Linux Distributions for Older PCs
How to revive an old PC
Fuente : http://www.theinquirer.net/inquirer/flame_author/1030129/h ow-revive-pc
ONE OF MY INTERESTS is in recycling and reusing older computers. If a business has a room full of fairly recently-pensioned-off kit, I point them at ComputerAid, but it wants recent kit, preferably by the van-full, not the odd knackered-old one-off. I regularly take such doorstops that clients are discarding, upgrade them with some marginally newer bits, put a lightweight OS and apps on them and give them to impoverished - or just tightwad - mates. With the right choice of software, even a five-year-old computer can be a fast, responsive machine with bags of life left in it.
For example, if they know enough to want Windows, I generally advocate Windows 2000 as a good version. It dates from seven years ago, but it's still perfectly usable if, post-install, you're prepared to spend a full day installing updates, patches and new applications. Why? Because it has vastly less cruft and useless tat in it than XP, so it's faster. Compared to Vista, it's about an order of magnitude smaller and more efficient. Windows is Windows: so long as you're in the same family (in this case, 32-bit NT with support for Plug&Play), they're largely functionally equivalent.
You can update Win2K Pro with a firewall, antivirus, antispyware, current Internet client software and media handling tools and a modern office suite and some productivity tools, all for free, and have a version of Windows that looks like, works like and is entirely compatible with more recent versions. It will network with them, game with them, exchange files with them, and in the majority of cases, run their applications and games and even drivers absolutely fine. Just because something says "requires Windows XP" on the box, it often doesn't - I've had many "XP-only" products, from printers to TV tuners to games, working absolutely perfectly on W2K. The only way to find out is to try, though.
And, of course, because it's old, licences are cheap and easy to come by. An old office machine usually comes with one.
On notebooks, things are slightly different, as XP boots much faster than W2K and is dramatically quicker (and rather more reliable) at suspending, hibernating and resuming. The question with XP on older machines becomes how much of the cruft can you turn off, disable or uninstall - or better still, not install in the first place.
If you want to know about these free tools, watch out for a short series of articles to follow this one, telling you what they are, where to find them, what if any restrictions apply to their use and why you should give them a try.
What's cheaper than cheap? Free
For people with little to no computer experience - or no spare cash at all - these days I recommend Linux. For novices, it's as easy to use as Windows - indeed, it looks and works in much the same way - but they're safe from all the nasties out there. (If they've got some money but not a great deal, a few-year-old used Mac makes a great home computer, but you need to find one with a recent version of OS X and Microsoft Office, because they cost Real Money.)
For the poor sod setting the thing up, Linux is quicker and easier to install than Windows. It usually comes with a whole suite of applications all pre-installed, whereas with Windows, you have to go and find your own, download them and put them on, one by one, by hand. With a non-commercial distro such as Ubuntu, you do tend to have to load up drivers for various restricted media formats such as MP3, Flash, and so on, but that's quickly and easily done. You don't need to burden down an older, slower an old PC with anti-malware defenses, because there are no Linux viruses out there. This isn't simply because Linux is relatively obscure - it's because Linux is Unix, and like any Unix, it has a properly conceived and designed security model, tried and tested over nearly 40 years. Internet client programs don't download raw executables from remote machines - you don't even do this to install new programs - and when programs run, they do so with restricted privileges by default, so that they can't take over the system and wreak havoc. (As usual, I'll probably get loads of emails telling me that the sole reason that Windows has malware problems is that everyone runs Windows. Save your effort, unless you can demonstrate it. A time machine might prove handy for this.)
With really old, low-powered machines, though, the problem becomes what version of Linux to run. Current versions are designed for modern computers and have broadly the same system requirements as Windows XP: a gigahertz-odd CPU, half a gig of RAM, tens of gigs of disk space and a big screen.
The obvious answer would seem to be that if a seven-year-old version of Windows is still fine, use a seven-year-old copy of Linux - but in the world of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS), things are very different.
Unlike commercial packages, updated every few years with a shiny box listing the new features, there are few formal "release cycles" for FOSS. Code undergoes continual review and improvement. "Release early, release often" is the mantra. Every so often, distribution vendors take a snapshot of what is currently out there, bundle it up onto media, test it all works together and release the result as a version of a distribution. Ubuntu releases every six months; other companies and projects are less frequent or regular, but a new release every year is pretty normal.
