Setting Up Linux for the First Time


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Dec 9, 2017
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Hello! Brand new to Linux though I've known of it for a little while. (This is actually the first forum I've ever participated in too.)

Long-term overview, I've generally only heard good things and have been considering switching to Linux for a while. I've become married to the idea now since I want to eventually set-up my own server/website farther down the line. Unfortunately, I have zero idea as to what I'm doing as I have never experimented with OS related things but more on that later.

Getting to the point of right now, I would really appreciate some help with converting my mother from Windows to Linux. It feels like the way to go since all of her files have already been destroyed by repeated crashes and impromptu updates or resets. I'm sick of Windows abusing my poor mum. We don't have money to be buying a new laptop or secondhand laptop so I've decided to use it as a guinea pig in the hopes it might extend it's life span. However, I've never wiped an HDD clean or changed an OS willingly and have some questions about the process and what I should choose for her. So..

Her computer is a TOSHIBA Satellite C675 that's x64-based. It's over 5 years old.

0) I've already decided to just go all in and completely remove Windows; I have my laptop and a desktop for the internet she can use if it goes poorly.

1) Which distros would be best? My mom isn't even close to being computer savvy (I've had to explain that having a home page set does not make it "installed" on her computer). So it's very important it has a GUI and that shell commands be 100% avoidable. I'm really concerned with space and compatibility since her laptop is older, but she doesn't do a lot on her computer either. Mostly just the internet to pay bills online, Netflix, read MSN articles, etc. The only other activities are watching DVDs and I recently got her hooked on playing the different Solitaire card games. It would be fantastic if it were easy to find things similar to the card games and add them as desired and not be force fed ads like with Windows. =D Ubuntu and Linux Mint are the two that I was thinking about. Which one should I go with? Or is there another one that would be better considering my description of her skill level?

2) Which GUI? I know this is kind of the same question since a lot of distros seem to have a preset, but I want to make sure she's able to interact with it even if it's extra work to change it. She's used to Windows 10 right now and change really confuses her. I know there's not going to be a 100% match here but the key is I need it to be functional and simple, not flashy. If it's too modern, that might even be bad. If it has anything like "oh swipe from the right side of the mouse pad to open this-" I guarantee she will do it by accident constantly and will be clicking things she doesn't mean to be and ending up in all kinds of odd places. At face-value the ones that looked to be popular good matches for this were: Cinnamon, MATE, Unity, and LXQt. I don't expect my first pick to be the right pick, but the less I have to switch her the better. Which one sounds like it would be the right track for her or am I off base with my choices?

3) We have an HP printer her laptop has been refusing to connect to for reasons I could never determine, could I possibly get this reconnected after the Linux switch? Surely there's drivers available to be compatible between Linux and different sorts of printers, right?

4) Does it have to be installed through a DVD/CD or flash/thumb drive? Can it be some other storage device? This one isn't a big deal... mostly just curious because my flash drive is only 2 GB. I'm assuming that's not big enough and the less money spent the better. What kind of size should I roughly be expecting to use?

5) Directions to somewhere that tells me exactly how to remove Windows and what's going to happen at each step as I install Linux would be great. Or when I go to download the distros will it tell me? I'm really confused about the entire process. Really basic questions. (If it doesn't have an OS how does it do anything let alone install a new OS or does the new OS migrate itself? xD Or am I just dumb about the order in which things happen?)

6) Is this even a good idea or am I beating a dead horse? Or am I throwing my mom under the bus...

I think that's finally all I can think of... for now. Any help would be appreciated.

Hi @Cera, and welcome! What a great post... and hats off to you for helping your mum out. I'm usually very long winded and write volumes, but I'm short of time this morning so just a couple of quick thoughts....

You are right on track. I think Linux Mint (now version 18.3) would be a great choice, but if she hates it you can always change to something else later. Mint comes in a couple of varieties... the most popular are Cinnamon and MATE. Both are excellent, so take your pick. (I use MATE myself.)

Since you have a DVD drive, I think that's the best way to install. You have to download the latest .iso file (almost 2GB) and use a special technique with your DVD burner software... called "burn image." So don't just copy the .iso to the DVD or else it won't boot. Some software doesn't have the "burn image" feature, so if not, let us know or Google around for a program that does it. Once you have made the DVD, you boot it up and have a fully running Linux Mint. There will be an icon on the desktop to "Install Mint" and that gets you started. There are not many questions to answer during the install, but one you will see is the hard drive partitioning, and you can choose "Use Entire Disk" so Mint will completely erase Windows for you. You'll also have to create a user name and password (don't forget it!)... set time zone... just a few things.

