Acer Switch 7 – Move Over Microsoft Surface Pro

  • Acer Switch 7


By Tom Ledford | The Practical Computer 

Acer Switch 7 is more than just a challenger

The Acer Switch 7 Black Edition is not only a challenger to the Microsoft Surface Pro and MacBook Pro, it may well be the winner when the dust settles. The Switch 7 is the world’s first fanless 2 in 1 equipped with discrete graphics. Acer’s innovative Dual LiquidLoop™ fanless cooling technology keeps the powerful 8th Generation Intel Core i7 processor and NVIDIA® GeForce® MX150 graphics chilled and ready for intensive tasks, creative production and content streaming.

Read More

My Upgrade to Windows 10

By Tom LedfordThe Practical Computer


Microsoft is taking the unprecedented step of providing the next version of Windows, Windows 10, to users of Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 free! The upgrade will be distributed as a Windows Update. That’s right. You won’t have to do anything to get it.The firmest date heard of for a general release of Windows 10, is “sometime this year.” This year being 2015. 

Read More

I Survived Without Windows For a Whole Week

By Tom Ledford | The Practical Computer

I started with the goal to use Ubuntu Linux on my computer exclusively for a week. I wanted to go seven full days without using Windows. I knew the only way I can learn about new software, especially operating systems, is to dive in – to make it necessary to survive using only the tools and software available in my new Linux environment

My biggest challenges

I have been using Ubuntu and Linux Mint for some time now, but not exclusively. I knew my biggest challenges would be Adobe Photoshop and Dreamweaver. They have been the software I use most to make my living! I would either have to figure out how to make the Windows versions run in Linux, or find native Linux programs with their functionality.

I had no delusions of running Microsoft’s Visual Studio in Linux, even though Linux has a Windows emulator. WINE is a Windows compatibility layer that allows you to install and run many Windows programs in Linux. Although I do need Visual Studio for real work, when I’m using it, I am developing software to run on Windows. I can stay true to Linux and still use Windows to develop Windows software. Can’t I?

Dreamweaver and Photoshop have been known to run with WINE, but not the version I use, CS4. I briefly attempted to make the CS4 versions run. It didn’t take long to figure out that wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I need to find native applications to replace them. 

My Computer’s Configuration (or Specs for Nerds)

Although Linux will run on just about anything, some programs will challenge an older computer. Netflix streaming full screen is one example. So I thought I would tell you about my baseline environment for my journey.

My computer is a HP Pavilion p7-1380t. It has an Intell Core i5-3330 Ivy Bridge Quad-Core 3.0Ghz processor. It has integrated Intel HD Graphics, 8GB of RAM and a 1 TB Hard Drive. It came with Windows Home Premium 64 bit OS installed. I haven’t added any hardware other than an external 500 GB Western Digital Passport. It remains pretty much the way it shipped. It’s not the most powerful PC you can buy, but it has all the juice I need.

The only significant software I have installed is Visual Studio 8 and 13, and Adobe CS4 Master Collection, which includes Photoshop, Dreamweaver, llustrator, InDesign, Fireworks, Acrobat, Flash, Air, and PremierePro. As a web developer, these have been my bread and butter for years now. 

Ubuntu 14.04 LTS

I let Ubuntu’s installation carve out a 150GB partition for Ubuntu 14.04 LTS and I installed it in a dual boot configuration. (LTS stands for Long Term Support). Canonical, the company that produces and provides commercial services for Ubuntu, has committed to five years of maintenance and security updates. That’s as long as Microsoft’s extended support for Windows 7. Did I mention Ubuntu is free? Well, it is. You can get it here:

In addition to the 150 GB partition, I configured an 8 GB swap partition for Ubuntu. These partitions sizes may seem small considering the 1 TB hard drive, but with a dual boot configuration, Ubuntu Linux can access the entire drive, Windows files and all, plus the 500 GB Western Digital Passport drive.

