Wrapping up my series on a [Laptop for Grandma], I finally have something that I think meets all of my requirements! Special thanks to Guidomar and the rest of my readers who sent in suggestions!
I could have called this series "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly". The [Cloud-oriented choices] weren't bad per se, but expected persistent Internet connection. The [Low-RAM choices] were not ugly per se, but had limited application options. The ones below were good, in that they helped me decide what would be just right for grandma.
- Linux Mint 9
One of my readers, Guidomar, suggested Linux Mint Xfce. At LinuxFest Northwest 2012, Bryan Lunduke indicated that [Linux Mint] is the fastest growing Linux in popularity. You can watch his 43-minute presentation of [Why Linux Sucks!] on YouTube.
The latest version is Mint 14, but that has grown so big it has to be installed on a DVD, as it will no longer fit on a 700MB CD-ROM. Since I don't have a DVD drive on this Thinkpad R31, I dropped down to the latest Gnome edition that did fit on a LiveCD, which was Mint 9.
(In retrospect, I could have used the [PLoP Boot Manager CD], and installed the latest Linux Mint 14 from USB memory stick! My concern was that if a distribution didn't fit on a CD-ROM, it was expecting a more modern computer overall, and thus would probably require more than 384MB or RAM as well.)
Linux Mint is actually a variant of Ubuntu, which means that it can tap into the thousands of applications already available. Mint 9 is based on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS.
One of the nice features of Linux Mint is that there are versions with full [Codecs] installed. A codec is a coder/decoder software routine that can convert a digital data stream or signal, such as for audio or video data. Many formats are proprietary, so codecs are generally not open source, and often not included in most Linux distros. They can be installed manually by the Linux administrator. Windows and Mac OS are commercially sold and don't have this problem, as Microsoft and Apple take care of all the licensing issues behind the scenes.
The installation went smooth. It would have gladly set up a dual-boot with Windows for me, but instead I opted to wipe the disk clean and install fresh for each Linux distribution I tried.
Running it was a different matter. The screen would go black and crash. There just wasn't enough memory.
- Lubuntu 12.04
Since [Peppermint OS] was partially based on Lubuntu, I thought I would give [Lubuntu 12.04] a try. The difference is that Peppermint OS is based on Xfce (as is Xubuntu), but Lubuntu claims to have a smaller memory footprint using Lightweight X11 Desktop Environment (LXDE). This version claims to run in 384MB, which is what I have on grandma's Thinkpad R31.
There are two installers. The main installer requires more than 512MB to run, so I used the alternate text-based Installer-only CD, which needs only 192MB.
The LXDE GUI is simple and straightforward. As with Peppermint OS, I did have to install the Codec plugins. However, the time-to-first-note was less than two minutes, so we can count this as a success!
- Linux Mint 12 LXDE edition
Circling back to Linux Mint, I realized that my problem up above was chosing the wrong edition. Apparently, Linux Mint comes in various editions, the main edition I had selected was based on Gnome which requires at least 512MB of RAM.
Other editions are based on KDE, xFCE and LXDE. Linux Mint 9 LXDE requires only 192MB of RAM, and the newer Linux Mint 12 LXDE requires only 256MB. I choose the latter, and the install went pretty much the same as Mint and Lubuntu above.
The music player that comes pre-installed is called [Exaile], which supports playlists, audio CDs, and a variety of other modern features, so no reason to install Rhythmbox or anything else. Grandma can even rip her existing audio CDs to import her music into MP3 format. Time-to-first-note was about two minutes.
The best part: the OS only takes up about 4GB of disk, leaving about 15GB for MP3 music files!
Lubuntu and Linux Mint LXDE were similar, but I decided to go with the latter because I like that they do not force version upgrades. This is a philosophical difference. Ubuntu likes to keep everyone on the latest supported releases, so will often remind you its time to upgrade. Linux Mint prefers to take an if-it-aint-broke-don't-fix-it approach that will be less on-going maintenance for me.
A few finishing touches to make the system complete:
- A nice wallpaper from [InterfaceLift]. This website has high-res photography that are just stunning.
- Power management with screen-saver settings to a nice pink background with white snowflakes falling.
- A small collection of her MP3 music pre-loaded so that she would have something to listen to while she learns how to rip CDs and copy over the rest of her music.
- Icons on the main desktop for Exaile, My Computer, Home Directory, and the Welcome Screen.
- Larger Font size, to make it easier to read.
- Update settings that only look for levels "1" and "2". There are five levels, but "1" and "2" are considered the safest, tested versions. Also, an update is only done if it does not involve installing or removing other packages. This should offer some added stability.
I considered installing [ClamAV] for anti-virus protection, but since this laptop will not be connected to the Internet, I decided not to burn up CPU cycles. I also considered installing [Team Viewer] which would allow me remote access to her system if anything should every fail. However, since she does not have Wi-Fi at home, and lives only a few minutes across town, I decided to leave this off.
Once again, I want to thank all of my readers for their suggestions! I learned quite a lot on this journey, and am glad that I have something that I am proud to present to grandma: boots quickly enough, simple to use, and does not require on-going maintenance!