The whole install process is usually done in less than 30 minutes. By having the DVD, if you break something or have some troubles, you can use the DVD to re-install or for other troubleshooting.

Cinnamon and MATE are both GUI desktops, and you won't often need to use a command line (maybe never based on what you want here). You can change wallpaper to something nice, and do all the things you mentioned. You'll have to install Solitaire separately, but we'll help you with that too.

Gotta run!

Thank you! Even your short notes were very helpful.
Since you recommended the DVD option, I picked up some blank ones while shopping today. I also went ahead and picked up a 32GB flash drive anyway since when I convert my own desktop I do have files to move over to my disc drive-less laptop that includes but is not limited to my entire music library. No such thing as too much storage space.

I've decided to go with the Cinnamon version of Linux Mint for now. I have it downloading while I'm writing this moment. I have yet to discover if the software on my desktop has the burn image feature, but I'm confident I can find the right software on my own if it doesn't. Thinking I'll let her poke around on it off the DVD for a minute before installing. Here's hoping I don't return with errors to report!
And also hoping you don't get any errors!

I have to be in and out again very quickly this morning... but one more comment I forgot before: HP is the best printer choice for Linux, so I am also hopeful that you will get your printer working easily.

Good and bad news.

The good is that the installation went quite smoothly and far easier than I ever would have thought possible (though I had a hell of a time trying to catch the boot menu, F12, I always forget). When she started using it the next day I don't even think she noticed much difference between Cinnamon and Windows 7/10. She seemed a bit excited to use Firefox instead of Internet Explorer since it came with Mint. I only did a little pre set-up like signing into her google account but she did other things without having any trouble. Finally, the printer. It. Was. Fantastic. It found and synced up with it the second I looked at the printer device settings and spat the test page right out!

Unfortunately, there's a bit of work to be done.

Mint doesn't seem to be running smoothly. It's not to an obnoxious level but the cursor occasionally will lock up for a few seconds and sometimes disappear. Of course, the more applications open the worse it is, but it happens when only one firefox window/tab is open too. Is this an issue between the laptop and Linux Mint or something else? Is there something I can do to improve the performance or will I have to look for a different distros or GUI that's less strenuous for it to run?

There's also a minor pseudo-GUI issue. I kind of noticed when I was working on it before giving the laptop back. The scrollbars for the windows are really thin. They're a little hard to snag, which wouldn't be too bad except I didn't anticipate that she relied so heavily on the now nonexistent up and down arrows! Digging around on this topic it seemed like this was actually a theme problem? Which sounded easy enough to fix until I looked at the themes you could add from the menu and there were dozens upon dozens available to download and the preview images were tiny. I checked the ones available by default but had no luck with finding one with the arrows. Is there a better place to preview multiple themes at once where I can see if they'll have these arrows before I download the theme?

And now for the last issue, the solitaire... I know I might need to figure this one out on my own, but let's share for now. I thought, ideally, I would install something from the handy-dandy Software Manager. I saw three solitaire packages available. My mom is really obsessed with the Pyramid/Thirteen game. I first tried AisleRiot which boasts 80 types of solitaire since it had Thirteen. I talked to her later to discover she had pulled up Microsoft's solitaire online - causing me to stagger a bit like I had been stabbed. She tried AisleRiot, but decided she didn't like the appearance nor did she like its take on the game. She's used to the cards all being face-up rather than only the first-row being face-up. I didn't see options to edit the game's play style unlike with their version of Klondike. I tried Kpat which only had 14 types and it turns out it didn't have Pyramid at all. The last one boasting 1000 solitaire games (which seems overboard and I forgot the name of), I haven't given up on tinkering with it yet, but while it lays out the cards face-up, it looks like it's from Windows 95 and behaves like it too. It lacks a basic resizing feature for example (you can expand the window but the cards stay the same size and remain crammed in the upper-left). I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this yet. I wanted to be able to find something she could run on her computer without a network connection. A goal which seems to be impossible to accomplish through modern Microsoft apps.
I like good news... can't we just stay there?!?! :D

You are a quick learner, and a keen observer too... very good! As you note, games may be a challenge. Some may have a lot of configuration options, and others not so much. You probably will just have to keep digging into that issue to see what will work out best. There is some chance of playing Windows games within Linux... but it takes special help. If you have standalone installers for a game, you may can use a Linux project called Wine to install and run it. Or there is another project called PlayOnLinux that is similar, and it will install Wine because it uses it too. Neither of these are installed in Mint by default though, and neither is successful all of the time.

