How to replace Windows 7 with Linux Mint

Windows 7 has less than a year of supported life left. If you really, really don't like Windows 10, it's time to consider running Linux Mint instead.

Linux Mint is a breeze. Here's our top tips Linux is perfect for everyday tasks like browsing, emailing, photo management, financial management, and much more. Here's an overview.

Many of you are Windows 7 users. I get it. Windows 7 just works. But the clock is ticking for Windows 7. In less than a year, Windows 7's free support ends.

Come that day, you'll have a choice: You can either run it without being certain you'll get vital security patches (that would be really stupid), or you can pay for Windows 7 Extended Security Updates (ESUs) on a per-device basis, with the price increasing each year. We don't know how much that will be, but I think we can safely assume it won't be cheap. Or, you can migrate to Windows 10. And, yes, for now, you can still update to Windows 10 for free from Windows 7.

Also: Windows 10 and 7 support changes: How they affect you TechRepublic

But Windows 10 came out in July 2015. If you haven't upgraded by now, I'm sure you don't want any part of Windows 10.

I actually sort of, kind of like Windows 10. Yes. Really. Well, I did when it first came out. My affection for it waned with every Windows 10 failed update. Take the infamous Windows 10 October 2018 Update, aka version 1809. When it first came out  it deleted user files, would sometime fail at unzipping compressed files, and could fail while opening files on networked drives.

Quality assurance? What's that?

It's only now, three months later, that Windows 10 October 2018 is finally being automatically rolled out to users. So, maybe Windows 10 isn't really what you want to "upgrade" to right now. In that case, I have another suggestion: Linux Mint.

Advantages and disadvantages of a Linux desktop

But, wait, say you need Microsoft Office. Fine. Run Office Online. There you go. Welcome to 2019, when you don't have to be running Windows to run "Windows" programs.

For all your other desktop software needs, there's usually a free open-source program that can do just as good a job. Gimp, for example, instead of Photoshop. Evolution instead of Outlook. Or LibreOffice for full-featured Microsoft Office.

Also: Microsoft to offer paid Windows 7 Extended Security Updates TechRepublic

That said, there are some programs you can't replace on Linux. If I were making videos, for example, I'd be using Corel's Pinnacle Studio, which only runs on Windows. If you're locked into such a program, you'll need to move to Windows 10.

On the other hand, desktop Linux tends to be far more secure than Windows. Oh, you can run into trouble, but it's not like Windows where having an antivirus program is a must.

Getting ready to install Mint on your Windows PC

There are many good Linux desktops, and I've used many of them. I recommend Mint, but there are numerous others you can consider such as openSUSE, Manjaro, Debian, and Fedora. I have one big reason to think Mint is a good fit for Windows 7 users. Mint's default Cinnamon interface looks and works a lot like Windows 7's Aero interface. Yes, there's a learning curve, but it's nothing like the one you'll face if you move to Windows 10 or macOS.

Also: Microsoft's Windows 7 has one year of free support left

Another advantage, which Mint share with other Linux distros, is it is rests lightly on your system. Mint can run on any of your Windows 7 PCs. All Linux Mint needs to run is an x86 processor, 1GB of RAM (albeit, you'll be happier with 2GB), 15GB of disk space, a graphics card that can handle 1024x768 resolution, and a CD/DVD drive or USB port. That's it.

Mint, like the other Linux desktops, won't cost you a red penny. You also don't have to commit to it. You can try it first, and if you don't like it, just reboot back to Windows, and you're done. No fuss. No muss.

Ready? Let's go.

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After downloading the ISO file, which takes up about 2GB, you must burn it to a USB stick or DVD. I recommend using a USB stick -- since that's makes it easier to give a trial run. Running it from a DVD can be quite slow.

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. These are all free programs.

Once you've installed the burner program and have the latest Linux Mint ISO file in hand, burn 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 bad discs than all other causes combined.

Also: Two Windows 10 feature updates a year is too many

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

Next, reboot your system, but stop the boot-up process before Windows comes up, and get to your PC's UEFI or BIOS settings. How you do this varies according to your system.

You should 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. You can also do a Google search for your specific PC or PC brand and "UEFI." Or, with older PCs, your computer brand and "BIOS."  For example, with Dell PCs, you tap the F2 key to enter system setup; with HP, you tap on the escape key once a second; and on Lenovo systems, you tap (Fn+) F2 or (Fn+) F1 key 5 to 10 times after the power-on button is pressed to get to system setup.

Also: The Linux Mint desktop continues to lead the rest

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 choices, 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 boot first from the alternative drive, insert your DVD or USB stick and reboot, then select "Start Linux Mint" from the first menu, and, in a minute or so, you'll be running Linux Mint.

Now play with it for a while. Take a few days if you like. Windows is still there. Anytime you reboot without the drive or stick in, it will go right back to it. Like what you see of Mint? Then let's install Mint on your PC.

How to install Linux Mint

Like any serious upgrade, you'll start with making a complete backup of your Windows system. Installing Linux in the way I'm going to describe shouldn't hurt your Windows setup at all, but why take chances?

It used to be that installing Linux on Windows PCs with UEFI and Secure Boot was a major pain. It can still be annoying, but Ubuntu and Mint have made booting and installing with Secure Boot system a non-issue. All pre-built binaries intended to be loaded as part of the boot process, with the exception of the initrd image, are signed by Canonical's UEFI certificate, which is implicitly trusted by being embedded in the Microsoft signed shim loader.

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 involve going to the UEFI control panel during the boot process and switching it off.

Also: Windows Update failed? Here are 10 fixes you can try

Now, let's get on with the actual installation. 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 8GB 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.

Next, you must 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.

Partitioning a hard drive can be a real pain, but it doesn't have to be for our purposes. We're going to set your PC up so you can dual-boot both Windows and Mint. To do this with the partition command, just pick the first option on the Installation Type menu: "Install Linux Mint alongside them."

Also: Linus Torvalds talks about coming back to work on Linux 

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. However, an encrypted home directory slows systems down. It's faster, albeit counterintuitive, to encrypt the entire drive after you have Mint up and running.

Mint 19.1's setup menu enables you to automatically run several processes. These are to set up a system snapshot with Timeshift. This way, if something goes wrong later, you can restore your system files and get back to a working system. I highly recommend. While you're at this, set up a regular Timeshift schedule.

Next, you can have it check to see if your computer needs any additional drivers. You should do this, and after, you can install proprietary multimedia codecs such as drivers to watch DVDs. That's a good idea, as well.

Also: 7 ways you can (maybe) get Microsoft Office 365 for free

You should also set it to update your system to the latest software. Unlike Windows, when you update Mint, you're updating not just your operating system but all your other programs such as the web browser, office-suite, and any other programs you  installed afterward from Mint's Software Manager.

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

The setup routine also offers to let you look at system settings and find new programs with the Software Manager, but since you're probably a new user, you can skip those for now.

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 400Mbps 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.

I think you may just find that, while you'll still miss Windows 7 at first, you'll appreciate how much Mint can do for you.

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