5 Reasons Old Computers Love Linux

There are hundreds of stories about people who pulled an old Windows 95/98/ME computer out of their basement, put some kind of Linux distro on it, and are in a computing heaven, blissfully unaware of the age of their computer. And you never hear about people pulling the same computer out and saying, “Wow! Windows 95 solves all of my problems! Good bye, modern computing!” Why is Linux so dominant in this category? Here are a few reasons.

  1. Release date. Microsoft has a finite budget. The portion labeled “OS Development” needs to go to a new OS that will pack in hardware-hungry features. The modern businessman doesn’t give a darn about how much money his computer costs, he just needs the latest and “greatest” software on it. So old computers are stuck with old MS operating systems, which lack the development techniques and consumer needs of 2009. Since Linux either has an infinite or non-existent budget (depending on how you look at it) some people decide to focus on lightweight distributions. 2009 software on a 1995 machine is much better than 1993 software on a 1995 machine. For example, would you rather use Abiword 2.6.8, or MS Word ’97?
  2. Cost. Linux is free. Windows isn’t. Linux lets you burn bootable .iso’s, Windows doesn’t–if you can’t find your Windows 98 installation disc, it will never get reinstalled. This is pretty straightforward.
  3. Support. Windows XP, Vista and (soon) 7 have  a number of support options, either from Microsoft, local geeks, or internet forums. They’re also too slow. Windows 95, 98 and 2000 are faster, but their support is limited to a few nice people dredging their memories to help you. On the other hand, Linux has tens of thousands of people willing to help you through forums (ubuntuforums.org (which helps you with any distro), linuxquestions.org, SliTaz forums, Puppy forums, DSL forums…) as well as comprehensive documentation and wikis.
  4. Specialization. Since there’s only supposed to be one main version of Windows in use at a time, by necessity it has to be a Swiss Army knife of an operating system. Linux, on the other hand, has a whole bunch of options. A lot of people are happy with a terminal-only system. Some must have package management, other don’t need it. Some want a themeable desktop with pretty colors, wallpapers and icons. Others would rather have a sparse desktop and use the hardware savings elsewhere. And then you get nutcases power users who make a torrent slave, file/print server or media streamer. Have fun making that without Linux.
  5. Hardware Support and Variety. As I pointed out a few weeks ago, sometimes hardware just doesn’t work. This problem is also present in Windows: OEMs have no reason to be polite and leave vintage drivers up on their website. Even if they do, making things work in Windows 95 is a nightmare: you have to burn a CD (or sometimes a floppy(!))with the USB drive driver, install that, use the USB drive to transfer hardware for the network card, the sound card, the USB mouse (if it works at all), and any other peripheral. It’s very hit-or-miss, and if you miss, you’re done. And don’t forget there’s no Plug and Play. Install. Reboot. Install. Reboot…aack! It doesn’t work!* With Linux (and especially with Linux on older hardware), the odds are that everything will work as expected on a vanilla install. And if DSL doesn’t recognize it, use Puppy. If that doesn’t work, go with SliTaz. Failing that, install ubuntu-minimal and put Openbox on top of it. If all else fails, maybe Ubuntu GTK 1.2 Remix** will work. I have a network card that works in DSL, Puppy and UGTK1.2R, but not in SliTaz and Ubuntu Server. I hardly care–there’s too many alternatives available to let these things get you down.

So really, there’s no excuse for not putting Linux on your old computer. Try it–you might be surprised by how usable it becomes–after all, your current hardware is probably overpowered.

Have fun.

—-

*Clarification: Installing hardware drivers on an old Windows is guaranteed to be tedious and time-consuming. With Linux, hardware will probably work with the first distro you boot up, and almost certainly with the second or third. I would rather swap CDs (bring a magazine to read in the three minutes it’ll take to boot up), than track down and install individual Windows drivers.

**Clarification #2: UGTK1.2R is the only distro mentioned here that uses GTK 1.2. And note that it’s mentioned as a last resort. Consequently, it’s the only distro on which Abiword 2.6 doesn’t work.

Share/Save/Bookmark

11 Responses to “5 Reasons Old Computers Love Linux”

  1. [...] Also sir, no sane person without specific need still use 9x line of Windows. My Celeron 300 MHz does…. And it can run Red Alert 2 and Office 2000. [...]

  2. harocas says:

    My laptop pent III it’s good with pupyy linux, i up memory and run ubuntu, mepis, pclinuxos, i likeee linux and freebsd-

  3. Relst says:

    My old Pentium 3 now does his fine job as a home-server (Clarckconnect) and this is being written on a 2.4ghz P4. (Mint Gloria). Some friends are amazed, because there PC’s are way to slow do work on(Students don’t have money xD) and I always give them some CD’s of Mint (1 for themselves and three to pass one), and when I see them again, they are happy and thank me for : “You made my PC fast again”. :D

  4. richard says:

    I resurrected an old Compaq 750 AMD Duron with Qimo for my 2 year old daughter. All that she knows is that Tux Paint works great.

  5. mangoo says:

    True.

    I have an old Cyrix CPU machine (800 MHz CPU and some strange board) which didn’t want to work with Windows XP at all for some reason.