Freezing. I'm curious about that because I have some friends close to home that I'm helping that has a similar problem with an older computer (but I haven't been able to visit them and investigate it yet). Freezing is usually a memory issue. You said this was an older laptop, but didn't say how much RAM it has... let's find out. Time for you to learn a little on the command line (I'm such a jerk! LOL). Open a terminal window and enter the following command:

free -h

See, that wasn't so hard! :eek::D "Free" is showing RAM memory and also Swap space, which is hard drive space that is used as memory. The "-h" is telling "free" to put it in human-sensible values, so it will probably show in gigabytes (G). Let us know what it reports for both Memory and Swap (how much used and how much free). And, to be a little less of a jerk, I think you can get this info from "System Monitor" in the Mint Menu too... at least on MATE, which I'm using, but probably Cinnamon too.

When the computer is starting to freeze up, try to open a terminal window and give the command: top -- and then watch the output of it for a little while. Top shows memory and CPU usage of everything running on the system and it is constantly changing state. But you may be able to see (near the top, of course) if there is something exceptionally heavy hitting on RAM and/or CPU. I might suspect Firefox to be a culprit here, and it will show heavier activity than other things, but it still should not be excessive. (I'm not sure how to define excessive... but let's guess that if anything is more than 50% on RAM and/or CPU, that seems too much to me right now.) To stop top when finished, hit CNTL-C.

Scrollbars. Yes, they are a little thin and lack the up/down fine tuning. A theme may help, but there are also other ways of dealing with this. For one, if you have an external wheel mouse, the wheel will scroll up and down pages. On the touchpad, some computers also simulate this by swiping up/down on the right side of the pad. From the keyboard, the PageUp and PageDown keys usually give big jumps up/down on a page, but the arrow buttons can give fine tuning up/down like those missing from the scrollbar. Sometimes you may have to click into a page (a blank spot somewhere) to get "focus" on the page so that these features work.

Printers. I told you! :cool::D Other brands can sometimes work as easily, but not always. If shopping for a new printer, I would always check for Linux compatibility before buying, but HP is almost always a safe bet. Glad you made yours work so quickly and easily.... everything should work like that!

Okay, off to sleep for now (working night shift this week... ugh.)

If I could put a "double or triple Like" on, I would. What a great start you are off to :D

Hi Cera and welcome to Linux 101, lol. And to, of course.

try to open a terminal window

In most "Debian-based" Distros, such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint, a keyboard shortcut for opening Terminal is Ctrl-Alt-t. Handy if you are in a hurry.

Can you tell us which Linux Mint version you put on? Not the DE (Desktop Environment, which in your case is Cinnamon). If you do not have ready access to the name of the .iso you used to install, you can simply go to Menu, start to type in "welcome" and fire up your Welcome screen, and you can tell from there.

I always leave the box checked to show Welcome on each session, it can come in handy, but your choice.

Cheers from Downunder

And a BTW as a separate Post.

Since Stan ( @atanere ) has asked for a little Terminal output - first thing you should do after installing a new Linux Distro is to enable the firewall.

In Mint and others

sudo ufw enable

You will be asked for your password, type it (there will be no movement, security reasons) and Enter.

You will be rewarded with a message saying UFW (Uncomplicated FireWall) is on and it will fire up every time you boot.

You're both so helpful I could tear up. I also decided it would be best to share screenshots!

I did the free -h command with nothing open.

And I did the top command with Firefox running her online solitaire game, which as @atanere suspected, the culprit seems to be Firefox. (I even looked at it again with the only tab open being and the content was still awfully high).

To answer @wizardfromoz, I installed Linux Mint 18.3. I figured older versions wouldn't equate to compatibility but vulnerability...
You're both so helpful I could tear up. I also decided it would be best to share screenshots!

I did the free -h command with nothing open.

And I did the top command with Firefox running her online solitaire game, which as @atanere suspected, the culprit seems to be Firefox. (I even looked at it again with the only tab open being and the content was still awfully high).

To answer @wizardfromoz, I installed Linux Mint 18.3. I figured older versions wouldn't equate to compatibility but vulnerability...

You're good... we want you to stick around because you'll be teaching soon! :cool::D

So, this is weird, but I'm watching top on a terminal right now and see results similar to yours (but not quite as high). Web Content is the real killer, but Firefox is fairly high too. So try this: close the page! The solitaire game may keep the numbers up somewhat too, but when I look at a different tab, the high CPU values go way down. And, with luck, maybe solitaire will play okay and you'll have less frequent freeze ups.

