My very special journey with Linux Mint
About an hour ago, I went for my first post-Thanksgiving run, where not only did I play Frogger crossing The Big Street (sorry, Dad), I got a ton of ideas of things to write about. Then I got home, fired up WordPress and my mind went kablooey:
Not as clever as I had hoped. It will come back to me eventually. In the meantime…
Pandemic Thanksgiving happened on Thursday and I was not too surprised to find that it was exactly like non-Pandemic Thanksgiving, with the exception of the Macy’s Parade Lite we witnessed. I was happy to be peeling potatoes.
Over the years our family has usually celebrated Thanksgiving at home. Neither Jenni or I are fans of spending the day in someone else’s house trying to come up with witty conversation and pretending we don’t have gas. So we stay comfy at home, making food, drinking adult beverages and talking about the Butter Guy. This year we finally (finally!) let our newly minted 13-yr old watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles with us. Most of the really bad language he had already heard the last time I stubbed my toe on the coffee table. So it was fine.
I also spent the day stepping in and out of my office between food prep duties to reinstall Linux Mint on my Macbook.
If you suddenly have an urge to click away and look at tie-dye wreaths on Pinterest, I understand. But I hope you’ll stick with me a little longer.
I hate throwing away old tech. Which means that yes, I have a shelf in my office crammed with computers, cameras, speakers, phones, drives, iPods, cords (FireWire, anyone?) and an odometer from a 1986 Volvo. It prefer to think “fix-it shop” rather than “hoarder person,” but I’ll let you be the judge. I like to think that it can all be made useful again. I’m more successful at repairing some things than others, but I am hard pressed to give up on any of it. I just hate seeing useful things tossed in the trash, which is why 90% of our living room furniture was rescued from the alley behind our house. A story for another day. Today, I want to talk about my Macbook.
In 2007, I bought a brandy new Macbook. I was getting ready to transition from my full time job into, well, something that remained to be clearly defined for several years, but I knew that I would need a solid laptop as part of my “plan.” I loved the Macbook and it served me well for a good run. When the screen started blanking out intermittently, I had to get something more reliable for freelance work. It was given a new home where Jenni used it with an external monitor.
Then something went weird again and it wouldn’t even show up on the external. So it got sent to the fix-it shelf where it languished in computer purgatory. Every once in a while, I would pick it up and remind myself why I hadn’t fixed it yet. I would have to take the entire thing apart and replace an inverter cable to the monitor (are you on Pinterest yet or are you still here?), which even then may not work.
I was starting to understand why people throw things away. But I am a determined sort of person, and one day I got a geeky tech bug up my butt and picked up the Macbook again.
I hunkered down at the kitchen table and decided that I was going to repair the thing or cry trying. I’ll save you the bloody details (there were Band-Aids involved), but it turns out the cable to the monitor had come unplugged. Yes, I had waited years to look under the hood and plug a cable back in. But yay! The Macbook lives! I was back in business! Kind of.
Macs being what they are and Apple being who they are, there is a limit to how long you can keep updating the OS. So the 2007 Macbook will run 10.7 Lion and that’s as high as you can go. Which is okay, I mean the thing still works. Kind of. Certain things won’t work in Safari, like YouTube or some Google stuff. And unfortunately, other browsers like Firefox or Chrome aren’t completely supported. I can’t run the latest Adobe apps, either.
All of this is not terrible. The machine is still good for email and word processing and other tasks. If you are a 90-year old in a nursing home, it’s going to handle everything you need. But it works and that was my goal, even if I’m not sure what I would do with it yet.
Then the airport card took a deep sigh and said so long to this life. Okay, so no wifi. But hey, who needs the internet? Except everyone? Turns out a new airport card is about $80 and since there’s no way I’m cutting into my bourbon budget for a semi-retired Macbook, we are stuck. Kind of. I found a USB wireless antenna for about $15, which would be a great price if it worked with OS 10.7, like the package says, and if you still haven’t abandoned me for Pinterest by now, then you are an amazing individual and we should have drinks in 2021.
This is where GNU/Linux comes in. If you don’t know, GNU/Linux is an open source OS that runs on just about any computer. It’s also free. There are several different distros, or distributions (think flavors) that you can choose from.
The development of GNU made it possible to use a computer without software that would trample your freedom.…like Apple and Microsoft, says the unwritten but implied rest of the sentence.
I chose Linux Mint, which is a super stable distro that works on my Macbook (it’s a 32-bit, whereas most distros are 64-bit and in case you forgot, the link to tie-dye wreaths is at the top).
As far as using the system, it’s fairly intuitive if you’ve used Windows or Mac OS. I can do everything I can do on my Macbook Pro (my working laptop), with the exception of running Adobe apps, which I hear you can get to work with some hacks. Plus, the little USB wifi antenna thingy works with Linux. So now I can be like everyone and haz internet.
Since my version of Mint is supported through 2023, I just extended the life of my old Macbook way past what Apple says, thus keeping it out of the landfill. Unless I take it to go work in a landfill, which I totally can if they have wifi and good coffee.
If you’re interested in reviving an old PC, a GNU/Linux OS could be your savior. It’s free and the only thing you have to lose is a little nugget of your sanity. Going in you should know that it’s not like Windows or Mac OS where you can call up tech support and rant about the blue screen of death. There’s no one there to listen, so you have to get a little resourceful when things don’t go as planned. It’s kind of like parenting, or being vegan at a Ruth’s Chris family dinner.
It’s still Thanksgiving weekend and while I binge-run-binge-run leftovers, I’ll be futzing with Linux geekery over here. If you’ve made it this far, you are a geek like me, you just really love me or you thought I might give you more links to tie-dye things. Either way, you win: