Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Linux is often a viable alternative to extend the life of older machines. We'll look at some of the issues involved in switching to Linux.
I gave my eleven year old son my old laptop to surf with but it's too slow with a 1 gigahertz CPU, 384 megabytes of RAM (maxed out)and running Windows XP. With 1 PC and 3 laptops in the household upgrading isn't really an option, and besides, it's a great laptop.
What do you think about converting it over to Linux, or am I wasting my time? What applications and utilities are compatible ie. browsers, anti spyware, virus protection etc.. How would you go about setting the computer up. I have moderate experience, utilizing forums and sites like yours when encountering major problems.
Linux is a great way to extend the life of older computers, simply because the resource requirements of many Linux distributions are so much less than that of Windows.
There are naturally a few "gotcha's" along the way.
But before we even go there, we need to make sure that we're solving the right problem.
Many people often fail to realize that for web surfing it's often not their computer that's the choke point but rather the internet connection itself. Depending on what you do online speeding up your existing computer, or even getting a new one, won't necessarily improve your internet experience or improve it much.
So before embarking on anything major like an operating system switch, I'd make sure that it's the machine that's at fault to begin with. It may well be, but it's best to make sure. Since you have other machines in the home, some presumably newer, you can do a side-by-side comparison.
One other thing I'll recommend before the switch is to clean up the old machine. Normally I'd say things like clear your browser cache, defragment the hard disk, consider running a utility like SpinRite, and so on, all of which can improve performance depending on the state of the machine without destroying any data.
But if you're willing to install another OS, erasing everything isn't apparently an issue for you. Hence, what I would do first is reinstall Windows from scratch, having it reformat the entire hard disk as it does so. I'd deselect options you don't need as you install, and then revisit what's running automatically after it's done. A lot of "stuff" accumulates over time as a machine is used, and much of it can affect performance. A reformat and reinstall clears it all away.
With that, you might once again have a nicely workable system without having to switch.
If all that didn't help, then let's move on to Linux.
First, a word about distributions: there are a ton of them. I tend to gravitate towards Ubuntu for its large installed base, relative ease of installation, and a fair amount of available support. Because not all packages are available for all distributions, I'm assuming Ubuntu as I discuss Linux below.
The real answer of whether Linux will do for you at all really depends on exactly how you will use your computer. If it's just web surfing and email, then I think you'll be very happy. Packages like Thunderbird or Firefox are cross-platform and work equally well on Windows and Linux.
If you need to do word processing, spreadsheets and the like, OpenOffice is available, and it can exchange files with its Windows counterparts and Microsoft Office. Note, however, that it "feels" different, and you'll find yourself relearning how do to things and find features the Open Office way as opposed to the Microsoft Office way. Again, depending on your own style and needs that could be a problem, or not at all.
If you're a gamer, the news isn't so good. Granted, you have an underpowered machine for current games as it is, but even many of the games that worked on your machine running Windows will not work in Linux.
Current thinking is that anti-virus and anti-spyware isn't as critical on Linux, and as a result while there are packages out there for both, they're typically not as mature as their Windows counterparts, and to be honest most people don't bother. Most spyware and viruses are Windows-specific.
I've personally looked into moving to Linux or a Mac. In both cases I'm thwarted by some of the applications that I need for my daily work that simply aren't available on either platform in a cross-platform way. That includes things like Microsoft Money (or Quicken, for many people), Truecrypt, roboform, and my video editing software. In some cases there are quite viable alternatives but in my case I need to be able to switch back and forth, hence I need alternatives that are cross-platform compatible like Thunderbird or Open Office.
So your usage plays a role here too. If you, for example, regularly need to share data between your different platforms as I do, then your needs are more complicated than, say, if you could just do a one-time conversion to a Linux equivalent and then move on from there. And again, it depends on the specific applications involved.
The short answer is that depending on your needs, and if you're willing to take a little time to learn a few different ways of doing things, Linux can be a very viable and cost effective way to extend the life of an older PC.
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