Making a Linux laptop


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Yesterday while I was sitting at my desk working on my Linux desktop computer, I got a phone call from someone from “Windows Technical Support.” The man on the line said to me, quite nicely, that they had noticed a problem with my computer and wanted to help me fix it.

I said, “You are talking about my Windows desktop computer, the one I am working right now, correct?”

The man said sweetly, “Yes, sir. That’s the computer we have seen a problem with.”

I answered sweetly, “I just want to be sure, so let me ask again. You are referring to the Windows computer in front of me, the one on my desk?”

He responded, “Yes sir. Could you press your start menu please and go to settings?”

Unfortunately, I had too much work to do, and couldn’t spend more time with him. I would have liked to have lead him along for as long as possible, but simple didn’t have the time. Instead, I said, “Um, I can’t really go to my Windows settings because my desktop is a Linux computer, and has been for a decade. Have you heard of Linux?”

Instantly the phone went dead.

I tell this tale because it is only one more reason I abandoned Windows back in 2006. With Linux I have no viruses to worry about, and scammers like this can’t do me any harm.

Anyway, this post really isn’t about Windows scammers. Instead, I want to relate my experience this past week in setting up my first Linux laptop, following the step-by-step instructions provided by James Stephens and posted here on Behind the Black last year in the following series:

Though I switched to Linux in 2006 I have never had a laptop under that operating system. I held off setting up a Linux laptop because almost all my travel is giving lectures where I need to plug the laptop into a computer projector and show images during my talks. In 2006 I had seen a number of attempts to use Linux laptops to do this, and found that too many projectors simply couldn’t work with them. Moreover, my wife and I shared this laptop at the time, and she wasn’t interested in learning Linux. Thus, for most of the past decade my laptop was an XP machine, which over time has become increasingly useless.

Recently Diane got herself her own Windows 10 laptop, so I no longer need to have a machine that she can use. Also, I have tested modern Linux on modern computer projectors, and find that they work together much more reliably these days. Finally, the ability of XP to function on the web has declined noticeably. In fact, in the past two years I simply couldn’t surf the web at all with it. Instead, I used the XP machine for email and for projecting my talk slides, and used a small tablet for surfing and posting when on the road.

After reading James’ series last year however I resolved the time had come to go Linux full time. I mentioned this to a friend Bill Wilson who routinely buys and configures used laptops, and he offered to be on the lookout for a good used laptop for me. One day later, he called to say he had found a nice used Acer One 722 netbook available for only $80. I bought it immediately.

This netbook already had Windows 7 on it, but I didn’t care about that. Because the netbook did not have a DVD/CD drive Bill loaned me an external drive, and I pulled my install/live Ubuntu DVD that I had used to install my desktop operating system and plugged it in. After spending a day just checking things out to make sure I knew exactly what I was doing, including rereading James’ series above, I hit install and let Linux take over.

James had mentioned to me that, unlike a Windows install which could as long as 20 hours, the Linux would take no more than an hour, and more like 30 minutes. He was absolutely correct. Since then it took about a week for me to configure the machine to match my desktop, a process that went so smoothly that I was amazed. I must note that this configuration is not simple, since one of the reasons I switched to Linux in 2006 was that it allowed me to remap the keyboard to match my first computer, a Radio Shack Model III. I not only got all my programs quickly installed (including some Windows programs running on the Wine emulator), but had the laptop keyboard rearranged, including relocating the tab, arrow keys, and adding a control key where the left bracket key is normally located. See this image of the Model III keyboard to see what I wanted.

In fact, it has gone so well that my previous post, A Martian Sinkhole, was done entirely using this laptop, first while I was at my doctor’s office for a minor vaccination review and second while eating lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

All this shows once again that no one has to remain stuck with a bad product like Windows. The next time Windows 10 decides to take over your machine at the most inopportune time to do an unasked-for update, tell Windows 10 to go to hell. Get a Linux install disk and wipe Windows from your life!

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3 comments

  • James Stephens

    I too have had “Windows Live Support” call. I get a real kick out of stringing them along… Where’s the “any” key? My computer has one of those cup holders you know. Anyway, If you get one of these calls it’s a scam! Just hang up. Microsoft would never cold call you. Just try to get live technical support from the real Microsoft! No, these are scammers, trying to get you to install ransomware then charge you about $1,000 in bitcoin to release your computer, if they just don’t take your money and run. I have in the past strung them along to get the information and I needed to hack them, which I did. I took that group of scammers down for a while. But, it’s a common scam and lots of people are doing it. Unless I’m employed do so I don’t have the time or authority to go after all these guys. But if they call and I have the time I’ll have a little fun.

    On another note. I have no choice but to maintain Windows machines for a customer. My last Windows install, the installation itself went quickly. But the cumulative update took 20 hours. Then I had to straighten out all the problems the updates caused. Hours and hours of shutdowns and reboots. It seemed like it took forever to tweak Windows to be private and secure and just leave the end user alone. Yes, Linux IS easer to set up then Windows. This is one reason I charge substantially less to install or administer Linux.

  • mpthompson

    There are a number of videos on Youtube of sharp computer literate people turning the tables on these scammers. Most of the scammers are not very bright (they would have another job if they were) and are basically following scripts that they read from. When they are fooled into thinking that have a “live one” on the line, their greed kicks in and their own judgement goes out the window and they can often be convinced to do some pretty stupid things including bricking their own PC or better, the network server on their LAN.

  • Stephen Hawkins NG0G

    I have not used Windows since W98. I get those same phone calls and have fun with them when I have time. Of late I have been asking them, “Does your mother know you are doing this. I’m going to tell her.”

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