What To Do With Old Computers


What to do with an old PC that runs too slow and takes up storage space...

Many households have one or more "old" computers that were put into storage after having upgraded to a newer, faster machine. The thinking usually goes that it might come in useful again, perhaps as a gift to a young relative with more modest computing needs, or as a source of parts for later use. However, at some point the user is faced with an old machine that runs too sluggishly, and whose browser and other software is out-of-date, resulting in the machine getting discarded.

The good news is that the machine need not be retired to the landfill just yet. In fact, by replacing the old operating system with a new one, complete with the latest browser and multimedia technology, you can make the machine useful again for basic tasks such as web browsing, instant messaging, word processing, photo editing, and listening to digital music files.

You may be wondering how well your old computer would do with the latest version of Windows, however Windows is not the only operating system (or "OS") that will run on a PC. Another operating system called "Linux" is available and will run your old computer.

Why Linux? Windows is relatively large and resource hungry, and it costs money to buy a copy for your computer. Linux, on the other hand, is free, as it was developed by teams of volunteers over many years. Also, Linux will run on very modestly powered machines, such as your old computer. Getting Linux is as easy as downloading a (free) CD image to your current computer, burning it to a CD, then booting your old computer into the CD to begin installation.

Sporkforge.com recommends Xubuntu Linux for your old computer. Visit the Xubuntu website to download Xubuntu Linux and learn how to install it (it's much easier than you think). You will be very pleasantly surprised at how your slow old computer is transformed into a modern, capable system with a very attractive and usable interface.

(Read on to learn more about Linux...)

Linux comes in many different flavors called "distributions". The reason for all these distributions is that the Linux operating system is actually a bundle of individual software packages that various organizations put together under a particular theme and purpose. For example, Xubuntu Linux is designed for light hardware resource usage, and is therefore suitable for older computers with slower processors and less memory.

The multitude of Linux distributions are possible due to the software packages being free to modify and distribute, as opposed to proprietary software packages that compose Windows, for example. Though the different distributions have different software packages bundled into them, they have in common the core component of the operating system, called the "kernel", which in this case is the "Linux" kernel.

Another important advantage to Linux is that it is secure compared to Windows. By secure, we mean that you are less likely to get a computer virus or spyware installed on your computer without your consent. Your personal data is also less likely to get stolen by hackers or malicious websites. The reason Linux is more secure is that it strictly enforces access to important system files and configuration settings, and the regular user (and any software run by the user, such the web browser) cannot modify the system without providing a root password.

Linux, (as is MacOSX, the operating system that runs Apple Mac computers), is modeled after an operating system used to run large mainframes called Unix, and is built from the ground up to accommodate many simultaneous users doing many things, either intentionally or unintentionally, that can compromise the stability or security of the system. This makes Linux well suited for computers that are connected over the internet. Windows, on the other hand, was designed for personal computers well before internet connectivity became a reality, and therefore network security had to be addressed after the fact.

As Linux is free, powerful, and has all the day to day functionality you'll likely need, it would seem that Linux would be the obvious choice for any personal computer. However, there are important caveats, and in fact Linux is not the best choice for everybody. For one thing, most consumer software is written for popular operating systems such as Windows or MacOSX, but few commercial software packages are sold for Linux. So if there are certain commercial software packages that you can't live without, such as MS Excel, Adobe Photoshop, etc, then Linux isn't the right choice for you. Game titles are also very sparse for Linux, so if you're a gamer you'll want to avoid Linux as well (at least on your gaming machine). Finally, you'll occasionally run into a hardware peripheral (such as a webcam, scanner, printer, etc) that simply isn't supported in Linux, though here Linux is rapidly closing the gap.

To turn your old computer into a useful tool for day to day computing instead of resident of a landfill, give Linux a try.

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