Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A New Lease on Life

Your Windows XP machine may be bogged down and security updates may be ending, but Linux can fix that. I have assumed that you’ve resisted the allure of a new machine and have at least skimmed my last post.
Now we will try out a Linux distribution on your machine. Linux is so incredible that it can run on a USB thumb drive.
First we need to discuss distributions or distros. These are “versions” of Linux, and some of the most popular ones are Ubuntu, Debian, Linux Mint, and Fedora. Each of these come with various desktop environments to suit your needs. In this case I chose Xubuntu, the Xfce desktop for Ubuntu, because I have successfully installed it on a number of Windows XP era laptops.
Okay, you have already backed up up your machine according to my last post, if not, do it now. For the first step Xubuntu will only be running on the thumb drive, but something could go wrong so BACKUP!
First, ensure you have a thumb drive that can be overwritten. If it has been used previously, format it using FAT32. Right click on the USB drive in Windows Explorer and click Format. Now you should see your drive letter appear in the Drive box then click OK.
Second, in Windows download the distribution you would like to try. Here I'm using latest Xubuntu Long Term Release, 12.04, so click on the torrent or mirror nearest your location and select the version recommended for your machine, xubuntu-12.04.4-desktop-i386.iso. The MD5SUMS files have a check sum that ensures the integrity of your download. Consult this tutorial to do so for your download.
Third, download UNetbootin and launch it. Click on Disk image and browse to your downloaded .iso. Alternatively, you can select a distro from the list, but I prefer to download it first.

 If you don't see a drive letter as above and get a this message:
Format the drive and then close and re-open Unetbootin. Your drive should be listed. You should then see the following after pressing OK:
And lastly,

Click Exit (Reboot Now will reboot your computer, only press if you're ready to reboot, i.e., no other programs are open). 
Now keep the drive plugged in and restart your machine. The first screen you see should have the motherboard manufacturer's logo plastered on it and some options below. If you see an option to Enter Boot Menu or similar press the key indicated. (All options on this first splash screen can only be accessed through the keyboard.) Then look for the USB drive manufacturer's name in the list under Hard Drives. Select your USB Drive and press the key to proceed. Now your computer is booting up from the USB drive rather than the hard drive containing Windows XP.
If you do not see Enter Boot Menu option then press Delete or the indicated key to enter the BIOS. There you will find a brightly coloured screen. Scroll through until you find the option for Boot Sequence or similar. Then select it and again look for your USB drive or USB/removable drives and move it to first, usually using PgUp and PgDn. Now save and exit and then your computer should be booting from the USB drive. 
First you will see a UNetbootin Menu screen. Click Default and Xubuntu should start loading. Remember that Xubuntu will be slower on the USB drive than when installed on your machine. If you like what you see then press Install Xubuntu icon on the desktop. Click Install Xubuntu. Now if you opted to re-partition your drive and dual boot with Windows XP on the previous blog post, follow this tutorial:  (It is for Linux Mint but most of the screen look the same. Ensure that you select Something Else on the third screen labelled Installation type.
If you want to replace Windows XP on your machine follow the steps in part 2 of this tutorial (scroll down past Part 1).
Voila! Restart and you should see a Grub menu that looks like this. Select Xubuntu 12.04.

To customize Xubuntu you can follow the steps on page two of the above link.