Plug and Play Installation

I could hardly believe how easy it was to install Ubuntu. It was actually easier to install than Windows. The installation recognized and correctly configured all of my hardware, including my HP Deskjet 3050, and it is connected to my wireless network! Simple Scan is one of the scanning applications that come with Ubuntu. I simply clicked a button to install it, and it automatically detected the scanner on  my Deskjet. The network was easily configured, and I was surfing the web, printing and scanning in no time at all!

Desktop Environment

After installation, the first order of business was to decide if I could live with the Unity desktop. Linux desktop environments are GUIs (graphical user interfaces), and you can choose among several different ones to install. They control the appearance, style, and operation of windows, menus, task bars, etc. 

Cinnamon is the desktop that comes closest to Microsoft Windows. Any Windows user will immediately be able to use it to open programs, and manage files and windows. Ubuntu’s default desktop environment is “Unity,” and it’s quite a bit different from anything a typical Mac or Windows user has seen.

nity Desktop for Ubuntu
Unity Desktop for Ubuntu

Cinnamon Desktop for Ubuntu
Cinnamon Desktop for Ubuntu

I wanted to give Unity a chance and learn how to use it before I looked at Cinnamon. I was already familiar with Cinnamon from my Linux Mint computer. It is one of the desktops that is installed by default with Mint, depending on which installation media you choose. But after a little while and a little frustration, I installed Cinnamon. I uninstalled it the next day. It was OK, but I still wanted to see if I could live with Unity. Unity is elegant and minimalist. Somehow that appeals to me. It really doesn’t take that long to learn how to zip right along with it.


Applications are what our real work depend on. Ultimately, whether you can live with an operating system or not, depends upon the ability to find applications that can help you perform the tasks you need to do. Unless it is easier to do those tasks with a new system, there’s no real need to change. 

This is the dilemma Microsoft faces in trying to persuade their customers to upgrade. Windows XP remains the operating system choice for 25% of Windows users, even after Microsoft stopped providing support for the OS! There isn’t an alternative that will make a measurable difference for them.

Software Center 

Linux has come a long way in user friendliness. No longer do you need to use cryptic commands or compile programs to install applications. Ubuntu Software Center lets you browse and install thousands of free and paid applications available for Ubuntu.

Internet Applications

Arguably, the most important applications are those that enable us to use the Internet effectively. Even more so today, since we can use the cloud for virtually all of our other application needs.


Some people will tell you that you don’t need virus protection for Linux. They say that Linux never gets viruses. While that may be close to the truth, it isn’t the truth. Besides, why risk it when there is an excellent free anti-virus program for Linux? 

ClamAV is an excellent, free open source anti-virus software. It is easy to install, but you will also want to install the clamav-daemon so ClamAV will run in the background and can be scheduled to scan your computer. The third piece of anti-virus software is ClamTK, it provides a GUI (graphical user interface) for ClamAV. Although it is technically not required, it makes ClamAV much easier to use. 


Linux has always included a firewall. The company I worked for in the late nineties used Slackware Linux ip chains. Then, Linux and ip chains fit onto a 1.44 MB diskette. Ubuntu’s firewall isn’t much different, except for its unassuming name, ufw.   UFW stands for uncomplicated firewall. You will want to use gufw though – graphical uncomplicated firewall. Guess what. Neither is complicated!

Mozilla Firefox

Ubuntu installs Mozilla Firefox by default. I believe the current installation media installs Firefox 28. At least mine did. If you want to use Firefox as your browser, you should upgrade it to the newest version. Mozilla made major improvements in Firefox staring with version 29.

Google Chrome

Google’s Chrome website was the first website I went to after installing Ubuntu. Other than for testing code, I have used Chrome exclusively on all my computers for some time now. But I will say this: Firefox 29 (now 32 I believe) is impressive! It is as fast as Chrome and it has a greatly improved interface.

Either browser will work great in Ubuntu. Using the one your most comfortable with is fine. Unless of course, you use IE. 

