my machine. I was pretty impressed with Linux Mint,and it’s definitely worth giving a go. The main version of Mint is based on a Linux operating system called Ubuntu. Ubuntu is stable and, like Mint, has a well-established development team. The main ‘drawback’ for beginners is that, when an update is released, the update process can appear a little daunting. Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it looks, and there is a very good guide on the Mint site.
The Mint team have also produced a version that is based on the Debian operating system (which also has a well-established development base). Mint Debian offers a simpler updating method – stable updates are released around every 6 months then installed automatically using the Update Manager program included. But I get the impression the Mint developer community is much smaller for this version, although still pretty good.
Mint has been around for a while and it seems likely that it will continue that way, making it a good choice if you want a long-term option for your operating system.
However, if you’re a bit adventurous (and you’re a punk, so that’s a given), I’d also suggest giving SolydX or SolydK a go (the ‘X’ and ‘K’ refers to the two desktop environment options, Xcfe and KDE, available – see note below). Solyd is based on Debian, but the Solyd developer team release monthly updates that have been tested by them for stability and security. After running Solyd for a few days I’ve fallen in love with it, so much so that I’ve removed Windows XP completely from my PC.
Solyd is the new(ish) kid on the block and there’s always a chance it could falter before it really gets going. However, the people involved have a good pedigree, having previously worked on the Mint team, and I’m hoping that it comes to more people’s attention so that the developer / user base grows because I’m selfish like that.
Of course, for the price of a DVD and a bit of time, you can try out as many Linux flavours as you fancy. It’s even pretty simple to install several different distros on your hard drive (e.g. you could have a simple version for everyday PC tasks, and a specialist multi-media one (like KXStudio or AVLinux) if you’re a musical / arty type, so you can go with whatever mood takes you).
Old punks learning new tricks. Take that, society!
Note: the different desktop environments offered as downloads (Cinnamon, MATE, KDE, Xfce etc.) mainly affect the default software packages that are installed, how heavy they are on your hardware and the look and feel of the desktop. Some (e.g. Cinnamon) work best on newer machines, while others (e.g. LXDE) will breathe new life into an old desktop.