I'm not sure what on might do this... advertising? But I'll also go test with some other browsers (Chromium, Chrome, Opera, Vivaldi) and see if the top values go so high using them on Back soon.
Hmmm, that is a pretty interesting experiment. With just a quick look at the different browsers, I'd say Firefox is the worst, and Chromium was the best. The CPU usage also seems to decline if you log out of, even if you leave it loaded in the browser. Top reports each browser somewhat differently, but overall you can still see what's happening.

The free command showed us you have 4GB of RAM, and that's plenty. I've got 8GB in my desktop, but maybe that's enough to keep from giving me freezing problems. With nothing open, yours was hardly used (and no swap needed)... those looked good. And top didn't seem to show %MEM to be as much of an issue as %CPU.

Firefox recently produced a very-updated release with many changes under the hood. It claimed to be significantly faster, and it does feel faster to me. But I wonder if that speed enhancement is the cause of the heavier CPU usage. But still, being logged in to makes CPU usage go up for me.

So, back to you for some thinking and experimenting. You may want to install Chromium or other browser as an alternative or workaround for the freezing. And see how the solitaire works out when not doing other tasks. Trying out other distros is always an option, but it seems that the laptop should run Mint or anything without this issue.

Oh, sorry, I was unclear. The top report I showed was with only her solitaire running and no other tabs (yikes, right?). When I left there to come to and checked it again out of curiosity it was around 55%.

Right, that update on Firefox. I knew there was a reason I didn't like it. Nonetheless, it should be easy enough to switch her over to Chrome since she's used it before (especially with Chrome being so smart and recognizing the OS <3). Plus the google account will make it extra convenient. I would do Chromium as you specified it was the best but I don't believe that would be for her based on what I read with it being experimental at times. Chrome seems to be staying under what Firefox was reporting and she says it feels smoother to play. I think we're in the clear! She still will have to use Firefox for a few things since web developers for companies around here all need to be fired with how they never make their sites operate correctly on Chrome, but eh. That's a big step-up from freezing.

Thank you (both of you) for all the help with getting my mom set-up, I really do appreciate it and it was nice to meet you. I do plan to stick around (at the least to ask more questions down the line xD), but I usually manage to give myself a lot to do between computer hobbies and computer classes (noticing a pattern here?). I'm sure I'll pop up for a long time every blue moon at the least.

Edit: Huh. Chrome also has the up and down arrows on the scrollbar that she likes so much. Two bird with one stone.
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Sounds like you're set then? :p

I ran my own Top here on Pearl, but I'll swap over to Sylvia Cinnamon a little later for personal interest. Results were


... and that was with 10 tabs pinned and 10 more open. Only varied from 18% to 25% CPU. This on 8GB RAM.

@Cera keep an eye open over New Year or so, here and if I have something interesting I will post it there.

At that thread, Stan also mentioned Vivaldi, I have not tried it yet, but at my old Forum a couple of members were big fans.

You're both so helpful I could tear up.

Crikey, don't do that or I'll have to break out the Kleenex (facial tissues), :cool:

Seriously though, it's not just because you are a damsel in distress. Stan & I and others break out the red carpet for anyone trying out Linux - no matter gender, race, creed - because we love Linux to bits :D


You're not helping because I'm a damsel in distress!? Dang gnabbit, false gender reporting for nothing (I joke, of course)!

But... sadly it seems I'm not all set. More issues have cropped up in the last few days and I'm at a total loss for it this time. Her computer seems to freeze at another point now. This time I mean freeze. It doesn't recover and has to be shut off which probably only causes more damages... It usually happens when it has been sitting untouched for a while. So I thought it had to do with it going in and out of lock improperly but even though I changed the settings to not lock when going to the screensaver nothing has changed. I'm going to try turning off the screensaver now to see if it stops but that's obviously not an ideal solution...
But... sadly it seems I'm not all set.

Welcome to Linux ;)

Post-installation is where the fun starts.

Take any screenshots of settings &c that may help, log your steps, I'm sure you can work out the drill.

Speaking of logs - some of them are very verbose, but if you record an approximate time frame for when Mum's PC goes south for the winter, we can take a look at some of the output and see if it shines some light on things.

Make sure you are bright-eyed and bushytailed before undertaking any major exercises and not tired, and I'll leave off sounding like your Dad or Granddad.


Post-installation is where the fun starts.

That Wizard... he's a funny guy sometimes! :D

Of course, he is right... logs may tip you off to what is giving you trouble. And Wizard is more knowledgeable about which logs to view, and what to look for, so I'm hoping to learn more here too.