Office Applications

Linux has never offered as much choice in office suites as it does today. We can thank the cloud for that. All you need is a browser, regardless of the operating system you use, to use Google Apps or Microsoft Online. Each have free versions too.

Another cloud service I use is Dropbox. To my surprise, Dropbox has a native Linux version. It works with Ubuntu’s file manager just like it does with Windows Explorer. You can drag and drop folders and files to and from your Dropbox virtual drive. I also use CloudHQ to synchronize all my cloud drives including Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive.. 

If you are looking for a more complete suite, with database and graphics programs you can use LibreOffice or Apache Open Office. Both are full fledged office suites. I use both, mostly so I will know both, but LibreOffice installs automatically when you install Ubuntu. I think LibreOffice is easier to use than Apache Open Office, but available templates may determine which one you use. Both suites’ file formats are compatible with Microsoft Office too.


Ubuntu comes with Mozilla Thunderbird, an open source email, news and chat client. It supports POP, IMAP and S/MIME. It is available for Windows, OS X and Linux. You can configure Thunderbird to use any email service that supports POP3. Think of it as a good alternative to Outlook Express. If you use Outlook Express in Windows, you can Thunderbird with the same email address and email services.

Many people use Outlook at work to connect to Microsoft Exchange email. If you do and your company allows POP3 access to their mail server, you could use Thunderbird. But more than likely, they provide Outlook Web Access for remote email users, in which case you can access your work email in a web browser. Of course, you can access Gmail or using a web browser too. 

Audio Applications

I don’t know about you, but music is high on my list of priorities. I’m a die hard Winamp fan, and I need an mp3 player. Ubuntu comes with Rhythmbox, which fits my requirements nicely. It can also play podcasts and it supports

If you are an iTunes user you can use PlayonLinux to configure and install iTunes to run with WINE, or you can use iHomeServer to access your iTunes library in a web browser.

If you want to produce your own audio, Audacity is one of the best audio recording applications for any platform. It is a free, open source application and it  is easily installed with Ubuntu Software Center.

Video Applications

VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, and Audio CDs. VLC can also be easily installed with Ubuntu Software Center.

Getting NetFlix streaming to work well with Linux used to be a pain, but since Netflix began supporting HTML5, which includes standards based method to stream video, it is easy to setup. In fact, I wrote an article about running Netflix on Linux, that should get you started enjoying movies just like you do in Windows or OSX. 


As I mentioned, Photoshop is one of the applications critical to my work. I have not found a way to use it in Linux yet, but I have learned a lot more about Ubuntu’s native graphics editing program GIMP. GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program. Like most Linux programs, it sounds mysterious but it actually has a simple reason for its name, except for the GNU part. That part isn’t simple but it’s not really logical either, so you are welcome to do as I do and just not care. Of course, feel free to google it, if you’re afraid it may come up in a triva game at Buffalo Wild Wings, or at a Linux nerd party (they don’t throw parties, btw).

GIMP is a powerful graphics program almost rivaling Photoshop in its capability. I am still learning how to use it, but most of my Photoshop needs are simple enough that I can already use GIMP for them.

For simpler drawing and diagramming tasks, LibreOffice Draw is an excellent program. It is installed automatically as part of the LibreOffice suite with the installation of Ubuntu.


Ubuntu is easy to setup as part of your home network. It automatically installs SAMBA, a file system compatible with Windows networking. You can connect to shared drives and sub directories from Windows, just like you would to another Windows computer.

Advanced Users

With a bit of irony, many early adopters are professional techies with needs for software that cannot easily be met with Linux, but it can meet the need for many developers, especially Andriod and LAMP developers. LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP. This combination of software is what runs over 60% of websites today! 

I still makes sense for those of us that develop for Windows platforms, to use Windows and Visual Studio for Windows, but Ubuntu makes it easy to install a dual boot system along side Windows. 

