alternative PC operating systems

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timothy42b
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alternative PC operating systems

Post by timothy42b » Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:12 pm

I decided to split this one off because the first one (cheap recycled computers) has drifted.

I don't know much about chromebooks or cloud computing, feel free to comment.

I've been thinking about linux for some time, ever since my daughter's college laptop crashed, and while I could recover files with some assistance on the old trombone forum, and buy a new hard drive, I couldn't get the operating system replaced at a reasonable cost. a friend found a version of XP to get it going. So here's what I've done.

I have a Knoppix live CD and that so far works very well on every old laptop I have. It comes with almost all the software I'd ever need, finds the wifi seamlessly. It's not recommended to install, though it's debian based, because it can't upgrade.

Mate is highly recommended but I haven't been able to get it to find the wifi on any system so far. I assume this is operator error, but I haven't figured a way past it. I have lubuntu installed on one old laptop and that does okay. The other runs the vulnerable XP so I'm looking for a solution. Tonight I booted up linux mint (live CD, not installed.) Very easy, found the wifi. It comes with Firefox which doesn't play youtube, so I downloaded chrome. I expected a learning curve with apt-get, but it brought up the package installer and it worked fine. This may be a keeper.

Alas, my only printer is a Canon MF 6530. Great machine, but old; the chances of finding a driver for it seem small.
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robcat2075
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by robcat2075 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:23 pm

I have so many things that are Windows only that linux is a non-starter.

I've tried it a few times when people said I should try it but I never saw anything about it that was better.

I have my OS and Data on separate drives so if the OS goes under my data is not lost and I can easily restore the OS to the OS drive.
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timothy42b
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by timothy42b » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:34 pm

robcat2075 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:23 pm


I have my OS and Data on separate drives so if the OS goes under my data is not lost and I can easily restore the OS to the OS drive.
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That seems really smart to me.
On my new desktop system I have four empty bays. I guess I could add a drive and store all my data there. Still have to back it up, because you can (and will) lose the data drive, but at least you have some options, and recovery seems like it would be much easier.
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robcat2075
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by robcat2075 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:59 pm

A 256Gig SSD is more than enough for an OS drive and should make you boot time faster (unless that PC from the Salvation Army has a mother board that doesn't understand those things)

If you make a mirror of the OS you can be back up in minutes instead of the hour or so it takes from a Windows installation disk.

If you bought a computer that came with no installation disk, you really want to make mirror of it.

You could use one of your extra empty bays for a resident back up drive and have your data drive automatically update it at intervals. Get something about 2-3x the size of your data drive.

Or you could have a drive that you just plugin once a week to update and then spirit away to an undisclosed location so ninjas won't steal it.
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SteveP
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by SteveP » Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:18 pm

robcat2075 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:23 pm
. . . I have my OS and Data on separate drives so if the OS goes under my data is not lost and I can easily restore the OS to the OS drive.
Seems to me that daily (evening) backups of data would accomplish 'almost' the same thing without the need for separate drives. Only one day data max at risk at any time. It's what I do, and I back up onto alternate (encrypted) external disks every other day so that I really have 'almost' all data in three places at all times.

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SimmonsTrombone
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by SimmonsTrombone » Fri Sep 21, 2018 4:15 am

I installed Linux mint on an old Dell laptop and it was extremely easy. It found wi-fi and everything else with no problem. Under administration there is a software manager. Use that to install other packages, when available, rather than terminal.

As for Windows programs, install WINE. Insert you Windows install media, find the setup.exe file, right click, and choose open in WINE. I now have my whole Adobe Master Collection and several other Windows programs running under Linux.
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Matt K
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by Matt K » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:45 am

Mate is highly recommended but I haven't been able to get it to find the wifi on any system so far. I assume this is operator error, but I haven't figured a way past it. I have lubuntu installed on one old laptop and that does okay. The other runs the vulnerable XP so I'm looking for a solution. Tonight I booted up linux mint (live CD, not installed.) Very easy, found the wifi. It comes with Firefox which doesn't play youtube, so I downloaded chrome. I expected a learning curve with apt-get, but it brought up the package installer and it worked fine. This may be a keeper.
The Linux world can be a little confusing because unlike the two big guys, there are myriad options and those options with with other options... soon you end up with a nearly infinite set of choices and it becomes overwhelming.

