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#1 myexplodingcat  Icon User is offline

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Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 11:57 AM

I just recently found out my dad's business computer really needed tuning up. It hadn't been touched by a geek in a while and was unbelievably slow. After my working with it for a few hours, and letting it sit for a lot more than that while it defragged and ran disk cleanup stuff, it's running quite a lot faster. But for something my dad does the family taxes on and suchlike, I feel like the 11-year-old OS, Windows XP, should probably be upgraded.

I gave him the Linux lowdown.
Spoiler


Right now I'm looking for the best distro to go to. Dad isn't the kind who'll mind learning a new OS, but easier is generally better, unless it majorly compromises something else. We're also working around some limited hardware, although I'm pretty sure the thing could run most Linux distros--just probably not anything crazy.

I was telling him mostly about Ubuntu, but right now I'm looking awfully hard at Linux Mint with the MATE desktop. Looks similar to XP's interface. The Unity desktop has gotten a lot of criticism... I know it's flashy and pretty and has big friendly buttons, but in the past, I've tried to run it on a VM and was none too pleased with its functionality OR the lag I experienced from the VM's limited resources. I'm starting to think Mint w/MATE might be more Dad's speed.

Anyone have any other suggestions? Should I be considering Cinnamon more, as it seems to be more popular than MATE, or is that just because of people's knee-jerk reaction to anything that looks like Windows? Are there other problems with upgrading to Linux that I'm not seeing due to inexperience? (Everything will be backed up anyway, I'm not doing this recklessly.) Would Xubuntu suit these needs better than Mint?

Thanks for reading all this, guys. :) Have a penguin.
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Replies To: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

#2 astonecipher  Icon User is offline

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 12:07 PM

Start him on a live CD of a variety of distros. But, my opinion would be to keep him with Windows. Linux is more of a geek OS to tune and keep up with and there is a likelihood that he will want programs that run on Windows.
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#3 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 12:10 PM

Generally the most Windows-esk friendly distro is going to be Ubuntu. But more over you're Windows like environment won't be from the distribution but from the Windows Manager that you use. This gets confused with distributions due to their 'default' Windows Manager.

As for Windows programs, like the tax software, could you maybe beef up the memory & run Windows XP within a VM? With everything backed up, you could load the tax files, install just the tax software, & run the entire thing with Linux, only when he needs it.
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#4 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 12:28 PM

First things first - take a 100% inventory of all required programs your dad needs to run a business. I mean it. Everything. There tend to be a one or two super specific apps that require windows or there is not a solid equivalent in linux (and not just some rough-shod sort-of-pseudo-like equivalent).

If he mails out docs, tax info, or files of any nature what are they, what extension are they, and are you super duper certain a linux format is on target to be able to be utilized by the recipient.

Is there any specific sites he may use that require one specific browser? There's that too.

Specific drivers, hardware, machines, etc that would float like a turd in a punchbowl if not on a windows machine? I know a large number of peripheral manufacturers used the smoke screen of the XP to Vista/7 jump to stop supporting old machines. Old, reliable, printers needed to be repurchased, tablets, get. I had to break down for a new scanner since Cannon refused to update the drivers of my workhorse to Vista/Win7.

Businesses are a marginally more important thing to examine in depth - vastly different than slapping some OS on granny's PC used send emails and browse knitting patterns.


As it is - Ubuntu is fine (assuming the computer has the minimal specs of:
512 MiB of system memory (RAM)
5 GB of disk space.
Graphics card and monitor capable of 800x600 resolution)

It runs well, is well maintained, and typically the go to when testing out the linux waters.

I have no idea what your VM specs were, but I haven't had a problem throwing it on crazy low/old boxes (including old XP boxes).

Remember - this is a business PC. Sure daddio is fine saying he is down with learning a new PC, but when you are running a business playing the 'where is my cheese' game with a new OS is way on the back burner for keeping the lights on, employees paid, and local protection money dropped. It's why folks turn to Dell - not for the flash of machines, or the soothing croons of their tech support, but because if there is any issue they can dump the machine on them and have the dell folk work their magic with minimal knowledge by the business owner.

