​How to install Linux Mint on your Windows PC

Are you a Windows power-user? You can get and install Linux Mint running on your PC -- either to try it out, or as a replacement for Windows.

I think Linux Mint isn't just a great desktop, it's a great replacement for Windows. With Windows security problems such as WannaCry, people are starting to explore alternatives to Windows.

Installing Linux on your PC is super easy - here's how to do it

I got a number of requests about switching out from Windows to the latest and best Linux. For me and many other experienced Linux users that's Linux Mint 18.3. You don't need to be a Linux expert to install Mint on a Windows PC. Here's how to do it.

(Image: ZDNet)

Download Mint

First, you can -- and should -- try Linux Mint before switching to it. Fortunately, unlike other operating systems, Linux distros like Mint make it easy to give them a test run before installing it.

To do this, first you'll need to download a copy of Linux Mint, which comes with many different desktops, such as KDE, MATE, and Xfce. I prefer its default desktop, Cinnamon. If you have a 2012-or-newer PC, I recommend you download the 64-bit version of Mint with Cinnamon and multi-media support.

Ready your tools

At 1.5GB, the download might take a while. If you don't have an ISO burner program, download one. I recommend freeware programs ImgBurn for optical drives and Yumi for Windows for USB sticks.

Other good choices are LinuxLive USB Creator and UNetbootin. All of these programs are free.

Unless you're stuck with an older PC that won't boot from a USB stick, I strongly recommend using a USB flash drive. You can run Linux from a DVD, but it's very slow.

Giving Mint a try

Once you've installed the burner program and have the latest Linux Mint ISO file in hand, use the burner to put the ISO image to your disc or USB stick. If you're using a DVD -- Mint is too big to fit on a CD -- check your newly burned disc for errors. Over the years, I've had more problems with running Linux and installing Linux from DVDs from bad discs than all other causes combined.

With a USB stick you can set it up with persistent storage so that you can store programs and files on the stick. This way you can carry Linux and use it as a walk-around operating system for hotel, conference, and library PCs. I've found this to be very handy and there's always at least one Linux on a stick in my laptop bag.

Next, you place your disc or USB stick into your PC and reboot. During the reboot, stop the boot-up process and get to your PC's UEFI or BIOS. How you do this can depend.

Look for a message as the machine starts up that tells which key or keys you'll need to press in order to get to the BIOS or UEFI. Likely candidates are a function key or the "esc" or "delete" keys. If you don't spot it the first time, don't worry about it. Just reboot and try again.

Once you get to the BIOS or UEFI, look for a menu choice labeled "Boot", "Boot Options", or "Boot Order". If you don't see anything with the word "boot" in it, check other menu options such as "Advanced Options", "Advanced BIOS Features", or "Other Options". Once you find it, set the boot order so that instead of booting from the hard drive first, you boot from either the CD/DVD drive or from a USB drive.

Once your PC is set to try to boot first from the alternative drive, insert your DVD or USB stick and reboot. Then, select "Start Linux Mint" from the first menu. And, from there, you'll be running Linux Mint.

In this mode, you haven't installed anything on your PC yet. Use this opportunity to play with Mint to see if you like it.

Using a DVD drive Mint will run slowly, but it will run quickly enough to give you an idea of what it's like to use Mint. With a USB stick, it runs fast enough to give you a good notion of what working with Mint is like.

Installing Linux and dealing with Secure Boot

Let's say you like what you see. Then, you're ready to install Mint.

First, make a complete backup of your Windows system. Installing Linux in the way I'm going to describe shouldn't hurt your Windows setup in the least, but why take any chances?

It used to be that installing Linux on Windows PCs with UEFI and Secure Boot was a major pain. It can still be an annoyance, but Ubuntu and Mint make booting and installing with Secure Boot system a non-issue.

You should also know that, for now, Ubuntu's Secure Boot solution, which is what Mint uses as well, isn't secure. This opens the door to potential attacks using cracked ISOs that only pretend to be Ubuntu or Mint.

No one has reported such attacks yet and this strikes me as an unlikely attack vector. In any case, so long as you only install operating systems from a Linux distribution's official site, you should be safe. Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company, will fix this Secure Boot security problem with the next version of Ubuntu (version 16.04) in April. Mint will fix it as well.

If for some reason you can't install Mint with Secure Boot running on your PC, you can always turn off Secure Boot. There are many ways to switch Secure Boot off. All of them involve going to the UEFI control panel during the boot process and switching it off.

Starting your Linux Mint installation

Next, make sure your PC is plugged in. The last thing you want is to run out of battery power during an operating system install! You'll also need an internet connection and about 8GBs of free drive space.

That done, reboot into Linux again. Once you have the Mint display up, one of your icon choices on the left will be to install Mint. Double-click it and you'll be on your way.

You'll need to walk your way through several menu choices. Most of these decisions will be easy. For example, the language you want Mint to use and your time zone. The one critical choice will be how to partition your hard drive.

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Partitioning a hard drive can become very complicated, but fortunately, there's an easy choice that will let you dual-boot both Windows and Mint. Simply pick the first option on the Installation Type menu: "Install Linux Mint alongside them."

This procedure will install Linux Mint next to your existing Windows system and leave it totally untouched. When I do this, I usually give half my PC's remaining drive space to Mint. You'll be asked to choose which operating system you want to boot by default. No matter which one you pick, you'll get a few seconds to switch to the other operating system.

You'll also be required to give your system a name, pick out a username for yourself, and come up with a password. You can also choose to encrypt your home directory to keep files relatively safe from prying eyes.

Once the entire installation process is done, you can choose to boot into Linux Mint. The first thing you'll want to do after that is to update your system to the latest software. Unlike Windows, when you update Mint, you'll be updating not just your operating system but all the other programs such as the default web browser, Firefox; office-suite, LibreOffice; and so on.

To do this, click on the shield icon in the menu bar. By default, the bar will be on the bottom part of the screen and the icon will be on the right. It will then prompt you for your password and ask if you really want to update your system. Say yes, and you'll be ready to give your brand new Mint system a real try out.

That's all there is to it. I've installed Linux hundreds of time, and it usually takes me about an hour from starting my download -- the blessings of a 120Mbps internet connection -- to moving from booting up to customizing my new Mint PC. If you've never done it before, allow yourself an afternoon or morning for the job.

Have fun, get work done, and enjoy.

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