Basically, Linux operating systems have an underlying Kernel that they all basically share in common. Then the operating system builds on top of that and specifies certain ways that applications should be handled. They also determine how updates are handled. Some OSes differ only from how packages are handled, others by how updates are handled, and some are both.

For example, Debian has a slow release cycle but that means the OS is usually quite stable. Ubuntu is based off of Debian, but has a more aggressive update to their versioning. Linux Mint is based off of Ubuntu, but includes proprietary packages (such as drivers from GPU vendors and such). These versions include updates to most components of the OS. As such, certain software isn't upgraded as soon as it is released because there may be compatibility between software A and B. A new release comes out and specifically tests all of the various possibilities and then releases them as a package that all works together. (Such as Linux Mint 18, Ubuntu 16.05, etc.)

Other OSes, such as Arch, don't have versions at all. They are "rolling release". Software is updated basically as soon as it is released. This means that the OS is somewhat volatile but features and security patches happen basically immediately. Manjaro, which is based off of Arch, will do versions but their cycles are much quicker than Debian based packages.

This is where it gets confusing; nothing I've mentioned so far is actually what you use to interface with the computer. That is just 'under the hood' so to speak. This is one of the large departures from the two big popular OSes. Basically any OS can have any, multiple, or even no desktop environment installed. A desktop environment is the graphical user interface that you use to perform computing tasks like viewing documents, browsing the web, etc. Without a desktop environment, you basically have a terminal (similar to a command prompt). Everything is text based.

Common desktop environments are:
Gnome (3)
KDE
Mate (pronounced Ma-tay) (fork of Gnome 2)
Cinnamon (fork of Gnome 2)
XFCE
LXDE
LXQt
Budgie
Unity
etc.

Many operating systems choose a default and then deviations are appended with the desktop environment. E.g. Linux Mint uses Cinnamon by default; however, you can also get Mint XFCE, Mint Mate, and Mint KDE. These versions are the Linux Mint OS + the XFCE or Mate desktop environment, respectively.

Ubuntu names them by prefixing a letter usually so you get:
Ubuntu (Gnome)
Lubuntu (Ubuntu + LXDE)
Xubuntu (Ubuntu + XFCE)
Kubuntu (Ubuntu + KDE)
Ubuntu Mate
Ubuntu Budgie
etc.

Thats a long way to getting to the point, which is to answer why this might be the case: Linux Mint is a good OS for people who are new to the environment and aren't doing it for moral/ethical/practical reasons that are beyond the purview of this site. (Basically there are people who have a problem with using software that they don't have access to the source code for. The opinions are easy to find on the internet so I'll leave it at that). It includes proprietary drivers on the Live CD (so you can often access wifi when only proprietary drivers are available). The other way around this is to install a distribution that is connected via Ethernet and to have it install a driver if it is available - this of course is a problem if you can only connect over wifi because you need internet to connect to the internet!

The Firefox issue is either a hardware problem (for which you can find answers for as its not uncommon) or because of the built in DRM blocking built into Firefox. I'd try disabling the latter and seeing if it solves the problem because its an easy 'fix' and is actually intentionally done for similar reasons that I mentioned earlier.
robcat2075 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:23 pm
I have so many things that are Windows only that linux is a non-starter.

I've tried it a few times when people said I should try it but I never saw anything about it that was better.

I have my OS and Data on separate drives so if the OS goes under my data is not lost and I can easily restore the OS to the OS drive.
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Better, is of course, subjective. Being able to handle updates in the way that I want to (roling release vs. versioning as well as being able to fix specific components instead of having Windows Update push out monolith updates that don't check if they have enough storage to complete and end in an infinite loop whch may or may not break compatibility with something else you are using. That is, of course, usually more advanced than the typical user needs, but important nontheless for many.

