My buddy David Gewirtz recently wrote about the question of whether you should move from Windows 7 to Windows 10 or a Mac. I have another suggestion: Linux. Specifically Linux Mint 17.3, Rosa, with the Cinnamon desktop.
Yes, I'm serious. I use all the above desktops -- yes I'm a Windows 7 and 10 user as well as a Linux guy -- and for people I think Mint 17.3 makes a great desktop.
I've been using Mint as my main Linux desktop for years now. Unlike some desktops I could name -- cough, Windows 8, cough -- Linux Mint has never had a flop. Every year that goes by, this operating system keeps getting better. The other desktops? Not so much.
Let's take a closer look.at Windows 7 vs. Linux Mint 17.3
I regard Cinnamon 2.8 as the ultimate Window, Icon, Menu, Pointer (WIMP) interface. Is it ideal for tablets or smartphones? No. Is it perfect for long-time PC users? Yes.
Cinnamon does add some nice features. For example, if you mouse over the Window list, you'll now see a thumbnail for each application. It also has improved performance, system tray status indicators, and music and power applets.
What I like best about Cinnamon is that it doesn't get in the way. There's no learning curve. You may have never used Linux in your life but you can just sit down and start opening directories, running applications, and modify your PC's settings.
One small feature I like a lot, since I always run multiple workspaces, is that the workspace switcher applet now shows a visual representation of what's running in each workspace.
Don't like Cinnamon? Unlike any version of Windows, Linux Mint comes with many different desktops. These include KDE, MATE and Xfce. Find one you like and enjoy,
It's true that Linux doesn't have as many application choice as Windows does. But, how many applications do you really need in 2016? I do most of my work these days on the cloud with software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications. These apps work just as well on Chrome, my favorite Web browser, on Mint as they do on any other desktop.
LibreOffice 5. I don't use it because it's free, although most Linux desktop applications won't cost you a cent, but because it's an excellent office suite in its own right.
I also use Evolution instead of Outlook for e-mail and GIMP instead of Photoshop for my basic graphic editing needs. The bottom line is that are many great Linux programs that you can use in place of Windows appliations.
Are there some Windows programs that you can't live without? Well, you don't have to live without them.
There are two ways to run Windows programs on Linux. One is to use CodeWeaver's CrossOver Linux. This program enables you to run many popular Windows applications on Linux. Supported Windows applications include Microsoft Office (from Office 97 to Office 2010), Quicken, and some versions of Adobe Photoshop.
The application you absolutely must have won't work with CrossOver? Then run it on a virtual machine (VM) program such as Oracle's VirtualBox.
I use both methods and they work well.
Mobile Ecosystem Compatibility
I don't care what some people say, Windows Phone is dead to me. And, pretty much everyone else.
Mint, however, is a pure desktop play. Yes, Android is Linux, but it runs in parallel with the desktop Linux distribution. That may change as Android creeps toward the desktop, but we're not there yet.
Ubuntu, which is Mint's foundation Linux distribution, parent company Canonical is working hard on making its same code base work on PCs, smartphones, and tablets. So, eventually, you may be running Mint on smartphones. I'm not holding my breath.
If you want one operating system family on all your devices, don't waste your time -- for now -- on either Linux or Windows. Just go ahead and buy an iPhone and a Mac and be done with it.
This is not even a conversation.
While Windows 7 is far more stable than any other version of Windows, I haven't had Linux Mint ever -- ever -- stop working.
If you want a desktop that can take a licking and keep ticking, you want Linux, not Windows or Mac OS X.
Really? Do you even have to ask?
Every lousy day a new piece of Windows malware shows up. Windows is more secure than it once was, but it's still easy to bust.
Linux, on the other hand, despite the garbage you read about Linux viruses and such, is almost never sucessfully attacked.
Oh, yes, Linux has been broken into multiple times. But, in almost every case, the attack relies on a user with super-user priviledges working hand in glove with an attacker to break in. If a system administrator installs malware who's really to blame for the cracked computer? The operasting system or the incompetent system manager? I know which one I'd be kicking out of my office.
Windows 10 is usually free now -- even if you don't actually want it. Micrsoft continues to find new and interesting ways to shove it down your throat such aa making Windows 10 a recommended update.
Mint, though, was free when it began, it's free now, and will always be free. If you decide a particular version of Mint is the cat's meow, you can keep using it until the bits fall off the hard drive because of rust.
Windows 10 can run on most newer Windows 7 systems without any fuss. On the other hand, I can run Mint on Windows XP systems. Give me 512MBs of RAM, and I'm in business with Mint.
Mind you, I'd much rather have 2GBs, but you really can run Mint on pretty much any hardware hiding out in your office's back room.
The real cost will be in traning and applications. As I mentioned earlier, however, Mint doesn't have much of a learning curve. As for applications, almost all Linux programs are free. If, as many offices do now, you realy on SaaS apps for producivity you won't see one thin dime more in software migration costs.
What's that you say? You use Active Directory (AD) for system management and supporting it is a must? No problem.
You just install BeyondTrust's PowerBroker, formerly Likewise, and in a few minutes your Mint machines will be in your AD forest. Next question?
The Bottom Line
Linux Mint is an excellent Windows 7 replacement. I've used it for years now and I've found it to be the best desktop out there.
Is it better than Windows 10? I think so. It's certainly more stable and secure.
Should you move to it? I recommend you try it for yourself. Like all desktop Linux distributions, it's easy to try and it's free. Just download a copy of Mint, 64-bit Cinnamon would be my pick, and install it. If you're installing Mint on a system with UEFI Secure Boot, you may have to jump through a few hoops. I say "may" because neither I nor J.A. Watson have had any trouble with it.
Once you're done, I think you'll soon find that Mint is a great replacement for Windows 7.