As for me, I am still learning and trying to make Linux fit as many of my needs I can. I have a separate PC for my lab’s LAMP environment to learn more about Linux server administration and development for LAMP. I am still learning PHP and   Linux web development tools like Amaya and KompoZer. It seems technologies come at such a fast pace, I will always have new ones to learn and explore.

Come on in! The water is fine. Linux is ready for you!

Linux has finally become a bonafide contender for the desktop. The amount of free, open source software should meet most computer users’ needs. There are also many websites where you can get your questions answered. The open source community is large and friendly. Don’t worry about nerds and geek speak, there are many forums and other helpful resources for newbies where there are no dumb questions. You will be surprised at how they will welcome you.


Goodbye Windows XP – Hello Linux Mint!

By Tom Ledford | The Practical Computer

Linux Mint 16 “Petra” with Cinnamon desktop 

It’s been a great ride!

Microsoft gave ample notice of when they would stop supporting XP. Even so, Windows XP is still installed on millions of computers. When Microsoft announced that all versions of Internet Explorer had a zero day vulnerability, they made an exception to make the patch available to XP after it’s end of support date. 

“A zero day vulnerability refers to a hole in software that is unknown to the vendor. This security hole is then exploited by hackers before the vendor becomes aware and hurries to fix it—this exploit is called a zero day attack.” – PC Tools by Symantec

That gave me the push to install Linux Mint. There are many reasons people are clinging to XP, but my reason was simple. I don’t want to buy another new PC. I only recently bought a new Windows 7 desktop. But I have another desktop and two laptops. My other desktop and one of my laptops were still running Windows XP and neither one had the specs to run Windows 7 or Windows 8. Or to run them well. Enter Linux! 

Linux is ready for the everyday computer user

I know this seems like a departure from “Practical advice about technology for the everyday computer user,” but I think Linux is ready for the everyday computer user. And what can be more practical than free? The new versions of Linux are easy to install and easy to use. Here is how…

My wife isn’t technical at all. She is a typical computer user and has been using Linux Mint 13 on her desktop for weeks. I don’t think she knows! She is getting around just fine. Practically everything she does with a computer she can do in a browser. Especially now that, Microsoft Office Online is available. 

She can copy pictures from her iPhone and camera, open them with Image Viewer and print them to our wireless printer. She uses Gmail so she is good to go with email. I’m working on setting up iTunes for her now. I will write about that soon, in a new post.

Installing Linux Mint

For my laptop, a seven year old Toshiba Satellite, I chose Linux Mint 16 and the Cinnamon desktop environment (Cinnamon has nothing to do with color). You can choose different desktop “types” with Linux. It’s mostly a difference in menus, windows, and other UI (user interface) components. 

With Linux Mint 16, you can choose between “Mate”, “Cinnamon,” “KDE” or “Xfce” desktops . For beginners Mate or Cinnamon will do just fine. I think you can get closer to a Windows look and feel with Cinnamon. Mate and “Cinnamon” are more popular, and there’s a lot of information in the Linux Mint forums about them. 

There’s not as much info in the forums about the others. That’s just the way it seems to me, but that could be because I don’t use them, so I’m not looking for info. However, if your computer is older, or has a slow processor, you may benefit from Xfce, it has lower processor and memory requirements.

Just like Windows, you can choose from the available themes for your desktop, or download new ones. You can also change the background picture. The picture at the beginning of this post, shows the Cinnamon desktop environment with the “Coffee Stain” theme. It has glassy transparent menus that may be too hard to read for some, but it is beautiful. I changed the desktop background picture to match the theme’s colors better.

Determine if your computer will run Linux

My Toshiba laptop has a dual core, 1.73 Ghz, Intel Pentium processor, and 3 GB of RAM. Linux excels on much lower specs than XP does. My Laptop has a lot more zip now.

You will need to determine if your processor is 32 bit or 64 bit, so you can download the correct version of Linux Mint.To do this in XP, right click on “My Computer,” on your desktop or in your main menu, and select properties. You should see the amount of RAM in your computer, and your processor make and model. It will look something like this: Genuine Intel CPU, T2080 @ 1.73GHz. 