Wine (Windows compatibility layer) does work well for some applications but it doesn't for all so that is a fairly major stumbling block. No point in emulating if you don't need to emulate. Though again there are users where it makes sense to say, have one Windows machine as I do and I connect into it for singular applications. (My work, for example, enforces a specific version of Outlook to us e-mail.

As software transitions into services and becomes browser based, that will definitely change. I'd give it a few years, but even Microsoft sees the writing on the wall. THere's a big push to get everything into their cloud (such as the recent move from OneNote 2016 to OneNote UWP which only allows local notebooks if they've handshaked with the server first).
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Matt K
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by Matt K » Fri Sep 21, 2018 9:45 am

Decided to split into a second post for demarcation purposes:

Also, for those concerned about backups of data, the cloud options like Dropbox, Google Drive, etc. are really worth checking into. If you'd prefer the files not be stored in the cloud with the fear that others might see them in a breach or something, you can encrypt them with a tool like Veracrypt. Onsite backups protect against Windows kicking the bucket (likely) but do little to protect against fires, floods, malware attacks (like the encryption virus that was going around), theft, etc.

One of the features of Win 10 that is actually nice (in the sense that it sucks less than it used to) is the way they handle licenses. It used to be that you had a product key and you could install it a certain number of times. Now, they take the GUID of the motherboard and assign it to your Windows account. If you purchase a copy of Win10, you can install it on that motherboard as many times as you like. Instead of dealing with images of copies which may or may not work to actually copy software over, it makes sense for most end-users to keep a copy of the Win10 creation utility and keep the installers for your software somewhere off-site with the product keys to them. That way the environment can be recreated in the event there's something wrong with the images. You can also reinstall any software if the install becomes corrupted (such as by a Microsoft Update) or if your machine dies and there is a compatibility issue with the cloning. In 2008, it may have made sense because installers were locked onto physical media (like CDs) and they had DRM that mandated they be physically used on the machine, but just about any software in 2018 has an installer that isn't tied to specific media anymore.
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by JohnL » Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:00 pm

I've been working with Chrome OS for a while. It's definitely not for everyone or everything. The apps are limited (both in what is available and what said apps do) compared to Windows, MacOS, or Linux. On the other hand, it's secure, stable, and very simple to maintain.

Actual Chrome OS is only available on Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, but you can get the home edition of Neverware Cloud Ready as a free download. I've got it running on a 10+ year old HP laptop (old enough that it's not widescreen) and it does pretty well. You have to be careful about hardware compatibility, though - if the driver isn't built into Cloud Ready, you're kinda out of luck.
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robcat2075
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by robcat2075 » Fri Sep 21, 2018 2:41 pm

SteveP wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:18 pm
robcat2075 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 7:23 pm
. . . I have my OS and Data on separate drives so if the OS goes under my data is not lost and I can easily restore the OS to the OS drive.
Seems to me that daily (evening) backups of data would accomplish 'almost' the same thing without the need for separate drives.
Very true. In my case I'm glad I was on separate physical drives because it made it simple to swap in the SSD for my OS drive.


I think cloud backups are for people with light document needs like text and spreadsheets and maybe some JPGs.

But I've got about 3TB of data on this machine. The time to restore all that from the cloud would be about 80 days. The initial upload would be twice that. :horror:
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Matt K
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by Matt K » Fri Sep 21, 2018 3:00 pm


I think cloud backups are for people with light document needs like text and spreadsheets and maybe some JPGs.

But I've got about 3TB of data on this machine. The time to restore all that from the cloud would be about 80 days. The initial upload would be twice that. :horror:

Depends on the provider, internet speed, and how much you want your data to be protected. After all, 80 days is infinitely better than having everything lost in a fire. It isn't unusual for people on /r/datahoarder have petabytes of information on Google Drive. :eek:

I keep my flac music collection (around 400GB), photos (mix of raw & png) (around 100GB), and installers (Sibelius that sort of thing) which is another ~100 or so Gb in Google Drive. It takes about 4 hours to do a full download on a 7200RPM HDD, though it's only compatible with Windows/Mac. You have to use rsync on Linux machines. BUT I have 1Gbps down and .9Gbps up. It used to take 1-2 days on my old DSL connection where I used to live. I actually just did that to a machine.