I would avoid the more nuanced flavors linux, and go with what is a (pretty) sure fire way. The linux community seems to, ironically, enjoy railing on Ubuntu because it is (from what I can tell) too main stream. Ignore that crap, and install it.

A few other things to keep in mind. If you can install it on a new (or different) hard drive the better. Keep that 100% safety net of being able to fix things if anything should go south.

Second - win7's generic end of life is January 13th, 2015. Win 8.1 is the star you would want to hitch a wagon to (unless there are specific hardware requirements that stop after win7). Barring that Win10 comes out this year, and I already have a few folk lined up to make that jump.
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#5 myexplodingcat  Icon User is offline

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 07:12 PM

Thank you for your replies!

modi123_1, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor of your reply. XD

Here's the deal. This is a business computer--specifically, a ONE-MAN stump grinding business. He has some old records on it, mostly in Excel files. I figure that when I back his drive up to an external hard drive, anything that isn't in an MS Excel file will need to be converted to Excel so they can be read by LibreOffice. I'm not going to do this without backups, and I'm not going to do it hastily. That's why I'm researching first.

I know Win7 is on its way out, yes. However, I wouldn't put anything on this computer that I regard as unreliable, and Microsoft's in the middle of making some big changes right now. I don't think things are going to stay the same for very long, and I don't want to jump on any MS bandwagon that isn't tried and true before they're done. Linux, however, tends to be more reliable or at least easier/cheaper to upgrade.

Furthermore, Win7 (even on its way out) is $70, which is $70 my pops isn't keen on throwing away. Anything newer is likely to be at least that price, especially if it has shiny rainbows like Win8 does. I also think that Win8 has probably more of a learning curve than the more user-friendly Linux distros do, even with their tradeoffs; Linux places more of the learning curve on me than on Dad, as I'd be doing the work to shift the system. I also usually don't like using software that has just come out, and I'm especially hesitant with Microsoft, since they sometimes kinda blur the line between "beta tester" and "customer".

The computer is an old one, but it's old like Lincoln's axe is old. It's been upgraded by my older brother (the other family geek) multiple times. I doubt I could upgrade it more. I also don't know if we even still have the Windows XP CD, so I don't know if we could run a VM, but that's a really good idea that I'll ask about.

The printer thing is definitely an issue I'll need to look at. That printer is his baby.

So, if I can solve the printer thing and the tax software thing... are you saying Xubuntu is what I should try out first? Or are you specifically saying that the Unity shell is somehow better? I think Xubuntu would be less intimidating to my engineer dad--it looks simpler, and closer to Windows in appearance. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

OTHER PROPOSITION: I could set up a dual boot system. There's enough space on the drive to give Xubuntu (or whatever distro) its own partition. Then I back up family pictures or whatever, leave the tax software running on Windows, and let Xubuntu act as the main OS except for when proprietary stuff is really needed. I don't know why I didn't think of this before. The printer might still be an issue... hm. But I will look into it. I know virtualization is preferred these days, but if we don't have the disk any more, this might be an option.

Comments?
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#6 modi123_1  Icon User is online

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 07:22 PM

Quote

However, I wouldn't put anything on this computer that I regard as unreliable, and Microsoft's in the middle of making some big changes right now.
...
I also usually don't like using software that has just come out, and I'm especially hesitant with Microsoft, since they sometimes kinda blur the line between "beta tester" and "customer".


8.1 is fine. 8 has been out since October 2012, and the 8.1 2013. This isn't some sort of vapor beta.


Quote

Linux places more of the learning curve on me than on Dad, as I'd be doing the work to shift the system.


Just to reiterate - that is going to be untrue. Eventually your dad will be using this day in and day out. The day to day grind of 'where is my cheese' is what I am talking about.


Quote

It's been upgraded by my older brother (the other family geek) multiple times. I doubt I could upgrade it more.


Depends on the hardware. Eventually you may have to have him bite the bullet and get something new.


Quote

OTHER PROPOSITION: I could set up a dual boot system.


It's a business machine. Making things more complicated where a user has to reboot into one system for one thing, and another for other work, is not business appropriate.
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#7 myexplodingcat  Icon User is offline

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 08:24 PM

I think you like 8.1 more than I do; I still regard it as iffy. But I will remember your advice and take it into account.