How to identify your processor. 

A quick Google search will find Intel’s site or others, where you can find the specs for your processor. You will need to know if you need a 32 bit or 64 bit version of the Linux Mint installation files.  

Minimum requirements for Linux Mint 16: 

As you can see, unless your computer is very old, it can probably run Linux. You will find it is faster than XP on the same hardware, too.

Download the installation files and create DVD.

Download the file –

The installation files are all in a single DVD disc image file (.iso). Download the appropriate file for your 32 bit or 64 bit processor as you determined in the previous step:

Create DVD – 

For this step, you will need a DVD drive that can record (burn) a DVD (DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, or DVD-RAM) and a blank DVD.

You will need software that is capable of burning a DVD using .iso files. Windows 7 and 8 come with burning software. After the .iso file is downloaded, right click on it and select Open with – “Windows Disc Image Burner.”

If you are using XP and your computer didn’t come with a program that will burn DVD’s from image files, you will need to install one. There are several free, easy to use programs. Easy CD/DVD Recorder is a good basic program that will burn .iso images.

Start the installation

Make sure you have around 10GB or more free on your hard drive. You may want to take this time to clean up your drive and remove any unnecessary programs and files. I recommend that you install Linux Mint on it’s own partition and keep Windows XP  in it’s own partition in a dual boot arrangement. This way you can choose which OS you want to use at startup. The Linux installation will help you resize the Windows partition to make room for a new partition for Linux.

To start the installation, boot to the DVD you created when you burned the ISO image. Here is a good step by step guide for setting your computer up to boot from CD/DVD.

Here are two, step by step guides for installing Linux in a dual boot configuration. Whichever guide you use, make sure when you see the Installation Type screen, you choose “Something Else.” 

On the next screen, the installation will allow you to resize the windows partition and make room for the Linux installation.

Installation type

Guide To Install Linux Mint 16 In Dual Boot With Windows

Linux Mint 16 “Petra” Released – Installation Guide with Screenshots & Features

The pains of installing Linux in years past and digging around to find drivers, are all gone. Now Linux Mint will setup all of your computer’s devices and required drivers automatically. Installing printers is easy too. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the installation was on my old laptop. Almost every time I thought of installing a feature I was going to need, I found that it was already installed.

Living with Linux Mint

Firefox will be the only browser installed during installation, but Chrome is available and easy to install. It looks and works identically with Chrome for PCs. You can sync your bookmarks, settings, extensions, and passwords with all the computers that use Chrome.

You can also sync all those with Firefox too. I recently installed Firefox, version 29, on my Linux and Windows computers. I am really impressed with its speed. It has much simpler and easy to use configuration and settings too. I think it may be a little faster than Chrome on Linux, but I have a ton of extensions installed on it, and only a few on Firefox 29.

You can download documentation and easily search through forums, or ask new questions on the Linux Mint website.

Linux Mint is free, open source software. The programming and maintenance efforts are supported by donations and advertising on the website. Technical support is provided through the large Linux Mint community. Many volunteer to answer questions in the forums. You may find yourself answering question some day. You’re part of the community as soon as you start using Linux.

You will be pleased with results in simple Google searches too. Just add “Linux Mint” or Linux Mint 16 to the end of your search, and you will find a surprising number of search results. There are several blogs and websites that have Linux Mint information. The first user friendly version of Linux is becoming popular fast.

Helpful Resources for Linux and Linux Mint

Versions of Linux are often called “distros” (short for distributions). Since all Linux distributions share common code bases, they are all closely related. They may have different utilities for installing software, and a few different system tools, but they all have commands in common and most can run the same software as other distributions.

Other Resources:

Six Clicks: Linux Mint tips and tricks

Tips and Tricks for Linux Mint after Installation [Mint 13 to 16 –Cinnamon Edition]

10 Things To Do After Installing Linux Mint 16 Petra

IT eBooks – Free Download IT Books – Linux