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Linux Mint is a Revelation

Microsoft Windows. You have it, you hate it. We all do. It's a giant resource hog, it's security and privacy issues are well documented and it's hoovering up an alarming level of your personal data by default when it installs. But Windows 10 now comes standard on all new PC's and laptops that aren't manufactured by Apple. Are we stuck? No, but what are the alternatives? I stumbled across Linux Mint in a desperate bid to resuscitate an old laptop that had collapsed under a combination of the above issues. What I found is a surprisingly sophisticated and stable OS that I'll be using for the foreseeable future. Here's why you should consider switching to Linux, and Mint specifically.

Firstly and most importantly, the operating system itself is free and open-source. The UI has been modeled on Windows, so the user experience is very similar. This ensures that the learning curve in adopting the new OS is minimal. Mint is based on Ubuntu and Debian, but you don't even need to know that if you're not a terminal ninja. Application installs and updates are performed through the Software Manager application, similar to Windows and iOS. I want to stress that you really don't have to be well-versed in the command-line (I'm not) in order to make the most of this OS. It comes pre-installed with most of the common applications including the Libre Office and Firefox so it's pretty well ready to go out of the box. It's all very intuitive.

From a security perspective, the advantages of Linux are again, well documented. There is no single source of updates, as the OS and packages are typically supported by many individuals and corporations who issue updates on a continuous basis. These updates generally include security patches as soon as they are made available. No more paying McAfee or Norton hundreds of dollars for yearly anti-virus subscriptions. Obviously nothing is certain, but the chances of experiencing security or virus issues are vastly reduced simply by switching away from Windows.

In terms of performance, I've got nothing but positive things to report. It's blazingly fast for everything I've tried to do on it. I haven't honestly pushed it much beyond standard desktop tasks, coding in Python and internet browsing as yet, but it sure looks promising. I suspect niche applications that rely on specialized driver support might suffer, but if you're not doing 3D rendering or deep learning you should be OK. I'm definitely not getting the 100% CPU usage spikes I was getting consistently in Windows while idle. I also had an issue of the swap files being used far too regularly despite having a system with 16GB of RAM. That too has disappeared in Mint. Basically every un-diagnose-able performance issue I was experiencing with Windows has magically evaporated. It's awesome. They also offer a slimmed down version of the UI for lower-specced machines which is nice. Check out the system requirements for the latest version - my 10 year old laptop was able to run the MATE version comfortably.

All applications are also open-source, which is a blessing and a curse. As mentioned above, you get the standard LibreOffice suite on install, as well as some of the other popular apps and tools. It's nice that you don't have to keep throwing money at M$ for access to their basic productivity apps now that they've moved to a subscription model. I've found most documents/slideshows etc. migrate across pretty well, but there may be complications for more complex docs. There's also the issue of niche application support. Put simply, most niche COTS software doesn't really have an open-source alternative that is as good. For example industry stalwarts such as AutoCAD and Photoshop have some free alternatives, but most would agree that their quality is lacking. There's the option of running these tools using a compatibility layer (not an emulator!) such as Wine, but again, results vary wildly and I'm led to believe that Wine itself is not super stable. For a software/analytics guy like me, I deal almost exclusively in open-source tools, so I'm pretty well set (except for Tableau), but you may have different requirements.

It's not perfect. As mentioned, proprietary drivers aren't included by default and sometimes may not even be available or compatible. A good example of this is video card drivers. One of the main reasons gaming has yet to really gain traction on Linux systems is that ATI and NVidia don't typically support or develop drivers for Linux systems. Some are compatible, but the install process is often manual and involved. This is particularly an issue for ATI - NVidia has recently started supporting Linux due largely to their investments in the deep learning space, which makes driver installs far less painful. If you have an ATI graphics card and want to play newer games on Mint, you may be out of luck.

All told, for someone in my line of work Mint is great. It lets me maintain a familiar UI, allows me to run most of the applications I require and lets me play some of the older games sitting in my Steam backlog. I'd love ATI to start looking at delivering specialized drivers, but maybe I'll just have to bite the bullet and buy a NVidia card. I've still got Windows 10 sitting on a separate partition gathering dust, but I suspect that's where it will stay, unless I have C# .NET in my future. I'm looking forward to firing Windows into the Sun and never looking back.

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