Radix’s adventures in tech #1: exploring Linux


Could Linux based operating systems and open source software ever truly replace the traditional Windows environment in many offices? Emily investigates.

linux-mint-boot-1-v2

We’ve made a resolution to get “under the hood” of more technologies this year. It’s a way for us to improve the empathy and authenticity that we bring to the content that we write for our clients.

Previously on the Good Copy, Bad Copy podcast, we’ve discussed how difficult it is to leave the Word environment in our industry.

This is the first experiment in getting under the hood, and I’m going to investigate whether we, as a copywriting agency, could ever ditch an expensive Windows/MS Office environment for the cheaper and more reliable world of Linux and open source software.

At the time of writing, 1.66% of the world’s desktops run on a Linux based operating system.

Microsoft and Apple’s market shares for desktop would suggest there’s no point in pursuing an open source derived desktop experience for everyday computing use. Everyone’s used to these two graphical user interface designed operating systems and popular software is supported by both, so why bother to look elsewhere?

Many applications for business and home use are now based in web browsers, rather than software installed on a computer. Standards for document types have been opened up.

It’s time to re-evaluate the place of Linux derived operating systems on the desktop.

Two broad user groups

The kind of user you are would certainly affect whether you can shift from a dedicated desktop. In my experience, there are, broadly, two types of computing users:

  • Users who don’t use hardware specific applications
  • Users who do use hardware specific applications

Those who don’t use hardware specific applications may in fact be using tablets or smartphones for their computing needs, as well as or instead of desktop computers. Users who need hardware specific applications are, from what I’ve seen and experienced myself, more likely to be desktop users.

Linux-Mint-USB-drive

This is the USB stick that I used to install Linux Mint from.

Where does Radix fit in?

Here’s where things do get complicated. In an ideal world, we would just switch all of our Microsoft Office software to open source created business applications on a variety of devices, having no proprietary hang-ups, and be done with it. All of our organisational and content creation needs would be met.

And content creation is our business.

After all, a word processor is a word processor.

Right?

This is where things get complicated. The standards used by software like Microsoft Word mean that shifting documents between it and its open source counterparts can get tricky.

At least, that’s what I thought until I installed Linux Mint and began to start using the software that came with it.

Writing with LibreOffice

This post itself is being drafted in LibreOffice Writer 5. Fiona, Radix’s founder and one of our senior copywriters, is reviewing and editing this blog post on a Windows 7 machine, using Microsoft Word 2010.

LibreOffice Writer is not too dissimilar in function and layout of MS Word 97-2010. It may take me a while to find things, but I either do or I search for how-tos in a web browser.

Compatibility

Two of the main functions Radix needs to have working, as a copywriting agency, is tracking document amends and leaving comments. These two functions need to work for us and our clients.

Every single one of our clients uses MS Word. The shift to yearly application updates for Word means there are more chances for compatibility issues to arise between open source software like LibreOffice Writer and MS Word.

How the edit process went

I was able to install our main file sharing program on Linux Mint and it was from a shared folder that the editing process began.

Fiona was able to access the document, track the edits she made to it and leave comments where appropriate. I opened the document back up in LibreOffice, and it showed me the edits and comments Fiona made. Nothing looked that different from editing in MS Word.

libre-office-ms-word-experiment-

LibreOffice was familiar enough to not be too difficult to use.

Setting up Linux Mint and usability

I’m writing this blog post on a laptop that I have done a dual boot installation of Linux Mint on (specifically Linux Mint 17.3 ‘Rosa’, Cinnamon 64-bit). There’s an installation of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit on the laptop as well.

How did I get there?

Why Linux Mint? I read through one article on TechRadar that looked at different distros and discussed them an eye to ease of use and the pros and cons they offered. Mint came with a suite of productivity software (LibreOffice, GIMP and more), plus Firefox and many multimedia codecs. Plus Cinnamon’s desktop looked like something I could handle being a long term Windows user (since 3.1).

Once I knew what distro I wanted, I researched around how best to install it. Quickly, it became obvious that I should create a dual boot machine, maintaining the Windows OS on the system. It’s a licensed OS; it’s not something you just throw away.

Tracking down how I could do a dual boot installation, I followed instructions from various websites in order to get this far (there will be a resource section at the end of this post). The key steps were:

  1. Download Linux Mint to the PC
  2. Free up a USB memory stick
  3. Use software to turn the memory stick into one Linux Mint could be installed from
  4. Make sure all documents on the Windows installation are backed up
  5. Run a disk error check on Windows
  6. Shut the PC down and insert the USB stick
  7. Turn on the PC
  8. Press the reboot options button before Windows loads
  9. Select to boot from the USB stick and wait for Mint to load
  10. Click on the installation option on the desktop once Mint was loaded
  11. Followed Mint’s onscreen instructions until Mint was fully installed
Linux Mint start up

I was so pleased when I’d gotten this far in the installation process.

Not completely smooth sailing

It did take me two attempts to get that far. On my first try, I didn’t manage step 8 in time and Windows got stuck during booting up. Turning the PC off, I took out the USB stick so that I could check the PC could still boot okay. But then turning it back on resulted in Windows attempting a system repair.

Don’t do this at home (if you can help it): but I turned the PC off again, because the system repair seemed to get stuck too. I then rebooted it, letting it start Windows and told it not to check the system and everything was fine once it booted up.

From there I repeated step 6 and succeeded in the subsequent steps.

Is it easy to use?

Aside from a slightly hair raising installation process, I am reasonably at home and search from “Menu” helps me find programs. But I’ve not opened Terminal and touched the command line on this Mint install. I have installed various daemons and bits of software to get things moving, but I’ve done this all within the GUI.

Anything I can’t figure out based on previous experience is only a web search away. If you have access to a web browser and a search engine like Google, much of what you might not know can be easily answered and then learned.

linux-mint-desktop-view-social-1

Could Radix go open source?

Linux Mint is fairly easy to navigate and learn. LibreOffice Writer has proven to be quite capable, so no doubt we could switch to it for creating most client content. However we also use several other parts of Microsoft Office including PowerPoint, Excel and, most importantly, Outlook.

Outlook is our main means of communication with clients and our team members. We also use its calendar to organise our team’s diaries and arrange client calls. It plays a huge part in what we do.

I want to say that Radix could shrug off the shackles of proprietary software and run full tilt into an open source landscape.

But the question of “how do we organise our team to master all of its content creation in an open source world?” still needs to be answered.

Plus, much of what I do for Radix revolves around using programs from Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Currently Creative Cloud is unavailable for Linux and the open source equivalents aren’t quite powerful enough for what I need as someone who creates a lot of multimedia content.

Would I ever consider switching to Linux or Linux Mint full-time?

I could certainly see myself switching to Mint and other Linux distros if compatibility between its productivity apps and other proprietary ones remains. But not for what I do for Radix. Instead it would be for what I do on my personal laptop, which is web browsing and word processing.

Thoughts on this experiment? Why not share them with us by tweeting @radixcom.

Linux Mint installation resources

Linux Mint

How to Install Linux Mint 17.1 on a Bootable USB

How to install Linux Mint alongside Windows


More posts you might like…

Radix’s Adventures in Tech #3: Tanglebots, assemble!

In our ongoing quest to get under the hood of more technology, Fiona tries her hand at coding, electronics and robotics.

Radix’s Adventures in Tech #2: Learning Python

In an ill-advised attempt to automate his own copywriting job, George gets his hands dirty with coding basic apps in Python.

Make your writing more effective

Get copywriting tips and advice — direct to your inbox every month: