Monday, 9 May 2016

A Linux play day

This morning, we visited Ryanair's website, checked in, reserved seats for our Budapest flights and obtained boarding passes for both directions. There was a small office job to be done, sending out a few notifications, and then I set about tinkering with the spare laptop I acquired through Kath, on which I'd installed Linux Mint efffectively, except that there seems to be no way of controlling screen brightness. 

With little else to do, I tried several different installs in succession with limited success partly as versions used were a couple of years old, and the update repository links didn't work, having been superceded by those supplying newer versions. Ah well, lessons learned. In the end, I downloaded the latest ISO of Mint 17.3 and copied it on to a SD card to boot from. It wouldn't boot when the card was inserted in the laptop card reading slot, showing that the motherboard wasn't designed to make this device recognisable as bootable.

In my collection of computer accessories, I had an USB flash card reader, so old it was powered from an additional USB cable. THe computer immediately recognised it, much to my delight, and now the old laptop sports the most recent version of Mint, plus my favourite software add-ons. The screen doesn't glare quite so much, but I haven't found a way to control this through the operating system software. The keyboard brightness control, through left and right cursor keys, doesn't seem to work, even though the volume control, through the up and down cursor keys, does work. I'm pleased with the outcome, nevertheless.

The other redundant laptop, which used to be Kath's bequeathed to me last Christmas, also runs Linux well. It's currently on loan to Mary across the road at the moment, who is trying it out as an alternative to giving up her Windows XP desktop machine and getting something up to date. Her needs are limited to email, flight booking and occasional surfing. She doesn't much enjoy having to cope with dubious spam emails and the endlessly helpful anti-virus pop up messages generated trying to be helpful but ending up being confusing. 

Windows 10 is far from an attractive alternative. Although much safer, it's not short of confusing pop-ups, occasional unexplained long delays while it updates, plus a user interface that is far less helpful than it thinks it is, changing the look and feel of so much for no good reason. For an older person with a long history of struggling with XP usage anyway, what can be done?

Last week, after a brief trouble shooting session, I asked Mary if I could set up the extra laptop with her needs in mind, to borrow and use when she wants to, and see if she finds it poses less problems for her. I have read occasional articles asserting that if basic needs can be met without complication or incident, a user who is unfamiliar and unconcerned about how Linus works, may just use it and feel no reason to go back. Well, if it's true, I may yet find a home for this spare spare laptop.

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