Choosing a Post-Windows 7 Version of Linux

For Windows 7 users concerned about Microsoft’s push toward a Windows 10 operating system not highly oriented toward their own needs, my previous post suggested a strategy of reducing dependence on Microsoft by switching to Linux and running Windows 7 and/or 10 programs there, either natively or in a virtual machine (VM). The success of that strategy would depend upon several elements. This post focuses on the task of choosing the best version of Linux for the job.

There were many Linux distributions. Ubuntu was probably the most widely known. Back in the late 2000s, I had used Ubuntu as the operating system in which I ran Windows XP in a virtual machine. So it was tempting. But I had two concerns:

  1. recent deal between Microsoft and Canonical (creator of Ubuntu) was going to let Microsoft run Ubuntu commands on Windows 10. Any interaction between those two companies would be guaranteed to generate conspiracy theories, and this was no exception. Linux Journal (Darvell, 2015) was right when it said, “Microsoft has enough money to make anyone think twice.” Canonical had often been controversial, but Tech Republic (Wallen, 2015) contended that controversial moves (by e.g., Red Hat) had been extremely important in enabling Linux to survive and thrive. I could see how Ubuntu command line capabilities could help Microsoft attract developers to Windows 10. But I had to agree with the concerns expressed in The Inquirer (Merriman, 2016): how, exactly, did the Microsoft deal help the Linux community?
  2. It appeared that Ubuntu was being challenged, if not yet eclipsed. Linux Mint had become arguably the most popular flavor of Linux, being named specifically the best distro for desktops (though not necessarily for laptops) by various observers (e.g., ZDNet, Numerous writers and thread participants (e.g., 1 2 3 4) leaned toward Mint as being less buggy and easier to install and use than Ubuntu. Mint, originally based on Ubuntu, had launched a separate version (LMDE) based on Debian (on which Ubuntu itself was based), and Softpedia (Stahie, 2015) reported that this Debian version was catching up with the Ubuntu version. So it appeared that a user could start with Mint (to take advantage of the depth of Ubuntu-related support available) and reserve the option of switching to LMDE if Ubuntu did stray too far in the wrong direction. Dedoimedo (2014) claimed the two were virtually identical, but at this writing the Mint website itself warned that LMDE was “not recommended for novice users.” Mint had drawn negative commentary due to the fact that its related blog and forum had been hacked; but ZDNet (Watson, 2016) praised the way the Mint people handled it, and Baltimax suggested the incident was part of a larger problem in operating system security.

A related issue: the desktop environment. It was possible to run different desktop environments within a given version of Linux. But the default environment in Ubuntu, known as Unity, was neither very attractive nor very familiar to a Windows user (and had lately drawn controversy for its inclusion of advertising). Various writers had said that Unity was actually more like the Mac interface. A conspiracy theorist might ask, then, whether Unity represented Canonical’s best effort at attracting Windows users. At the very least, the choice of the Unity desktop suggested that Canonical was not deeply focused on providing a highly appealing Windows 7 alternative.

RenewablePCs provided an informative rundown of some major Linux desktop environments. Among those, Mint’s Cinnamon desktop was specifically recommended for former Windows users because of its reported ease of use — though some said the same about KDE. While KDE apparently placed the most demands upon the system, sources (1 2) expressed a preference for KDE because of its screen control and customizability. There were warnings that KDE was still buggy and that its latest version did not work well with VMs, but RoboLinux (for example) seemed to have no problem with VMs. Also, while some disputed the claim that it was best to stick with the default desktop accompanying a Linux distribution, it did appear that KDE in particular did not play well with other desktop environments, notably Cinnamon. (So, for example, for the user planning to use Ubuntu, the recommended approach would be to decide which desktop manager one preferred, and then to chooose the corresponding flavor of Ubuntu: for example, Kubuntu, to run KDE; Xubuntu, to run the Xfce desktop manager; or Lubuntu, to run the LXDE desktop manager.)

Based on these considerations, I decided to download the 64-bit version of Linux Mint 17.3 (“Rosa”) with the KDE desktop. I did consider postponing the download. Mint was based on the Ubuntu Long-Term Support (LTS) releases, and the next one of those (Ubuntu 16.04) was due in April 2016. But according to Phoronix (Larabel, 2016), the Mint version of the Ubuntu LTS release would tend to lag by a few months, most likely arriving in May or June 2016. Given reports that Ubuntu was trying to do many things in its recent releases, I was not sure whether the version of Mint based on Ubuntu 16.04 would be entirely stable or coherent. It seemed I might as well go ahead, rather than wait for that later upgrade.

The next question was, where and how would I install this Linux operating system? Those questions involved choices among computers and media. I discussed such matters in a separate post.


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