There's a learning curve to any OS we might upgrade to. This computer has been running XP for a decade. Anything I could possibly upgrade it with will be quite different.

The hardware isn't optimal, but it isn't horrible either. It's just older and has been upgraded a lot. I mostly don't think it'll be an issue.

Going into a dual boot partition for something you use only occasionally, I personally think is fine. If you had to use the program more than once a month, that'd be ridiculous. But that isn't what I'm talking about. I'm also NOT talking about his actual primary work computer; I'm talking about a computer whose purpose is personal use, plus keeping some records on his stump grinding business, which he owns and operates all by himself--no employees, etc. Those business files are mostly Excel documents, and some Word stuff. I've never seen him use any other program for that purpose.

Oh, and I found a driver for the printer.

You may be completely right; Windows may be the only viable option. If so, we'll find that out in due time. However, I don't plan on making any big changes until this year's taxes are done--that would be stupid. His stump grinding gig is seasonal and doesn't even run in the winter. This is the perfect time to start research into this. With proper backups, we don't have anything to lose but time and effort, and I will inevitably learn something while I try to make this work. Even if it's just to listen more carefully to strangers on the Internet. ;)

Thank you for your time. I'm going to run some tests.

(now to start the hunt for that 32GB flash drive...)
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#8 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is online

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 08:56 PM

View Postmyexplodingcat, on 02 January 2015 - 10:24 PM, said:

(now to start the hunt for that 32GB flash drive...)


http://www.microcent..._20_Flash_Drive

Anything else you need googled for you? :)


My two cents on the upgrade idea: If your dad wants to run linux, let him do the work and you be a resource. It's not that hard to install a second partition on an existing machine, so all this means is he has to bone up on this and learn what he's getting into and what his options are. Once he's done that research, you can make him sit down and write out the steps he's going to take, and make sure he's got his ducks in a row, and hold his hand while he does the job.
This way he owns the process, and he owns the outcome, which is a better place for both of you.
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#9 myexplodingcat  Icon User is offline

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Re: Upgrading my dad's WinXP home office computer to Linux

Posted 02 January 2015 - 10:57 PM

View Postjon.kiparsky, on 03 January 2015 - 03:56 AM, said:

View Postmyexplodingcat, on 02 January 2015 - 10:24 PM, said:

(now to start the hunt for that 32GB flash drive...)


http://www.microcent..._20_Flash_Drive

Anything else you need googled for you? :)/>


My two cents on the upgrade idea: If your dad wants to run linux, let him do the work and you be a resource. It's not that hard to install a second partition on an existing machine, so all this means is he has to bone up on this and learn what he's getting into and what his options are. Once he's done that research, you can make him sit down and write out the steps he's going to take, and make sure he's got his ducks in a row, and hold his hand while he does the job.
This way he owns the process, and he owns the outcome, which is a better place for both of you.


Haha! I meant the 32GB flash drive I currently own, which has been floating around somewhere since I used it to put an emulator on my little brother's computer for him. I don't think you can help me with that, but thanks for the effort XD Little buggers never seem to stay put. My 16GB one will work, though.

I like your idea. Once I find out what definitely works in my testing, maybe I'll make him do the installing or at least make him sit and watch. Right now I'm testing and assessing. I don't want him chasing after a dead end.

He's savvy enough to understand my explanations, but if I set him to doing research on something he didn't know much about, he'd freak out and worry constantly that he was doing it wrong. You should have seen when he built our deck--he researched and measured and planned so much that he made sure there wasn't even a 1/2 inch gap next to the house that didn't belong there. The guy's an engineer by day, so... "meticulous" just isn't enough to describe it. (Considering his work is in the area of airplane life support, we're all glad he's meticulous.)

Apart from the printer, it seems the only program I'd need to replace or separate onto the XP partition is the tax software. Dad only uses Excel and Word for his small business, he said. I think a lot of Linux people are just resigned to doing tax stuff online, though. Being 17 years old and a full time college student with no real employment beyond some occasional freelance techie stuff, I don't need to do taxes myself yet, so if there's going to be evaluation of prospective tax programs, Dad's going to have to do that himself.
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