Linux Mint on my machine
Rather than upgrade to a newer version of Windows, I took the plunge and over-wrote Windows XP with Linux Mint. And that's what I'm using right now, to post this blog entry.
One thing I like about Linux Mint is that it's free (as I understand it, it's developed and supported by hobbyists and volunteers). Some types of Linux are free, and some are commercial -- and that's fine. :)
Linux is an operating system: not Windows, not Mac OS, but something yet again. It has its own way of doing things -- although the "Mint" flavor of Linux (there are many, many types of Linux) has a lot of similarities to Windows (e.g. a "Start"-style button (labelled "Menu") on the bottom left, and a taskbar along the bottom of the screen).
Also, it has a "Home" folder, which is pretty much the "My Documents" folder if you're a Windows user. (With pre-set folders of music, videos, etc. -- just like in Windows.) And you can see the "Computer" icon on the desktop, which is basically "My Computer" for you Windows people.
Installation was straightforward. I downloaded the installation software from the Linux Mint website, burned it to a blank DVD-ROM, and then booted my computer with the DVD in the drive (your computer has to set to boot from the optical drive before it boots from the hard drive). Ten years ago you would have had to manually enter your hardware specs. Nowadays, for most(?) Linux versions everything is auto-detected: all you really have to do is confirm your location, tell it what language to use, etc. (HOWEVER: I haven't yet checked whether my printer has drivers among the Linux repositories. It's possible that I'll end up with a "generic"driver, which means some of the more specific features of my printer might not be available. [Update: see end of this blog entry.])
Clicking on the "Menu" button brings up all the different categories of software that are installed. This is the "all applications" list:
One thing I like about the "Mint" version of Linux is that there's a zillion free apps, which are easy to download: just go into "Administration", then "Software Manager". This takes you to a central repository of software, where you can choose a genre (e.g. "Games", "Office") -- and go browsing.
I think it's clever thing is that the software is categorized into groups. For example, if you click on the "Office" button, then all the "productivity" software (word processing, spreadsheets...) show up. If you hover over one of them, then a little one-sentence description of the software shows up in the bottom right hand corner of that big grey display square (is it a "window"? perhaps).
For example, I "went shopping" (except it didn't cost anything!) for various audio recording and video editing apps. You can see the ones I installed:
And -- the above screenshots were taken with a "Screenshot" app that I downloaded, which includes such features as putting it on a timer, so that you can "get in position" before the screenshot it taken.
As I post this blog entry, there are a few things that I'm having to get used to: for example, I used to use Windows Paint to re-size my photos. I had to fish around a little to find the Linux app to do the same thing. But I figured it out.
The rest of my blog-posting, however, was the same as when I was using Windows: open up Firefox; go to my blog page; upload my photos from my "Photos" folder; and do a lot of typing. :)
I will say, however, that if there's a specific piece of software you need, you might find Linux an impediment. Although! There is a Windows emulator, and also a "virtual box" for Windows (neither of which I've tried, and nor will I bother with) -- which means there's two different ways of installing Windows software "on" your Linux machine.
ALSO: I just now went to see whether my USB printer worked. Plugged it in to my laptop, and it wasn't detected. And under "Adminstration" I didn't see anything for "Printers" or "Add printers" or "Add hardware. However, a fairly quick Google search later, I came across this link: http://community.linuxmint.com/tutorial/view/1200-- and following step #2 provided the solution. Note that I knew what a "command line" or "terminal" was, so the instructions didn't worry me. And once I opened the terminal window and typed in the magic phrase, a dialog window popped up, Linux Mint did detect my USB printer, and from there I just clicked on all the obvious things. So it could be that if I'd thought to have my printer plugged in (and turned on!) to my computer when I was installing Linux Mint that it would have already installed the printer drivers.
So: Given that WinXP support ended in early April, it would be worth considering installing Linux Mint instead. Of course, you'll need to copy all your personal files (documents, photos, home movies) to an external hard drive. But presumably you already back up your personal files already...
(4/27/14 -- UPDATE -- when I do blog entries, I used to use MS Paint, which let me re-size my photos (usually to 25% x 25% of original)), and add some simple circles, lines, and text to the photos. The image viewer allows me to re-size and "save as". However, I'm mildly annoyed that the "paint" and "drawing" photos that came with Linux Mint, as well as those that I downloaded, aren't sufficiently "bare-bones" for me to easily insert text and lines. I worked it out -- eventually -- and maybe I'm doing it the hard way. But that **is** a "negative", IMO.)