Another backup strategy that can be useful for offsite backup is to get three drives, do full disc encryption on them, and then make a full backup of your files in each of the. Leave them at a friend/relative/bank safe and then once a month, retrieve one from that location, perform the backup and swap it out with one of the other ones. That way you're never more than 3 months out of date at an off-site backup with redundant storage and if its encrypted, you only ever have one of the three drives with you, etc. etc.

I used to do the latter until the cloud providers started charging $10/month for a TB. It just makes things so convenient to keep backed up / access. I have stuff like the Gordon Cherry CD in PDF format and you can view it from any of the common mobile devices. Photos from your phone also can be made to backup there automatically.

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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by timothy42b » Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:09 pm

A week or so ago I shrank the XP partition using a liveCD. DVD, actually. Nothing broke. So, I created new partitions in preparation for a persistent liveCD that would save my changes.

Turns out that was a bad idea, so today I went ahead and installed Mint as a dual boot. I was giving it about a 5% chance to work, but to my surprise there are no issues. It used the partitions I'd made earlier. When I start, it gives me the choice of XP or Mint. Either can find my wifi, and either can read Excel files on LibreOffice.

That's my last XP machine. In about a week I'll probably convert it completely to Mint.
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by robcat2075 » Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:58 pm

I see that at least one of the cloud backup providers endeavors to get around the download time problem by offering to ship you a hard drive with your data on it, up to 4TB. :idea:
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by Matt K » Sun Sep 23, 2018 4:50 pm

timothy42b wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:09 pm
A week or so ago I shrank the XP partition using a liveCD. DVD, actually. Nothing broke. So, I created new partitions in preparation for a persistent liveCD that would save my changes.

Turns out that was a bad idea, so today I went ahead and installed Mint as a dual boot. I was giving it about a 5% chance to work, but to my surprise there are no issues. It used the partitions I'd made earlier. When I start, it gives me the choice of XP or Mint. Either can find my wifi, and either can read Excel files on LibreOffice.

That's my last XP machine. In about a week I'll probably convert it completely to Mint.
That's great news! Glad it's working for you.

robcat2075 wrote:
Sun Sep 23, 2018 3:58 pm
I see that at least one of the cloud backup providers endeavors to get around the download time problem by offering to ship you a hard drive with your data on it, up to 4TB. :idea:

Funny you should mention that. One of our data providers stopped offering SFTP and started just shipping is hard drives because the price has fallen so much. Sure does make integrity checks easier!
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by Trav1s » Tue Sep 25, 2018 8:18 am

I have found Mint to be a great Linux entry point for those who are willing to learn Linux. The Ubuntu base provides a soild, dependable, and well-supported experience. After playing with various distros, I have landed on Ubuntu MATE - lightweight, easy to use, and stable on hardware that is 3+ years old.

If you are curious about what is out there, http://distrowatch.com/ is a great resource.

For quite some time I have been doing the OS on one drive and DATA on another where the machine allows. In this time of cheap USB drives, I keep a small 128GB USB drive handy for laptops that I use for data storage.
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timothy42b
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Re: alternative PC operating systems

Post by timothy42b » Mon Oct 22, 2018 8:11 am

My old laptop is dual booting XP and Mint, and doing fine. Mint is faster, I'll probably just install it alone soon.

So I tried to do the same process on the Windows 10 desktop. (Same procedure as last year? Same procedure as every year. Anyone wo's been in Europe will recognize the movie reference.)

First I googled how to make a recovery Win10 USB, and did that. Then I somehow screwed up the dual boot install and lost Win10 too. I've never tried the recovery process before but there were no issues. It even found the wifi dongle, which I had to load from CD the first time.
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