Still, freezing is quite commonly a memory problem. You showed us above that there is 4GB in the laptop, and that just should not have a freezing problem. If all 4 GB were installed when purchased, there is no doubt about compatibility, but if it were upgraded, like from 2GB to 4GB after it was purchased.... there is some chance of a slight mismatch, even though they are recognized and working. Also, even new RAM can develop problems and have failures. There is an intensive program built in with Linux called Memtest86+ that might identify if any RAM is defective. It takes many hours to complete, so its good to start it at night and let it go all night. You launch it by holding down the Shift key when booting Linux, and it shows the GRUB bootloader menu. Arrow down to highlight Memory test (memtest86+) and hit Enter to begin. This page gives a more full description of memtest for Ubuntu, but Mint should work the same.

If any RAM is found to be defective, I would then just remove the bad one and try that out for awhile. Laptops are so small, there is only usually two slots, so you probably have two 2GB chips. But running Mint on 2GB should still be just fine, and you really shouldn't need to replace the RAM. It is usually easy to access the RAM, typically just a small trap door in the bottom of the laptop, but I haven't searched on your model yet to see if that is true or not.... some laptops are more difficult.

If RAM is all good, and if the logs don't provide any clues.... I would next try a different Linux distro. In fact, even a different version of Mint might help to solve this problem. I have had issues with Cinnamon myself before (graphic related) and I've found the MATE edition to work better for me. And you already know how easy it is to do a full install... nothing to it, except to again setup the solitaire, printer, and other essentials.

Waddya mean funny sometimes, man in dark shades?

@Cera - I don't suppose you are near close, with that music collection &c to safeguard, to try the same distro on one of yours and see if it has any problems?

I also went ahead and picked up a 32GB flash drive anyway since when I convert my own desktop I do have files to move over to my disc drive-less laptop

Just eliminating possibilities. But follow Stan's lead and we'll see what the outcome is from that, first, no sense in trying to do three things at one, it only muddies the waters, or confuses.

I find that when I try to tap my head and rub my stomach at the same time (3rd one is to breathe).

I'll be on standby if needed.

Cera's Mum's lappie specs can be found here -

... and yes, it is 2x2GB sticks RAM, but has integrated graphics sharing up to nearly half.


Pardon the long break between posts there. Holidays know how to keep people busy! Which I hope you both enjoyed some winter festivities (or maybe winter relaxing).

I was going to wait until I had checked off everything suggested before replying, but a check-in feels appropriate after all this time. So in no particular order:

Memtest86+ - Done! I ran the memory test first because it simply felt like it was going to be the issue with its age. It made ~12 passes without finding any issues and thus my guess was incorrect.

Logs - Not done. I admittedly haven't actually looked at any logs. I asked her to write down the time when it freezes since she uses it for long periods, but every time I ask her if it froze today she says "ugh, yes" and then I ask if she wrote the time down... "no". I know, I know, I should do it myself but I'm not confident I could reproduce the problem so I kept putting it off. BUT while I was investigating how to check the logs another idea so simple appeared. Overheating! I really really should have thought of this. She sets her laptop on top of a pillow in her lap. How would it not overheat like that after even one hour? I've hence taken a small piece of shelf off of... well a shelf to stick under her laptop when she uses it. I'll undertake the task of trying to reproduce the problem myself to check the logs if this doesn't help/fix it.

My desktop conversion - Eh-heh. Well, actually, I have moved everything off there onto my laptop. I got really gun-ho about trying to get my server started even if it wouldn't be really "up" but simply a testing ground. Back when I posted on the 18th I already had this done and installed a Kubuntu distros with a KDE GUI on my desktop. I suppose this is temporary anyway as I'll switch to something without a GUI the moment I'm 80% comfortable with the absence of one. It is supposed to be a server after all and Ubuntu made for servers sounds ideal.
Thanks for the update @Cera, and hope you had a nice holidays also! (I'm still recovering! :eek::D)

Excellent thought about the laptop overheating... I hope that will solve the freezing issue. Hmmm, strange that heating might cause freezing, don't you think?!?!? :confused::confused::confused:

Not much more for me to add.... you're doing great!

Ditto to what the bloke with two hairs on his head said :D

I have some further ideas for you, coming soon, & I'll try to work them in with this thread's focus.

Overheating can cause all sorts of bad juju, so good call. :)

Also, for some light reading, my Tute here

... when you get Mum's computer up & running sweet, a Timeshift snapshot can allow you to roll back to good working order if things head south for the winter.

Cheers and safe driving with all the silly people on the road this time of year

Chris Turner

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