    Works fine with Linux.

  6. AP says:

    Let’s not be manichean here. Modern Linux distributions tend to be nearly as resource hungry as their proprietary counterparts. On older computers, the great variety of free software OSes and distributions makes easier to make them as comfortable as possible to use. Will those oldies be as comfortable to use as the very recent PC with lots of memory, CPU power and a big KDE/Gnome on top ? Probably not. It’s just a matter of expectations. Know to anticipate how an old computer with a modern, free software and well tuned OS will behave and present it with objectivity to the final user.

  7. uk fan says:

    Try to get Ubuntu 9.04 to run on a HP XE783. The intel graphics driver for i810 motherboard graphics locks up and is unusable. I guess this distribution is herding us to Nvidia graphics cards and more modern computers. Check out the complicated instructions to try to fix it. The last two Ubuntu releases have performed badly on my PC (pulseaudio problems in 8.10 and intel graphics in 9.04). Who needs sound or graphics that work on a PC? Why release a beta graphics driver in a release that is so hyped up like Ubuntu 9.04.

  8. WJM says:

    Linux is not Ubuntu, and Ubuntu is not Linux. There are many other ways to go besides Ubuntu, so don’t say that because it didn’t work for you that linux doesn’t work. You can try Mandriva, Suse, puppy, DSL, or about 250 other ways to use Linux on your machine.

    I recently got a machine from my 70+ year old mother, who told me that I probably wouldn’t like it, because it was so slow. I took Winblows off of it, put Mandriva on, and it’s one of the fastest machines I run, currently. I could also put Suse on it without any problems, I am sure.

    There are many ways to do Linux, don’t try one and say that the whole OS doesn’t work. That is not fair.

  9. AP,2 says:

    @ Author: “2009 software on a 1995 machine is much better than 1993 software on a 1995 machine.”

    It would probably be good to emphasize: “Linux 2009 software on a 1995 machine is much better than 1993 software on a 1995 machine.”

    Windows software actually follow an inverse trend (e.g., Vista is reported to copy files more slowly than XP on old computers).

    @ animeBSD: Also sir, no sane person without specific need still use 9x line of Windows. My Celeron 300 MHz does…. And it can run Red Alert 2 and Office 2000.

    It was once recommended to me to use Windows 98 instead of Linux on an old machine; it is common knowledge that, despite its problems, Windows 98 performs better than XP on old hardware. Besides, a Celeron 300MHz is not old enough: we’re talking old as in a Pentium 75MHz — or even a 486. Contrary to modern belief, these can still be useful in a variety of situations.

    @AP:
    > Let’s not be manichean here. Modern Linux distributions tend to be nearly as resource hungry as their proprietary counterparts.

    Sure, but what is modern? XP is still fairly modern to me: I bought a XP PC last year and at work my XP PC is slated to be replaced in 1 year (when it will still be somewhat ok) to 3 years (when Windows 7 will make XP obsolete, I guess). Now, comparing XP to its Linux equivalent (e.g., a contemporary Mandrake/Mandriva), I state — from my experience — that Linux is leaner, faster, easier to use _and_ maintain. Why do I use XP at work? Because the admins are Windows-centric and don’t want Linux — and possibly don’t trust recent M$ products like Vista… like most, I suppose.

    > Will those oldies be as comfortable to use as the very recent PC with lots of memory, CPU power and a big KDE/Gnome on top ? Probably not. It’s just a matter of expectations.

    That depends on planned usage (that’s what you probably mean by “expectations”). A power user would probably have intensive demands like audio or video editing, maybe gaming — so a 2-year old PC is needed. A day chores office worker would probably be satisfied with text-editing, email and basic web browsing… a 5-year machine would do for this.
    A salesperson could even be satisfied with a 9-year old machine used as thin client. Other specialized uses would even get by with even older hardware.
    Now, modern Linuxes can be made to be “damn small” and they compare favorably (IMHO) to Windows 98.
    Again IMHO, for such purpose, Vista won’t do.
    Nor 7.

  10. carl says:

    I use Windows 2000 on old hardware, it it relatively harmless. Basically a dressed up version of NT4, it beats the (something) out of 95 and 98, and does not require as much CPU and memory as XP. It also has ineffective copy protection. Works better than wine, is current enough for most software. Don’t worry, it’s dual booted, I just use it for stuff that is important and only available on windows. Oh yeah, I need to look at web pages with an old IE to see what the real losers are gonna see.

  11. [...] 5 Reasons Old Computers Love Linux There are hundreds of stories about people who pulled an old Windows 95/98/ME computer out of their basement, put some kind of Linux distro on it, and are in a computing heaven, blissfully unaware of the age of their computer. And you never hear about people pulling the same computer out and saying, “Wow! Windows 95 solves all of my problems! Good bye, modern computing!” Why is Linux so dominant in this category? [...]

  12. leo says:

    im thinking of trying linux on my 1997 ibm aptiva which one should i use?

  13. I still have a 486 running a linux system I built for that box, as well as several pentium 200 and 233 MMX systems that I run in a cluster just for fun and letting my workstation offload some work when it can while I am doing vitally more important things like playing Eve Online.

Leave a Reply