Sometimes, people ask "why should I get the new version?" They want to know what the new features are. The trouble is that there's no simple answer. Every release of a Linux distro is substantially changed. Pretty much every single program file in every package will have changed, generally for the better. Bugs are removed, features are added, crufty bits are optimised, UI glitches are smoothed over. Buyers of commercial software packages will be disappointed by the absence of big, flashy new features. FOSS isn't like that. It's a process of gradual, continual, incremental change - almost always improvements and refinements. Sometimes, alas, support for older devices disappears: stuff from the age of ISA and even 16-bit PCMCIA is declining, for example.
But FOSS ages faster, because it changes quicker. A copy of Linux from two years ago is vintage software; when it's four years old, it's an antique, completely superseded by its descendants. This isn't a world of new boxed products every now and then. It's a world of new releases every hour of every single day. A distribution version, like, say, Ubuntu 6.10, is a snapshot of the world as it was 9 months ago. And 9 months is 3/4 of a year: it's a long time, long enough to make a human.
Unless you need to maintain standard versions, say on mission-critical business systems, when you want stable, solid, slow-changing releases (like Ubuntu 6.06LTS or Redhat and SUSE's Enterprise Linuxes), you really should avoid outdated releases of FOSS.
So what if you want to use an older PC yourself?
It's a reasonable question. PCs tend to cost lots of money, so people tend to keep them around. The snag is that by the time they're a few years old, they become feeble and underpowered relative to their replacements. Handy as a spare, but frustrating to use because they feel sluggish. So they're ideal candidates for trying out something different, like, say, playing around with Linux.
Any PC that will run Windows 2000 decently will run any current Linux distro fine. Of course, wiping and reinstalling an old computer is always a good way to give it a boost, but whereas the chore of reinstalling Windows and finding and reloading all your favourite programs may put you off, it's much easier to just nuke it and put something totally different on.
But what about the generation before that? Early Pentium III or late Pentium II machines, kit from around the turn of the century? Well under a decade old, probably in perfect working order, but it will struggle with a twenty-first century OS.
Although there is the problem of declining support for older hardware in new versions, you don't want to run really old versions of Linux; relatively speaking, it has poor hardware support for any hardware that post-dates it, is poorly optimised with lousy installation tools and comes riddled with bugs and gotchas and glitches and security vulnerabilities. (Of course, the same's true of Windows and any other OS, too.)
Well, there are various lightweight offerings available, but they tend not to get the coverage of the big stars. Of course, if you know what you're doing, you can install Debian or Slackware onto almost anything, but if don't know your way around Linux and just want to bung in a CD and install, you might try these.
Xubuntu is an official variant of Ubuntu based around the Xfce desktop and GTK+ applications instead of the standard Ubuntu's GNOME desktop and apps. It's not vastly slimmer than vanilla Ubuntu - you really want 192MB of RAM and 3GB or so of disk - and is a little less customisable, but it's still Ubuntu, so you get the updates and software choice of its bigger sibling.
Your humble scribe has not yet personally tried these, but ZenWalk aims at a broadly similar specification and has some good reviews. So does Deli Linux, and for 686-level PCs, Arch Linux and CRUX both have their fans. ZenWalk even has its own spinoff for even lower-end kit, SaxenOS (formerly STX Linux).
The Antiques Roadshow: back in the days of Socket 7
There are still current versions of Linux that will cope with a Mark 1 Pentium, Cyrix 6x86 or AMD K6 - the sort of kit which ruled the world in the days of Windows 98.
VectorLinux is based on Slackware. The free Standard Edition comes with a choice of lightweight window managers installed, including Xfce, IceWM and Fluxbox. It's a bit rough around the edges and you have to choose between a confusing array of programs, but it does the job.
If you've got a really old PC that's able to boot from a CDR and you fancy trying out Linux without the hassle of actually installing it, there are several suitable Live CD distros. Just download, burn and boot straight into a usable graphical desktop. Puppy Linux works very well and is instantly usable to anyone who knows Windows 98, but it always runs as the root user, a major security concern. Damn Small Linux doesn't have this problem but it's much less Windows-like, so novices may be a bit lost.
For better performance, most LiveCD distros can be installed onto a hard disk, but the process isn't as easy as it is with a conventional distro. There's still some hope, though. Currently the Ubuntu Lite project is working on a special customised release of Ubuntu for very low-end PCs. Similarly, the RULE Project offers a way to install current and recent releases of Red Hat's Fedora on low-end machines.
Of course, nothing lasts forever. In the unlikely event that you have a cherished 386 or 486 that still works, forget putting it on the Internet. Stick with Windows 95 (or NT3.51) or better still, send it off for recycling. Millions of them were made - museums generally aren't interested.
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