The End of Windows XP

Your Windows XP computer won’t be as secure as it used to be after 8th April 2014.” If you have a Windows XP computer and more than the date formatting bothers you, you have four ready options:
  1. Ignore the message and assume any associated risks;
  2. Rush out and by a Windows 8 machine with a flashy new interface made for tablets or a flashy new Mac;
  3. Try upgrading the computer to a more recent version of Windows (7 or 8); and
  4. Convert to Linux. Basically have a faster, more secure, and free operating system.
If the last option grabs your attention read further.
If you have an XP machine why not extend its useful life by installing a Linux operating system. Yes, Linux. It's not intimidating at all, just unfamiliar. In fact, in many cases, it's superior. Take the Ubuntu Software Centre which functions just like an App Store and has fantastic free programs, such as Stellarium which allows you to view satellites moving through the sky, and even has a night mode so you can take it outside and not impact your night-adjusted eyes.
Step one: Backup. You know the drill. Just remember all the profiles associated with programs, e.g., .pst files and Mozilla profiles, if you’re not using a backup program. If you are, make sure the backup file is uncompressed or in a universal format.
Step two: Decide whether you want to keep Windows XP on the machine or start fresh. If you want to keep Windows XP, so you can still run a favourite program not readily available for Linux or easily go back to the way things were then you need to follow some more steps. Otherwise go here:
Step three: If you only have one hard drive, and it’s pretty full, you will have to free up some room for Linux. Simply run the Disk Cleanup Utility: right-click your hard drive in Windows Explorer and click Disk Cleanup. I generally click OK, but you can also select unchecked items that will free up more space.
Next follow these instructions, which includes defragmenting your drive as an option. I suggest doing so and found that MyDefrag works really well but it takes a long time. So, feel free to use the Windows XP defragmentation utility in Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Defragmenter. Select your hard drive and click Defrag. This will take a few or more hours depending on the size of your hard drive.
Lastly the instructions suggest using GParted to re-size your Windows partition in order to run both Windows XP and Linux on one hard drive. Install the program and follow the remaining steps.
Now you are ready to install Linux.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lauding Linux

If you have an old computer lying around gathering dust, one you love but can't upgrade, or one you can't afford to upgrade, Linux can revive it. You most likely have some preconceptions about Linux, e.g., way too complex, command line, so let’s deal with those first. Linux in 2014 looks and feels much like Windows or Mac OS. Furthermore, consider what you have gotten acclimatized to: blue screens, random error dialogue boxes, and viruses. I haven't seen one in Linux.
Still unsure? Linux, unlike Windows or Mac OS which release one version of their operating system for a period of time, have a very large number of distributions, which you can choose based on preference. Some of these are Long Term Support (LTS) distributions that will be supported for a few years or others are rolling distributions that provide more frequent upgrades. No matter what the distribution it is easy to upgrade and transition to a new distribution. Since Linux can run on a thumb drive, you can test drive those that appeal to you without installing anything on your computer. Try the applications included on the distribution, check out the user interface, and have fun. Note that the distribution will run much faster when it's installed on your computer.
If you find a distribution that appeals to you, but don't like all the programs, don't worry. It is very easy to remove or replace programs. In particular, the Ubuntu Software Centre is great and most of the programs are free. It is like the Google Play or App Store. If you want Libre Office (an excellent office suite), search for it, and click install. Libre Office is a good example because you can install the entire suite or separate programs. You can see exactly what's installed and get new vetted programs in one place, and it's so much better than Add/Remove Programs.
Linux has music covered as well. I invested an inordinate amount of time in my iTunes meta data and was paranoid that this might get lost with any import. Fortunately, programs like Banshee do this with a click of the mouse and not only import the meta data but also playlists. Banshee processed my fairly large music library in ten minutes. The only thing it skipped was the Smart Playlists which I exported from iTunes and then imported separately.
Many distributions have workspaces, which can be best described as switchable desktops running programs you specify. For example, move large files on one workspace and then complete other work on another workspace. This way it is easy to check on the moving files and instantly switch back the other work, and even have a music player or browser on a separate monitor with it's own workspace(s).
Every now and then a problem will present itself, such as when you purchase a new network hard drive, but there are plentiful forum and blog posts to guide you. It may take some time and learning but you will resolve it. Behind all Linux distributions are a committed group of awesome people. They and their organizations release the distributions and are more than willing to help you via forums, wikis, etc. Share the love with these people.
Linux is much less scary than it used to be. If you keep all your data backed up on a portable hard drive or, better, have it on separate drive from your operating system and back it up, and have all your bookmarks, emails, etc. on the cloud, then there is very little risk in playing around with Linux.


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