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Ubuntu or other Linux distributions with lower resource requirements are often excellent ways to extend the life of a computer that's not up to running current versions of Windows.

I have an old HP with Windows 98 SE that was given to me. I reformatted the computer. It works like a new one, but I can't get online with it. Could I take this computer, wipe Windows 98, and install Ubuntu on it, and make it work?

Ubuntu Linux is certainly where I'd start, but there are other Linux distributions that might even work better.

In this audio segment from an Ask Leo! webinar, I'll discuss using Linux – Ubuntu or otherwise – to extend the life of an older machine.

Listen:
Download the mp3 (2M)

Transcript

I have an old HP with Windows 98 SE that was given to me. I reformatted the computer. It works like a new one, but I can't get online with it. Could I take this computer, wipe Windows 98, and install Ubuntu on it, and make it work?

I'm going to guess the answer is yes and the only reason it's a guess is because I need to know the specifics of the machine.

How much RAM does it have? How much disc space does it have (but my guess is that any machine that's capable of running Windows 98 is probably capable of running Ubuntu just fine)? And if not Ubuntu, there are a couple of other versions of Ubuntu that are available via the Ubuntu Website. Some of which are slightly stripped down. I don't know if the Linux Mint distribution is bigger or smaller than Ubuntu.

The one that typically comes to mind for stripped down machines – for machines that really are kinda tight on hardware – is something called 'Puppy Linux'. It's another Linux distribution, but it is specifically architected to have a very small footprint so that is something else worth looking at. And as far as not getting online with it, it depends on exactly how it's failing for you in Windows 98.

It could be something as simple as a driver for the network card. Windows 98 did not have nearly enough, nearly the support that more recent versions of Windows have for the wide variety of network adapters that are out there or were out there at the time.

Typically, network card manufacturers supplied a floppy disc actually with the drivers on it. So you might (if you really kind of feel like wanting Windows 98 still working on it)... you might do just a little bit of research if you can't find drivers for the network card that happens to be installed on it. But I think Ubuntu would be fine, and if not, then certainly something like Puppy Linux would be great.

Article C5479 - June 23, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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9 Comments
duane
June 23, 2012 1:08 PM

DSL i.e. Damn Small Linux is another, but I don't know if it is still supported. It's so small it might not be good enough for what you want to do. This is just a sea story because I've never used it myself. damnsmalllinux.org (50MB)

Mike Stallings
June 26, 2012 4:49 AM

I think a better compromise would be Xubuntu. It is based on Ubuntu, so it has excellent hardware support, but needs much less RAM.

Gord Campbell
June 26, 2012 9:36 AM

Windows 98 ran beautifully with 64 MB of memory, but the list of Linux distros which will run on that is very short. Slitaz comes to mind. http://www.slitaz.org/en/

A lot of Windows 98 computers communicated via serial port to a modem, no ethernet or WiFi.

Rick S
June 26, 2012 9:44 AM

Ubuntu may be to big but there are a whole pile of Linux OS that will do the job just fine. Go to Distrowatch and they have a drop down menu with many flavours of Linux. Make sure the OS fits on a CD to save you problems. Some are easy to install others aren't. Some have flash installed others will make you download it from the repository. But once you get things sorted out you will like it. It's free. Enjoy.

Did that
June 26, 2012 9:58 AM

I did just that a few years ago on an old machine. It worked great until I finally retired it.

Rick S
June 26, 2012 10:03 AM

I forgot to mention that most Linux OS don't like the dial up modems in the old laptops so get an external modem. US Robotics works well. There may be others but I haven't tried them. Hard to believe but some places have only dial up. I feel for you people.

Ronald Kroger
June 26, 2012 12:12 PM

Have used both Puppy Linux and Lubuntu on Win95, 98, prefer Lubuntu (Lite Ubuntu)

vaughn
June 26, 2012 2:02 PM

You may also find distros that are targetted for netbooks that might work well in this instance - I found one for the Asus eeePC series that ran fine on an old dunger!

A Richter
June 28, 2012 4:35 AM

Based on experience, Ubuntu will run fine on 40 GB HDD, 512 MB RAM. Its Ethernet connection is well automated, too.

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